The audacity of hops

by Megan Labrise
August 19, 2010 12:24 PM | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ommegang’s Rare Vos is poured.
Ommegang’s Rare Vos is poured.
Esteemed eater: This may be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to tell you. Not that I’m about to reveal some emotional tripe. It’s just that waves of beer have lapped at the shoreline of my mind, leaving a sudsy wake where my memory should be.

The Fourth Annual Terrapin New York State Craft Beer Expo was held on the weekend of August 7 and August 8. I planned to go with my best friend, a New York City bartender, to celebrate a birthday. She hopped the Hudson Line. We arrived at 3 p.m. for the Sunday session.

Organized by Terrapin “BevMan” Chris Carbone, Beer Expo was hands down my best bottoms-up experience this year, an excellent way to sample all that New York State has to offer in the way of potent (carbonated) potables. Portland, Oregon is the city with the most microbreweries per capita, and many beer braggarts there claim that New York ales pale in comparison to the West Coast’s. Let those loggers have their lagers — the Empire State is brewing beers as complex as the finest wines.

Beer Expo was held at Terrapin Catering, with the beautiful, ornate carved doors on Route 9 in Staatsburg by the Dinsmore golf course. Outside were a band, tented buffet and the Hudson Valley Homebrewers’ demonstration booth. Inside, 26 New York State craft breweries were arrayed around an L-shaped perimeter: Blue Point, Butternuts, Brooklyn, Brown, Captain Lawrence, Chatham, Cooperstown, Defiant, Ellicottville, Fire Island, Hyde Park, Ithaca, Keegan Ales, Kelso, Lake Placid, Mendocino, Middle Ages, Ommegang, Olde Saratoga, Saranac, Schmaltz, SixPoint, Southampton, Southern Tier, Wagner Valley and Warwick Valley. A wall of windows to the west allowed the light to stream in, illuminating copper and amber ales arranged in ice on the tabletops. Beervana.

In this magical place, everyone received a small plastic cup emblazoned with the Beer Fest logo. True draught devotees could purchase larger mugs for larger tastes. There were no lines, perhaps because it was BeerFest’s first year as a two-day event, splitting attendance between Saturday and Sunday. Whatever the cause, it was to our benefit. There was no crush to get to the beers. Pourers, who included company reps and local volunteers, were willing to chat.

We began with a flight of six samples at the Ithaca Beer Company booth. My favorite was Excelsior! AlpHalpHa, a double bitter imbued with local honey. My friend liked Old Habit, a strong, spicy, syrupy beer partially fermented in Kentucky rye whiskey barrels, ergo tasting of oak. Flower Power was bursting with honeysuckle, hops and a blatant grapefruit flavor — perhaps the most citrus beer we’d ever experienced.

Pitchers of water allowed us to wash out our cups between tastes. Large buckets were stationed around the room to receive any unwanted beer. (As if.)

Brewery Ommegang (Cooperstown) is famous for its Belgian-style ales. First, we received a language lesson: “Ommegang” is a “festival or pageant,” and it’s pronounced “Oh-meh-gang,” which rhymes with “Tang.” One went to the moon, one will send you there: Abbey Ale boasts an impressive 8.5 percent alcohol by volume. Our pourer, Bill, regaled us with tales of Weihenstephan, Germany, whose Benedictine abbey operates the oldest still-producing brewery in the world. We drank Rare Vos, which means “Sly Fox,” an amber ale named after the brewer’s favorite Bavarian cafe. The surprisingly smooth Chocolate Indulgence, made with real Belgian chocolate, had a dark, thick, foamy head. Abbey Ale was darker and gave off a whiff of cinnamon. I tasted tobacco and Belgian sugar.

Bill espoused an easygoing beer drinker’s philosophy: everyone has different taste and no detected “note” is necessarily wrong. “To me it’s crap, but if you like it, you like it,” he explained of Bud Light.

After just two breweries, a buffet visit was in order. We chowed down on excellent pulled pork, sweet corn salad, jalapeño corn bread, brownies and cookies courtesy of Terrapin Red Bistro. The finger foods made me happiest because I was experiencing technical difficulties inserting a fork into my mouth. (8.5 percent alcohol is no joke.)

Back in the ring for round two, I found the beers at Brown’s Brewing Co. (Troy) easy to drink: Tomhannock Pilsner, named after the brewery’s water source, the Tomhannock Reservoir; Oatmeal Stout, a Gold Medal winner at the 2004 World Beer Cup; and a spot-on Hefe-Weizen, or wheat beer.

Thanks to the good people at Brooklyn Brewing, I was soon in receipt of a pint glass. They served us Dark Matter, another one of those thick, complex dark beers my friend likes, and Buzz Bomb, a flavorful wheat beer with honey undertones. I would call it the number-one beer of the bunch; our pourer called it “dangerously drinkable.”

Carbone himself pulled our Blue Point Brewery beers (Patchogue, Long Island), including a tenth-anniversary ale that was naturally fermented...and there was a porous wood stopper that let the air mix in...and it carbonated itself? I was just trying to keep my eyes focused. I’m sure he’d be happy to explain this process to you if you stopped by Terrapin some time.

Blue Point’s Toasted Lager got a star next to its name from me. The malt is toasted in a copper kettle. I heard a rumor that Keegan Ales (Kingston) had a special Coconut Brown Ale. It was gone. Instead, a friendly acquaintance mixed up a “Twisted Old Mother,” equal parts Mother’s Milk, Old Capital and Hurricane Kitty, in my new pint glass.

For the Ellicottville Brewing Company (EBC), I wrote down “Gemini (imperial),” but there’s no beer named Gemini on their website. Perhaps it’s someone’s sign. I did have the Blueberry Wheat, which was effervescent, and another mystery beer, “XX,” declared divine by a really big scribbled star.

I drank Righteous Rye from SixPoint Craft Ales (Brooklyn), Saranac Pale Ale (Utica), and Porkslap Farmhouse Ale from Butternuts Beer & Ale (Garrattsville) and remembered nothing, save the image of two pink pigs bumping stomachs on the Porkslap can.

Notified that I had officially become an intoxicated personality, my friend whisked me away for a soporific supper and good night’s sleep.++

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