Last year at this time, Vermont was recovering from the horrible destruction of Hurricane Irene, which blew through the state and nearly knocked Brattleboro off the map, in its path flooding all access points to Mt. Snow and destroying businesses in the surrounding area. The Brew Fest was cancelled, we headed to Dogfish Head in Delaware, and the citizens of the state tried to recover from the damage. One year later, the 18th annual Mt. Snow Brewers' Festival was back in full force but the remnants of Irene could still be felt. Dot's, the friendly little restaurant where we ate breakfast many times was gone, wiped away by a surging river. Many other businesses in nearby Wilmington had yet to re-open and even the ones that had remained damaged in some ways. Mt. Snow itself seems to have recovered but a magazine in its lobby reflecting on Irene gave stark images of the dark side of nature's force. I did my best on Labor Day weekend to spend boatloads of cash in the state to perhaps help with the recovery and I'll admit that the memory of the storm didn't really dampen my enjoyment of the event (hell, we were at a Brew Fest days after Katrina but were completely unaware at the time the full extent of the damage). But I do hope that those affected by the storm can recover eventually and I hope Mt. Snow continues to put on some great beer-related events. Now on to the drunken festivies...
There were 38 brewers in attendance, according to the brochure, and some 80 different varieties, so it was physically impossible to sample every one -- or even come close -- in 2 days of 6-hour sessions. We've always said the Brew Fest needs to be 3 days long but especially now that the roster of brewers continues to expand and our ability to drink like we did 10 years ago disappears, you really do miss the chance to sample a lot of beers. It was at 5:30 on Sunday that we actually found both the Trout River and Ommegang taps, hiding on the back side of the Anheuser-Busch trailer. I downed an Ommegang BPA but it was too little too late. No Trout River for me. Anyway, on to the beers:
White Birch BPA (British Pale Ale) -- I think they were from Maine, one of a collection of small brewers in the "side" tent over by the horseshoe pits that we'd never seen before. The brewer was a bearded dude with a wry smile and, um, interesting dental hygiene who regaled us with stories that grew more entertaining as the day wore on. I had 2 of his BPAs, which were a welcome change from the excessive spate of IPAs flooding this year's Brew Fest, and I would have come back for more if I had the time (or another day).
Rogue Brutal IPA -- As I mentioned, just about everyone had an IPA so it took a little extra to stand out and in the case of Portland (OR)'s Rogue, it was a deliciously bitter IPA not quite as hoppy as other entries and loaded with alcohol. Rogue's Dead Guy Ale has been a favorite of mine for the past couple years, a go-to beer at the local liquor store, and that was on tap here as well. But the Brutal was better.
Allagash Black -- In Brew Fests of yore, I've discovered and loved Maine's Allagash, particularly their Triple and their White. Both are now readily available in my local liquor store here in NJ so I went for the Black this time (the White was their only other offering) and was impressed. It's a Belgian Dark Ale of 7.5% alcohol content and absolutely delicious.
Stone Self-Righteous Ale -- Another one of my personal favorites and a regular purchase at my local liquor store is San Diego's Stone Brewery and along with their IPA they brought their Self-Righteous Ale to this year's Brew Fest, which didn't disappoint. It's black and bitter and almost 9% alcohol and I did not make the mistake Murph did in making this his first selection on Sunday -- always the toughest beer to get down. I went with the more mild classic Magic Hat #9 and saved the hard stuff (the Stone) for later in the beautiful day.
Ommegang Hennepin & BPA -- Ommegang did have half a tap on Sunday that we noticed before closing and I had a solid classic Hennepin. The BPA came at the end after we found it hiding by the kettle corn and it hit the spot.
Slumbrew -- Out of Somerville, MA, they had the biggest lines at the side tent and none of us had heard of it before. They had 4 beers on offer but ran out fast, much to the disdain of Tanya, who failed to try something of theirs made with orange peel and then cursed them out for the rest of the weekend. I got luckier and had both their Porter and IPA and have to say I was fairly impressed. At least with the porter, all the IPAs kind of blended together at some point.
Sebago Boathouse Brown - Sebago is the largest lake in Maine, which we discovered after sampling this other newcomer to the Brew Fest. I had their Brown Ale, which was quite good, and learned both the "proper" and "NJ" pronunciation of their name from Aaron, although I honestly forget which was which. In my defense, we were both pretty drunk.
The Nachos -- So the food highlight of every Brew Fest for me is the Hawaiian pizza at Tony's but this year that was not the case (see below). But after bitching about Tony's for a day and a half and ready to take the plunge on the roast pork that we feared may have caused Karen and Murph to both be sick, Karen came back to our little circle of chairs with an overflowing mound of cheese, beef, tomatoes, onions and more cheese on a wide spread of nachos and holy shit that was delicious. Admittedly I was starving and drunk and the air was thin but those may have been the best nachos I've ever eaten (sorry Karen for stealing them all from you and then blaming you on Twitter for stealing them from me!)
