Over the course of 3 consecutive Saturdays, I (Matt) attended 3 separate beer festivals in the US. Ratebeer Best in Santa Rosa, Extreme Beer Fest in Boston, and Carnival of Caffeination in San Diego. In this series, I recount my experiences of the 3, some pros and cons, and, of course, some of my favourite beers.
Ok, so I’m pretty behind on this 3W3F series, seeing as this festival happened almost 2 months ago now. Regardless, I’m gonna tell you about it, because it was something worth noting.
The festival in question is Extreme Beer Fest, an annual (actually now biannual, as they’ve added a second city) event hosted by the beer rating and news website Beer Advocate in Boston, MA. It’s been going since 2004, drawing in ‘extreme’ beer enthusiasts from around the world. EBF has long been sponsored by Dogfish Head, one of the pioneers of going overboard with beer, so that should give you an idea of what kind of thing shows up at an event like this.
This was a strange one for me… my travel plans changed pretty late in the game, so I ended up having to take a red eye out to Boston which got me there around 6 in the morning. Thankfully (especially since I can’t sleep on planes), the hotel had granted me an early check in, so I got a quick nap in before heading to the venue across the street for the 12:30pm start. I had tickets to back to back Saturday sessions, with a few hours break in between for a bonus nap.
The line moved very quickly. Staff walked down the line checking IDs and tickets well before doors opened, and at 12:30, everyone held up their newly-banded wrists as they entered the venue. Even though I was hundreds of people deep in line, I was in the venue with a minute or two.
The festival glass… wasn’t. It was actually plastic. But I have to say it was the nicest plastic glass I’ve ever used. It was wine-glass shaped, without a stem (very similar to the RBB one mentioned in the last post), but with a groove for your thumb. It got the job done, and wasn’t one of those silly little plastic taster ‘mugs’ with a tiny little handle. But the
glass vessel was empty. A tragedy. I immediately sought to resolve this and made my way over to Prairie Artisan Ales to try a taster of their Paradise imperial stout. The strategy here, much like any densely populated festival, is to get a pour, and get in line for something else. At least until you’ve tried all of the immensely popular things you wanted to try. Lines moved reasonably quick, all things considered, though it really depended on the brewery.
Much like Ratebeer Best, this there was a lot of excellent beer to choose from. The biggest difference was that the majority of the best beers at EBF were Imperial Stouts or Porters.
Funky Buddha: Last Buffalo in the Park
This was likely my favourite of the festival. A Bourbon Barrel-Aged Imperial (11.5%) version of their porter “Last Snow”, it was loaded with coconut, coffee, and oak-y vanilla bourbon goodness. The barrel aging and extra alcohol melded all of these flavours together perfectly. This one went very quickly, and I was super lucky to get a taste.
Kane: Sunday Brunch
Hey look another imperial adjunct porter! Actually… it’s an imperial milk porter, infused with coffee, maple syrup, and cinnamon. This one’s a big lighter at 9.2%, but you wouldn’t notice the alcohol anyway. It’s incredibly balanced but remarkably intense. It definitely contends for best of the fest, and if I tried them both again, I might not be able to pick one over the other. Speaking of Kane…
Kane: A Night to End All Dawns
So, this brewery is pretty damn good, if you didn’t gather that. ANtEAD is a 12.4% imperial stout that spent 15 months in four roses barrels. It’s incredibly silky and rich, with notes of bourbon, chocolate, raisin, cherry, a bit of coffee, and light smoke.
Prairie: Barrel Aged Christmas Bomb!
This one was a huge surprise. Christmas Bomb is definitely my least favourite variant of Bomb, an imperial stout from Prairie. Buuuuut it was worth trying the 13% barrel aged version, right? Oh… definitely right. Something about the extended barrel aging in whiskey barrels completely mellowed and integrated the strong spices into something remarkably complex and comforting. Much more like cinnamon rolls than licking a spice rack.
Civil Society: Barrel Aged King Gary Goes Bananas
Coming to the festival, I knew nothing about this brewery. I knew they were from Florida, but that was it. That’s kind of the point of this festival, to showcase some incredible stuff you’ve may not have even heard of. In fact, Treehouse debuted ‘Good Morning’ at a past EBF, which is considered one of the best imperial stouts, period. This may not hit that height, but wow was this an amazing beer. A 10%, barrel aged imperial milk stout that is aged on ‘bananas foster coffee’, as far as I can tell. I can’t find a consistent write up of exactly how this beer is made, but just know it’s delicious.
Other Half: 3rd Anniversary Imperial IPA
Leave it to Other Half to bring my favourite IPA of the fest. This ‘imperial’ IPA (it’s 10%) is made with Mosaic, Vic Secret, Wai-iti, Citra, Motueka and Galaxy, then dry hopped 3 times. First with Citra, Motueka and Simcoe hops. Then with some Citra Lupulin Powder and Motueka. Finally, even more Citra Lupulin Powder and Galaxy hops. So, it’s hoppy. More specifically, it’s equal parts dank, tropical, and citrusy, with a big ABV to back it all up.
- 4 Hands Madagascar
- Half Acre Benthic
- Other Half Nummy Nug Nug
- Other Half Double Dry Hopped Space Diamonds
- Dogfish Head Bourbon Barrel Aged World Wide Stout
- Jackie O’s Oro Blanco
- LIC Full Monty
- Allagash Mattina Rossa
- Civil Society Bella’s Revenge
- Civil Society Seventh Wonder
- Lost Abbey PX 7
- Lost Abbey Veritas 018
- Praire Paradise
So, in conclusion…
This was a very very well run festival, with a shit tonne of incredible stouts and porters. It was still densely populated, so this is definitely a place you come to try great beer first and foremost. Being close to Trillium’s bottle/can shop in Boston is also a nice bonus. The overall beer quality and variety may have been better at RBB, but as a sucker for amazing stouts and porters, this matched it for me. Plus, the hired staff making entry a breeze was very good, and the carpeted venue was a lot easier to stand around in for hours on end.