Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Hosting a beer tasting panel… at a wine festival

If you know me you know I’m a beer guy, not a wine guy. So I was pretty surprised when I was asked to host a beer tasting panel at the Hudson Berkshire Wine and Food Festival on Sunday, May 26 (Ben was invited too, but he was out of town). When I first received the invitation from Carlo De Vito, the head organizer of the event, I panicked a little. I’ve never done any presentations for a live audience and it’s been about 15 years since my last Public Speaking 101 class. He assured me it would be a casual, friendly crowd who just wanted to try some good local beer and I had nothing to be anxious about.

Carlo and I spent a few days trying to come up with a selection of beers from breweries located in the Hudson Valley and Berkshires. We wanted to exhibit dark and light beers, as well as showcase as many breweries as possible. Trying to narrow down the list down to only one beer per brewery was quite a challenge. I gave Carlo a ridiculously long list of beers to procure, and he was able to come through with some pretty good ones.

“Chad’s Weeknight Wheat” (my homebrewed hefeweizen)

We thought it would be fun to include a homebrew in the lineup just for fun and variety. This is a beer I’ve made several times and it’s a pretty good example of the authentic German style as I used Bavarian yeast which gives it a lot of banana and clove notes in both the aroma and the taste. I was delighted to see so many people not only enjoyed it, but were surprised by how much they did. After the panel ended, many people came up and asked for refills and I was glad to oblige. Many asked for recommendations on a beer they could buy in stores that tasted like this. I recommended Weihenstephaner, Schneider Weisse, Franziskaner, Paulaner, and Hacker-Pschorr. A few people joked they’d never be able to remember those names.

Barrington Brewery’s “Not Your Father’s Dortmunder”

Dortmunder is a niche German style of lager that not a lot of American breweries attempt. This one had a lot of notes of hay and grass. Not particularly clean, but mild enough that it was drinker-friendly. This was my first time trying this beer as Barrington is not sold in Albany, though they did have a booth at the festival. I agreed with the crowd’s general reception that it was decent to good, but nothing amazing. I did buy a bottle of it (and all the beers they had for sale at the festival) to review over the coming weeks at my beer review blog.

Brown’s Pale Ale

Obviously there had to be a pale ale in this lineup somewhere, so why not Brown’s? It’s not a beer they’re well known for, but it is a solid example of the style. It has a classic British influence, but uses American hops to make it interesting. Pretty much everyone seemed to enjoy this. A few people remarked they’re not used to beers with a lot of hops, but this was quite satisfying to them.
Discussing Captain Lawrence’s Imperial IPA with the audience.

Captain Lawrence Brewing’s “Captain’s Reserve Imperial IPA”

Image2We skipped over the regular India Pale Ale style and went for a much bigger beer instead. At 9% ABV and 80 IBUs, this came as quite a shock compared to the previous beer. I had the crowd take a good sniff of the beer to really appreciate the aromatic qualities of the hop, which everyone seemed to enjoy. This beer has a lot of lemon, candy, and pine notes to it. I find it to be rather tame for its size, though a few people said it was a challenge to drink. I held up my 4.9% ABV homebrew (a hazy orange/brown color) next to the Captain Lawrence (which is clear and golden) to show how color really has nothing to do with a beer’s strength in terms of alcohol potency or flavor intensity.

Chatham Brewing’s Maple Amber

A nice transition from hoppy to malty beers. This is an amber use infused with fresh maple syrup from trees in Chatham. Slightly sweet, but not cloying, with a strong smoke flavor on the finish. This one seemed to throw people for a loop, especially coming off the last beer. Many said they enjoyed the maple sweetness, while others remarked that they’ve never had a beer with a smoky character before. Fortunately, Chatham was at the festival pouring several of this beers. I think this beer sent more traffic to their booth.

Crossroads Brewing Black Rock Stout

You might remember from my last blog where I took a trip down to Crossroads and discovered that this is actually their best beer (though their “Outrage IPA” is really good, too). Not quite an imperial stout per se, though a strong, robust one that’s drinker friendly. It was a great way to end the tasting as the rich maltiness coupled with bittersweet chocolate and some coffee notes made for a liquid dessert. I could see a few people wince at it, probably because of their preconceptions of “dark beer,” but those that enjoyed it REALLY enjoyed it.

While six beers may not sound like a lot, I think we were able to demonstrate what craft beer is all about and what breweries in this region are doing. I would have preferred to include a few more beers among the panel, but time was limited. It was fun interacting with people and answering their questions about beer. I’d imagine these are the perks professional brewers get to deal with often.

I was also pleasantly surprised by the casual and relaxed atmosphere. I’d never been to a wine festival before, so I was expecting clientele from that Paul Giamatti movie “Sideways.” Fortunately, it was everyday people who just wanted to try some good food and drinks. After my discussion ended I checked out the entire festival. I tried quite a few wines and found some that were tasty, but none that I enjoyed as much as beer (though there was a pumpkin wine I liked enough to consider buying). I had a similar reaction to the mead and the distilled spirits that I sampled; they were good, but I don’t feel the need to drink them more often.

I’m already looking forward to next year and have plenty of ideas on how we can improve it. Thanks to everyone that came out. I’ll see you in 2014!

1 comment:

  1. Way to go, it's nice to see you getting well-earned attention in your area. I definitely would've loved to be there.