All of the typical signs are evident that summer is coming to an end and that fall is almost upon us; school began in most local districts this last week, the Champlain Valley Fair starts its 10-day run today and the summer green of the Vermont hillsides are slowly showing a hint of that blaze of color that will be dominant in a month or so. Temperature, however, has not been a good indicator of the approaching seasonal change. Typically we see highs of 70s and lows in the 40s and 50s this time of year, however this week we will see daytime highs around the 90F mark again. This has been an unusually warm summer for us. Fortunately I am on vacation until after Labor Day, so I will get an ample opportunity to really enjoy some excellent, if not a bit unusual, late summer weather during the coming week.
The next several months will also bring the last gasp of beer festivals before the snow flies here in northern New England. Everyone is, of course, familiar with Oktoberfest, which is traditionally held in the late September to early October time frame. Over the years I have attended many of these celebrations held locally and, while they have been fun, my “bucket list” definitely includes a trip to Munich someday for the granddaddy of this type of festival. Called “Volksfest” in Germany, the statistics of this event are nothing short of staggering, a term which might also apply to some of the attendees. In 2009 (the 176th anniversary) there were about 5.7 million people that attended the Munich event. These people consumed 6.5 million Liters of strong (6-8% ABV) Märzen beer, approximately 600,000 chickens and the foodstuff equivalent of 84 head of cattle during the 16-day event. The festival grounds include 14 large tents with a seating capacity of about 100,000 revelers. The financial impact of this event is also huge; pushing about 800 Million Euros into the German economy. It truly sounds like the “holy grail” of beer festivals to me!
Next weekend I am planning on attending the 16th annual Mount Snow Brewer’s Festival in southern Vermont. It is not one that I have attended before, so I am looking forward to it. A bit smaller than the many beer festivals some of you are used to attending (about 25 brewers) the event is held in a breathtakingly beautiful spot. I also plan to attend the 14th annual New England Homebrewer’s Jamboree, which is being held in Campton, New Hampshire in a couple of weeks. This is also an event that I have not attended before and am very much looking forward to. This event, which supports the Make-A-Wish Foundation with its proceeds, is an opportunity for home brewers from across New England to come and show off the fruits of their brewing skills to their colleagues.
I missed out on Ommegang Brewery’s “Belgium Comes to Cooperstown” festival that was held recently. So popular is this event that tickets sold out on-line in just a few hours. I will have to be more diligent about getting tickets for this event next year. Ommegang beer truly holds a special place in my heart when it comes to craft beer. I consider my first taste of their Belgian Abbey brew (my first taste of any Belgian styled beer) many years ago to be my “craft beer epiphany”; that eye popping event that really impressed upon me how limited I had been about the variety of beers I had tried.
Another sure sign of the approaching seasonal change is the appearance of traditional autumn beer styles… Oktoberfest/Märzen (of course), fresh or “wet” hop brews, autumn Saisons and pumpkin beers. A quick survey of some local bottle shops showed that all of these beer types are slowly working there way onto the shelves of the beer purveyors. In celebration of the approaching fall beer season, I pulled out a bottle of what is perhaps my favorite fall beer last night; Shipyard Brewing’s Smashed Pumpkin. It was from last year’s bottling and I was very pleased with the “mellowing” that had taken place over the last year or so. While most pumpkin brews use larger amounts of spices, which is a distinct negative for me in this type of beer, the spicing of this hefty brew (9% ABV) is much more subtle and the beer is much more reliant on the actual pumpkin flavor. I really enjoyed this beer and I think that it created for me an excellent start into the fall beer season.
Like most summers, this one has gone by far too quickly. Soon we will start the much longer cold weather period that we have here in Vermont. I am not really looking forward to shoveling that first blast of snow, which I know will appear soon enough. Fortunately, I will have the next week of great weather to enjoy and that should make for a perfect segue into the transitional season of fall… autumn colors, harvest foods, beer festivals and lots of great beer to enjoy. All of that will not only give me plenty to think about for the next couple of months, but it will likely provide a welcome distraction from the rapidly approaching winter months. I am sure, however, that by the time those cold months begin to arrive, I will have found new reasons and opportunities to celebrate that coming change in seasons as well.
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