I was one of about 3,000 people that attended the first session of the American Craft Beer Fest (ACBF) in Boston last night. This annual event, the East Coast’s largest beer festival, is being held at the Seaport World Trade Center. Today there will be two additional sessions and each of these session is likely to draw around 5,000 craft beer seekers.
I have to admit that this is my first really big beer festival and I am very impressed with what I have seen so far. I certainly have been to other, smaller events, but nothing on the scale of this. The event organizers, Beer Advocate and Harpoon Brewery, look to have done a great job of ensuring that some of the issues that I have seen plague other beer fests (long lines, densely packed rooms, too many drunk people) are not an issue here. I spoke briefly with Todd Alström, one of Beer Advocate’s founders, just before the event got underway and he was adamant that they had learned from the problems of past years and that this year’s festival would be the best yet. He said that the larger venue as well as more on-floor staff and security personnel would keep things running smoothly. Although the larger sessions of the three session festival are still to come today, everything that I have seen so far leads me to believe that Todd will be true to his word.
The event is hosting approximately 86 brewers this year. I say approximately, because there were some empty booths last night. Most of the empty slots were for smaller breweries and brewpubs, but Rogue Ales was noticeably absent (damn, I love their beer!). We will have to see if those booths are inhabited at today’s sessions. The brochure that you pick up along with your cup indicates that there would be 400+ beers available. You don’t have to look too far to see that many brewers are using this event as an opportunity to either showcase a special or rare/aged beer offering to the attendees or are using the event as a “test bed” and showing off potential future offerings as well as soliciting crowd feedback about these “experiments”. There are also some brewers that are using this event to introduce/release new beer and there are several of those scheduled for the sessions today.
Of course, I have not had an opportunity to visit all of the booths yet and I have certainly not sampled but a small fraction of the beers available. There are many beers and even brewers here that I have not heard of or ever tried their beers. It is pretty easy to get overwhelmed with the size of the crowd, the number of brewers and the tremendous number of beers available. There are many recognizable brewers here and the temptation would be to focus on those which are most familiar to you. I saw evidence that many had taken that strategy and brewers such as Dogfish Head and Stone had long lines at their booths throughout the session.
I wrote last week about reaching my 1000th Ratebeer rating (Reflections on 1000 Beers) and being the “beer adventurer” that I am, this type of an event presents a perfect opportunity to take the less traveled road and visit the brewers where there is not that big name recognition and the lines are much shorter. My experience in seeking out some of these less known entities and sampling some of their beers ran the full range of “Wow” to “Meh”. While, as you might expect, many of these smaller brewers produce “average” beer (just like some of the bigger brewers), I did find some real gems from the small guys. Some of my favorite beers last night came from this smaller class of brewer. Element Brewing, only in business since December, was offering a beer they called Extra Special Oak (an oak aged ESB) that was very good. Cape Ann Brewing was offering a very unusual smoked barley wine called Fisherman’s Tea Party . It is made with Lapsang Souchang Black Tea, which has a very smoky flavor, and produces a very interesting as well as a very tasty brew. While I will definitely be visiting the bigger brewers today too, I will continue my quest with the lesser known group of brewers present. That strategy has not only produced some enjoyable conversation, but has led me to some really great beer.
I will be joined at this afternoon session by my fellow HopPress writers, Carla Companion and Josh Christie. Together we will all be providing our personal experiences and views of this major beer event. Look for more ACBF articles in the coming days.
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