Yesterday was the fourth annual Ithaca Brew Fest. This is an amazing event in which guests get to taste enormous amounts of beer from nearly 50 breweries ranging from New York State micros to national brands. It’s a fantastic way to try lots of different brews; for a novice at the beer snobbery game like myself, it’s also a great way to compare many qualities of beer so I can better put my finger on what I like and what I don’t, or what would be good with various foods, or moods, or what have you. Especially fun this year was that my best friend from college joined me – he’s a bit more experienced with the nomenclature for beers and has tried some homebrewing, but he’s never been to the Ithaca area or sampled our local stuff. So, it was fun to compare notes. (Besides having a great little mini-Eph-physics reunion!)
As I mentioned above, I’m an amateur at the beer review process; but at least this is my 3rd Brew Fest, I like trying things, and I can make a stab at putting some of my thoughts into words. Here are some of the highlights that stand out in my mind after Brew Fest 2010:
Ithaca Beer Co.: CascaZilla and Cold Front
We are fortunate to have a really good brewery here in town, and I’ve just got to bring them up first. My friend was especially a fan of CascaZilla, IBC’s red ale. It’s a nicely balanced beer, between hoppiness and maltiness. At my insistence, our first tasting of the day was the Ithaca Beer Co.’s Cold Front, a Belgian-style amber ale. I first tried Cold Front at last year’s Brew Fest and it rapidly became my favorite beer of the fall and winter. It’s got a complex combination of several smoky flavors and gives me a very nice warm-and-fuzzy-inside feeling. Goes wonderfully with pizza from The Nines in Collegetown, or a Guinness burger at the Ithaca Ale House!
Weihenstaphen is from Freising, Germany and has been in business since 1040 C.E., so we kind of figured that they probably knew what they were doing! Korbinian is a doppelbock – which is, I think, my favorite kind of beer. Korbinian was particularly caramely and chocolately, with a strong, delicious smell to it. It was a very heavy beer – not really bready, but still not the kind of thing you can just drink; you have to take it in sips. We tried to come back for seconds on this one!
Wagner Valley Brewing Co.: Sled Dog Doppelbock
We continued a round of dark beer tastings with another doppelbock, the Sled Dock from Wagner (a NY local). This doppelbock was second only to the Korbinian, I thought: it also had rich caramel flavors, though it felt a bit lighter, making it easier to drink in larger sips.
Anchor Brewing: Anchor Porter
I do like a good porter, and this one hit the spot: a nice, rich, dark porter; a bit more bitter than all the doppelbocks we tried.
Bellwether Hard Cider: Liberty Spy and No. 4
Bellwether overcomes the disadvantage of its owner’s amHerst College heritage to produce some very tasty hard ciders, and is the establishment that introduced me to fine hard cider on par with all the craft breweries and many upstate NY wineries. I prefer their Original and Liberty Spy hard ciders to the fancier things like Cherry Street and Black Magic, which get augmented with cherries or black currants. Liberty Spy has clear apple flavors coming through; it’s fruity without being too sweet. New to me this year was No. 4, which had more sour-apple notes. Tasty without the flavors being overpowering!
Brewery Ommegang: Abbey Ale and Kup O Kyndnes
Ommegang’s Abbey Ale is brewed in the Trappist style; it’s got a lot of strong brown-ale flavors without being as chocolate- or caramel-dominated as the doppelbocks. Ommegang is a regular and Abbey Ale was a Brew Fest favorite among most of the people I talked to; it topped my friend’s list enough that he said he’s going to make a point to look for it back where he lives in the Boston area. That brew is something to be careful of, though: it’s delicious, but over 8% ABV! I tried their Belgian-style Scotch ale, Kup O Kyndnes, for the first time this year, which successfully combined a number of flavors from other beer styles.
Flying Dog Brewery: Raging Bitch
Whoo! This was the most punch-in-the-faceiest hoppy beer I have ever had. If you like hops, you should try it. It was definitely not my favorite, but I mention it because some people like their hops.
Roosterfish Brewing: Hop Warrior
Roosterfish’s imperial IPA is an extremely hoppy beer, rating 120 IBUs (whatever those are). However, what distinguished it from the Raging Bitch was that its full-on hoppiness was very well balanced out with malts, making it much easier to drink and giving it a full-bodied flavor. It compared nicely with Ithaca Beer Co.’s CascaZilla red ale, only more so.