Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Beer Fest!

We’re back and fully recovered from our trip to Boston for the German Beer Fest.

The four of us (my BIL Adam, his gf Kelly plus me and Mandy) left around 12:30 pm on Saturday after dropping the dogs off at the vet (kennel) and running a few errands. We arrived at the Doubletree Suites just across the river from Cambridge on Soldiers Field Rd. around 2:30. For those of you who have never used Priceline, I highly recommend it. We got two spacious suites on the 14th floor of a beautiful hotel for $80. In Boston. The room had two TVs, including a hi-def plasma and the bedroom looked out over a beautiful view of the Charles and then downtown Boston.

The only downside was that it wasn’t near a T-stop and the shuttle ran too intermittently for us. We had to take a taxi to cross the river to Harvard Sq., though I guess $8 per ride split between 4 people isn’t really any more expensive than the T.

After checking in and enjoying the room for a few minutes, we loaded into a taxi who drove us on a beautifully scenic drive down the Charles and around through MIT to our destination…the Cambridge Brewing Company at 1 Kendall Sq.

I won’t say much about it here because I plan to make a separate post, but it was my first visit and I loved it. Its reputation is well deserved.

After killing some time sampling CBC’s beer and eating some light appetizers, we started walking towards the T-stop. We wanted to burn off some of the alcohol we just consumed and find a place to get some coffee to help combat some of the sleepiness that was starting to encroach. Unfortunately, what looks to be a local coffee shop right next to CBC was closed. It always amazes me how coffee shops can stay in business and be closed on the weekends. You’d think there would be plenty of MIT students looking for a place to maintain their caffeine high while studying on the weekends. Eventually we made our way to the Kendall Square T-stop and found an Au Bon Pain to get some (bad) coffee. After that we hopped on the subway and made our way to Back Bay Station via the orange line.

As a quick, and rather pointless, sidebar I’d like to point out how much I love public transportation systems…specifically subways. Every city should have them. Until recently, I was intimidated by them because I didn’t know how they worked or how to read the maps. Then we spent two weeks in Paris and Munich and realized they’re really all basically the same. There’s nothing like figuring out two massive systems in two different foreign languages to help your confidence riding them back home.

After getting off the T at Back Bay, walking a few blocks down Clarendon to Tremont, we were at the Cyclorama home of all the beeradvocate beer fests. The second session of the fest began at 6 pm and when we arrived about 15 minutes early the line to get in was already starting to get long. I’m glad we got there when we did because it soon stretched around the block. It isn’t a big deal though, because as with all the Boston fests, the line moves very quickly. We were making fun of security because they were yelling to have your ID and ticket immediately available, any fidgeting and you’d be sent to the back of the line. I felt like I was in a Seinfeld episode about to order soup.

We handed our tickets to security, had our IDs checked, and walked up the stairs to the second floor. The cyclorama is a very cool building to have a beer fest. First, it’s huge. Second, it’s a wide open floor plan. Third, there are skylights in the ceiling that add just enough lighting to keep it looking fresh.

The German fest apparently didn’t have as many booths because the middle of the floor was set up with a bunch of long tables with seating.

This is a change from the other fests we’ve been to, where there were booths set up around the exterior of the room, plus two rows of booths running up the middle back to back. Mandy’s only complaint about the fests is that there isn’t enough seating, but there was plenty of it on Saturday. There were brewers set up shoulder to shoulder surrounding the exterior of the floor plan. There wasn’t any rhyme or reason to their placement that I could tell, but the fest guide had the layout to help you find what you were looking for. There was a mixture of three different categories of brewers and distributors. There were American brewers who brought their German-inspired beers, the German breweries/distributors who are available for purchase in the USA, and a select group of German breweries who are not available for commercial purchase in the USA. For obvious reasons, this third group was the most special. It was where I started, where I finished, and where I went in the middle when I couldn’t decide what else to try.

Highlights of the fest included Weihenstephaner Hefe that was the freshest I have ever tasted. Adam called it almost too hefe-weizen-y, which I personally thought was a good thing…a very good thing. Most of the special Germany-only beers were also standouts including the Faust-Miltenberger Pils. Truthfully though, for me this fest was all about just drinking the wonderfully fresh beers on display. I was much less concerned with trying to find the gems of the fest because they were all gems…and by the end, the weizens all began to taste the same, as did the doppelbocks and pilsners!

The fest was extremely fun and well-run. The attendees were younger than usual, I thought, and there wasn’t any drunken nonsense that you normally see towards the end of session 2. There were just two complaints expressed by our party of four. First, we wish that brewers would allocate half of their stock to each session. We went to the Harpoon booth to try their Sticke Beer, the “official beer of the fest” and they were all out! How do you run out of the official beer of the fest? So we asked for the Kellerbier…out of that also. Sorry, but I can get your Octoberfest and Munich Dark at any beer store in CT…no thanks. I’m sure the folks at Session One got to taste these to their hearts’ content, but if you wanted to try it during Session 2 you had to hit their booth in the first hour or two. That’s not cool. The second complaint is a rather generic complaint about beer fests in general. I guess I noticed it on Saturday because it isn’t usually a problem at beeradvocate fests so it stuck out. When you get your sample, get the hell out of the way. People were grabbing their sample, taking maybe one step backward, then just turning around and talking to each other. It created impenetrable walls of people surrounding the booths. They wouldn’t move when you said excuse me and gave you dirty looks if you tried to move them a little with your arms/elbows. Sorry, but get the hell out of the way! There was plenty of room in the center of the vast room to stand around and talk, don’t clog up the booths. There were a few points where I felt my blood pressure start to raise and I’m a pretty laid-back guy! Again, this isn’t usually a problem at these fests, but for some reason it stuck out to all of us. There was also a third problem when one of the volunteers (beeradvocate “hires” its members on a volunteer basis to work at their fests to do things like empty buckets and pour beer at the various booths) refused to fill up two samplers for me. I was trying to save a little space by taking Mandy’s glass for her, I wasn’t trying to drink both myself…heaven forbid. After I went back and got Mandy so she could get it herself, he rolled his eyes at her. WTF?! None of the other pourers refused to double pour the entire night except for him.

When the beerfest ended at 9:30 we were all a little tipsy, but not quite ready for bed yet. We walked back to the T-station and took the subway to Harvard Sq. where we walked around aimlessly for a while searching for John Harvard’s. Finally we asked a nice couple who pointed us in the right direction. We enjoyed some beautifully served cask IPA and a light bite to eat. Eventually we stumbled into a taxi and made it back to our hotel room before passing out.

We slept in the next morning but luckily weren’t feeling much in the way of ill-effects other than maybe a slight headache. We drove over the bridge and ate brunch at Fire and Ice in Cambridge. If you’ve never eaten at Fire and Ice, I highly recommend it. After gorging on brunch we drove home and I spent the rest of the day on the couch watching football and a couple of soccer games I recorded while we were gone.


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