Sunday, June 19, 2011

59 breweries in 3 hours

**UPDATE-See Below**

I don't go to a lot of beer festivals. Usually I don't hear about them in time or, being a father of two little ones, I've got other plans. Yesterday was different story, the plan was the beer festival—The second-annual Saratoga Brewfest, to be exact. The last of my unmarried friends, Paul, is finally tying the knot with his long time love, Debbie. As with all upcoming nuptials, the manliest of all rite of passages must be engineered—the bachelor party. What better way to do a bachelor party right, than a beer festival?

Which way is the beer?
Just like last year, this year's event was held on the grounds at the Ellms Family Farm in the rolling hills of Saratoga County, New York. If ever a venue was perfect for a beer fest (or any festival) The Ellms is it. There's is more than enough room for the breweries, tents, merchandise vendors and of course the port-o-potties (ahhhhh!) Fifty-nine breweries, in all, attended the event. With representatives as far west as Anchor and Rogue; down south, like Abita; and from our Canadian neighbor, up north, Unibroue. A Belgian contingent came along as well including reps from Maredsous, Lindeman's, Saison Du Pont and Westmalle. Brewfest is organized by the beverage distribution companies around the Northeast. Unfortunately, that means none of the local, undistributed, brew pubs are invited to participate. That didn't stop two of the best brewers in the area from showing up and having a great time—George De Piro of Albany's Pump Station and my old friend, Drew Schmidt, from the recently reborn, Van Dyke restaurant in Schenectady. Both of these guys have brewing chops out the wazoo, so it was great to get a chance to talk with them about beer and the state of craft brewing, not just locally, but across the country. 

Inside the main tent
Adirondack Brewing's cask offering

The beer flowed freely from bottles, cask and keg. Pretty girls in sundresses drank from small tasting glasses as bands played cover tunes from the Grateful Dead, Elvis Costello and the Beatles. The sun was out, the weather was warm and people were happy. The selection was broad and varied, with each brewery offering at least two styles, sometimes three or more. This was a great opportunity, especially for novice beer drinkers to experience a wide array of tastes and styles. But, the burden of being a beer lover is, that I (being the exact opposite of a novice drinker) already have had most of what was offered. With one exception—Olde Burnside Brewing of East Hartford, Connecticut.

Olde Burnside Brewing taps
I'd never heard of this brewery, but their rep Matt Foley, gave me the rundown. Founded by Albert McClellan in 1911, the Burnside Ice Company has been providing ice to central Connecticut for 100 years. Albert's grandson Robert, using the same pure, ice-making water (coveted by local home brewers for it's mineral content) established Olde Burnside Brewing in the mid-nineties. Drawing on the McClellan family's Scottish roots, Olde Burnside created their flagship brew, the Scottish-style Ten Penny Ale. Amber hued, with a bright, caramel smoothness, Ten Penny would help to build Olde Burnside to one of the largest craft breweries in Connecticut.

Hands down, the best beer of the day, however, was Olde Burnside's Dirty Penny Ale. A 60/40 blend of a proprietary dry stout (made only for this beer) and their Ten Penny Ale. I'm amazed that a craft brewery, in this day and age, would go to the trouble of producing one beer (and not sell it) only to mix with another —That's dedication to making great beer. Dirty Penny is a deep brownish black with a coffee colored fluffy head. It's complex with a smokey, coffee and bittersweet chocolate character. It's light in the mouth with a very smooth finish, and amazingly easy to drink. It's tastes of a much bigger beer, but at 5.0% ABV, one could swig these long into a summer evening. Olde Burnside offers three other ales: Penny Weiz, a Wit brewed with heather tips; Ten Penny Reserve, a Wee-heavy Scotch Ale and Amazing Grace a Whiskey barrel aged version of the Ten Penny Reserve. There is a catch though, Olde Burnside does not bottle, they are available on tap at a few local hot spots (like Mahar's) around the Capital Region and obviously more readily available in Connecticut. They do offer growlers at some beverage centers across New York, so grab those jugs. Seriously, this is good stuff, try and track it down if you can. Olde Burnside is taking the time to make great beer, and you can really taste it in their products.

There's something to be said for communal drinking, outside, in warn weather. Whether it be around an intimate campfire with a few friends or in an open field with a few hundred friends—beer is best enjoyed with other people. There was none of the nonsense that has been in the news recentley—No fights, no one acting stupid, not even any accidents. There was just a group of people really enjoying themselves with beer and sunshine—and that's a just two good things that go good together.

Try and make next year, you'll be glad you did.

If you're local, Oliver's Beverage has both Ten Penny and Dirty Penny in growlers in their import/craft cooler!

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