Being interested in craft beer is one thing, but to have such enjoyment of it that you feel the need to write about it online on a regular basis is quite a step up. And to be willing to travel and spend a lot of money to meet other people with the same passion is borderline fanaticism. Well, consider me a craft beer nut then, since I finally made the trip to the annual Beer Bloggers Conference which was held last weekend in Boston. This was the event's fourth installment, but the first time it's been on the East Coast and within driving distance of Albany.
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect as I'd never been to an industry convention before. Beer festivals are one thing, but three days of talking and drinking beer with like-minded people is totally different. While the conference is obviously beer-centric, and there's plenty of drinking involved, it's not intended to be a marathon boozing session. It's inherently educational as you're meant to return home a wiser blogger. Of course, most of the educational components occurred on Saturday and Sunday, so I'll address them in more detail later. Since so much happened I decided to write about each day individually, and I'll recap in chronological/autobiographical terms rather than a general approach. So here's what happened on Day 1:
I left Albany around 11:30am and arrived at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel around 3pm. As soon as I walked into the conference I was given the first of many freebies I would receive over the weekend. In this case, a metal growler that's supposed to keep its contents hotter or colder way longer than any other thermos. Unfortunately I'll never be able to experiment with it since I left it in my hotel room (d'oh!)
The restaurant in the hotel's lobby had been transformed into a little trade show. There were quite a few breweries and distributors pouring samples of beer just as you would see at a beer festival. Heavy Seas, Woodchuck Cider, Cabot Cheese, Sierra Nevada, Boulevard Brewing and several other vendors all had tables in what was a rather cramped space (watch my vlog and you'll see what I mean). Since the beer was flowing, I decided to imbibe a little and sampled a Heavy Seas Loose Cannon (meh), Boulevard Tank 7 Saison (very good), and "Ghost Face Killah" which is a beer brewed with the infamous Ghost Chile Pepper. I tried a few ounces and was surprised to find it wasn't nearly as hot as I was expecting. It had a smoky, chipotle-like flavor, though it would be difficult to drink more than a few ounces at a time.
Since we were all wearing badges with our names and blogs displayed, everyone was able to introduce themselves to each other easily. In fact, more people came up to me and introduced themselves than vice versa. It was nice to put a face and a voice to people I've only known by their avatars. I started taking pictures of myself and every fellow blogger I met, and I set a goal of doing so with every other attendee. Though I managed to take a picture with well over 40 people, I only scored a .333 batting average since there were 120-140 people at the conference.
Around 4:30pm we were wrangled onto buses and drove across town to the Samuel Adams brewery. It's kind of a strange place as it looks like an old industrial yard located within an urban neighborhood. It's no secret that this location is strictly their R&D facility, as most Sam Adams beers are brewed in Cincinnati. It's still an interesting venue, though, as it's essentially a museum of all of their awards, history, and relics. There's also two dining rooms with bars and a gift shop.
There's a large space on the brewery floor for a conference of our size, and this is where the welcoming
There was some Q&A and plenty of great questions were answered. Someone asked a question we bloggers have been wondering for a while: why is Octoberfest in stores already? His response: "Because you guys drank all the Summer Ale!" He also explained how the Samuel Adams can is different from all other beer cans. They opt for innovation over convention at Boston Beer Company.
Afterwards, dinner was served a la carte. Food included sliders with ketchup made from Boston Lager, pulled pork sandwiches, veggie wraps, and various cheese platters spread out among the two dining rooms. In each room and around the brewery floor there were plenty of beers on tap - most of which were pilot batches including "Independence IPA" and an oyster stout, among others. Everything I tried was good, though I was surprised that the beer was ice cold.
The evening concluded with tours of the Utopias storage room. Jim Koch gave each tour himself and talked about the history of brewing Utopias - which is one of the strongest (~26% ABV) and most expensive beers in the world. Samples were handed out and I was happy to finally be able to try this coveted beer. It was sweet, but not cloying, with a strong raisin and vanilla taste. The alcohol was prominent, but complementary. It's difficult to accurately judge or rate only a 1oz sample, though. I'd love to be able to get a bottle and give it a proper review, but it's just not in my budget.
We stayed at Samuel Adams until 8:30pm, and were bussed back to the Theater District for an exclusive party at a bar called Stoddard's featuring a Heavy Seas tap takeover. At this point I was pretty stuffed from all the food and pretty tipsy from all the free beer. I've never been a big fan of Heavy Seas, though I was intrigued by the fact they brought quite a few beers on cask. I started with a sample of their Peg Leg imperial stout, but it was ice cold, almost completely flat, and tasted like nail polish remover. Yuck. I then tried "Red Sky at Night", a saison, but it wasn't very good either. By this time, I had met several bloggers and we all seemed to have the same opinion on the beers. Perhaps our palates were fatigued, but we just weren't enjoying the scene inside this dark, loud, yuppie-ish bar. One of my new acquaintances, Astrid Cook of http://brooklynbeerbitch.com, needed no convincing that it wouldn't be rude to leave, so we walked back to the hotel which was only a few blocks away.
Thanks to Twitter, I was able to get an idea of what I was missing since everyone seemed to comment on every beer they had and everything that happened. It was as though I was still at the bar - I was living vicariously through tweets! Not surprisingly, when people got back to the hotel they engaged in bottle sharing in their rooms. I had a feeling this was going to happen, but I also correctly predicted that I would be exhausted after an evening of indulgent food and unlimited beer, so I didn't bother bringing anything.
All in all, Day 1 of #BBC13 was great. I went to bed really excited about two more days of festivities ahead of me.