Caramel Madness Crepe -- And just when I thought the Nachos would be the best food I had all weekend, I stumbled past a crepe stand -- where the fuck did that come from? -- and ate a freshly made crepe filled with caramel, dark chocolate, and cinnamon. Holy shit that was tasty. Also had a pleasant conversation with a guy who lived near Syracuse and a girl from Texas while waiting for the crepes to be made. And yes, I didn't correct their assumption that I went to the school from upstate New York. I also didn't correct the half-dozen people who gave me the score of the Syracuse-Northwestern football game at various points of the day. Just for clarity's sake, I am a fan of Syracuse basketball. I could care less about the football team (or any college football team). And I didn't go to the school. But yes, I can see why you're confused.
Tony's Hawaiian Pizza -- I mean, I was talking about this the entire ride up. Even more than the beer. And this is coming from someone who really isn't a big pizza fan and doesn't really eat much pizza in the year and never eats "pineapple + ham" pizza outside of Tony's on Mt. Snow and doesn't really like pineapple (or ham, for that matter). But I love this pizza every year. Until this year. We determined that in the two years since we've been there, either Tony died or someone swiched out the recipe or they ran out of ham and replaced it with shoe leather because the crust was thinner and the sauce wasn't as memorable and the ham was too chewy. It wasn't horrible, I mean it was still pizza, but I refused to go back and, after the nachos, may never return.
Harpoon Rye IPA -- I like Harpoon and I'm a fan of their UFO Hefeweizen but this year they mixed their UFO with pumpkin (and I hate pumpkin beer) and brought a Rye IPA that I tried before realizing I apparently do not like Rye IPAs. Sadly, this was the very first beer I had at the Brew Fest, after leaving my fantasy football draft during the 8th round to make it into the event on time, so it wasn't exactly a fortuitous start. Plus the sun was brutal on Saturday, Aaron and I lost in the 2nd round of the horseshoe tourney because he forgot how to play, and did I mention Tony's Pizza? Saturday wasn't great. Sunday was much much better.
Victory Headwaters Pale Ale -- Philly's own Victory Brewery has opened a "Beer Hall" right next to the Phillies and Eagles stadiums (as part of some strange club / brew pub / bar / live band venue / Dave and Buster's-esque sporty stuff complex) that I happened to stumble into last weekend in the middle of a Phillies game and they serve liter beers in massive steins out of a collection of a dozen or more Victory varieties on tap. I wasn't there long enough to have more than a single stein but when I go back I will know not to try the Headwaters Pale Ale. The brewer did warn us it was very hoppy. And uh, yeah, let's just move on.
Switchback Ale -- Based in Burlington, VT, Switchback got a prime spot in the main tent alongside the long-time Brew Fest attendees that have made it big in the last decade - Long Trail and Magic Hat and Harpoon -- one of the only smaller "unknown" breweries not in the side tent. And we met the brewers, who were very nice and in fact shared the room next to my friends in the Grand Summit Hotel and gave us samples of some homemade beer and whisky after the Fest that admittedly I don't remember tasting. And their Brown Ale was a crowd-pleaser among all my friends. But I did not care for their regular Ale so much. Sorry guys.
The NY Thruway -- I don't think I've ever been on the Thruway on my way to Vermont when there hasn't been an inexplicable hour long delay of dead-stopped traffic that just as inexplicably clears and everyone goes 80 mph again. This time the delay had an explanation -- an accident -- but just as strangely, there was an ambulance that wasn't in any hurry, several police cars and people milling about, but no damaged cars among the ones that were pulled over and no sign of the actual accident. I'm pretty sure the Thruway between exits 17 and 22 is the Bermuda Triangle. And we lost 45 minutes standing still.
Baby Silas -- I mean really, do you need to slobber all over all my clothes when your mother inexplicably hands you to me? Jesus, control your drinking, kid. You have 21 brew fests to get through before you can even legally imbibe at one!
And what Labor Day weekend would be complete without some fried pickles. Not as many as last year in Delaware but when I saw them on the menu at West Dover Dan's, the restaurant half a mile from Mt. Snow where we ate dinner Friday night, I knew we were in for a great weekend. Yes, there were some bumps in the road (Tony's) and Monday's drive back was just a hell-fest of exhaustion, dehydration, hangover, and monotonous roadways in western Massachusetts, but all in all, it was a Brew Fest to remember. And if I didn't lose so many brain cells in the experience it would have been even more memorable.