It is less than two hours into the Saturday afternoon session and there is already one poor soul slumped on the floor, resting on a column in the middle of the Seaport World Trade Center floor. Eyes closed, head to her chest, random papers, sample cup, and jacket strewn around her, she could no longer handle the debauchery and excess of limitless 2 oz samples of “extreme” beers. Either that or maybe it was just fatigue from waiting in line for Tree House.
Beer Advocate’s Extreme Beer Fest is the event that many fellow beer enthusiasts (nerds) pine for throughout the year. Tickets now go one sale 6+ months in advance and sell out soon after. It has become known as a place for both uber-hyped breweries to bring their rarest, most sought-after creations, as well as up and coming producers to get noticed. The spectacle has long outgrown it’s roots at the Cyclorama in the South End to take over a significant portion of the trade center space once a year. Three long rows of 70+ brewers serving 300+ beers is a lot to take in at first and for many, pre-planning routes to ensure the chance to tick the most limited brews is a must in the weeks leading up to the event. However, the dazzling array of options presented upon entering the building almost always leads to the best laid plans going out the window and the inevitable clusterfuck as lines build and intoxication sets in.
For session #2, the semi-annual “Running of the Neckbeards” commenced on-time at 1:00PM. The unshaven faithful could not be dissuaded from lining up more than 90 minutes prior to ensure they had the first taste of Triple Shot with Vanilla. The night before, I sheered my own substantial winter growth because I had developed a habit of stroking it like a Greek philosopher deep in thought. This act left me feeling like much less of a stereotype as I settled into the line a seemingly reasonable 45 minutes before open. The wait time flew by quickly as an endless line of douchebags cut the line to find their friends farther up. (Pro tip: your Uber driver getting lost does not give you the privilege to walk past everyone else in line to find your friends who planned ahead better.)
“No Treehouse line for me!” I definitely declared to my companions as we leisurely strolled inside. This year, I was intent on skipping the hype and concentrating more on sampling from breweries I was not familiar with or may not be quite as desired. Of course, I make a similar proclamation before every beer festival and inevitably end up giving in to my basic instinct of needing to taste the most limited offerings available and wait in ridiculously long lines for the privilege. This year would prove to be no different and after a mere two samples, I made a beeline for the longest line in the history of EBF. For the most part, lines were manageable for all breweries without the initials TH, so I didn’t feel quite so bad about breaking my self-imposed restriction. The 30 minute wait was also made much more bearable by the classy move of the TH staff to walk down the line pouring King Julius samples.
Sours and BA/adjunct dark beers ruled the day. Harper II from Proclamation was amazing. The addition of cherries to the already fantastic base worked perfectly. Not quite as good as Harper I, but these guys are really helping to put RI breweries on the map. No doubt the bottle release this weekend is going to be a shitshow.
Rare Barrel deserves every bit of praise they get. I probably drank a bottles worth of Forces Unseen samples. Old faithfuls like Maple Bacon Coffee Porter from Funky Buddha and Bourbon Gingerbread Stout from Hardywood were on-point, as well.
As for the big guns, Kane is really bringing it with their Barrel Aged program. ANTEAD Coconut is the truth and Mexican Brunch is an amazing take on the mexican stout trend. Tree House was worth the time, given you’d likely be waiting 3+ hours to get anything as limited at the brewery. Triple Shot with Vanilla was a bit of a letdown for me (not much vanilla and a bit thin), but Give Me Truth was about as perfect an example of a BA stout as you can find without any adjuncts necessary.
Lowlights for me included The King from Trophy (peanut butter water) and Pickle Juice from 4 Quarters (bad hop combination in a session IPA.) I would award worst in show to Dogfish Head’s Liquor De M’Alstroms. Adding chilis and corn nuts to a malt liquor base is definitely extreme as fuck, but that doesn’t make it interesting, nor good. I’ll give points for the cleverness of serving out of plastic 40oz bottles in brown paper bags, but god forbid the flagship beer from the event’s sponsors is actually drinkable. Not far behind was the Chocolate Fruition Gose from Newburgh. Who tasted this and thought it would be a good representation of their brewery at a high-profile event? It was great fun to watch the look on people’s faces as they walked away from their booth, though. It reminded me of those youtube videos of sadistic parents handing infants their first lemon slice only more pukey.
The surprise of the fest for me was Cambridge Brewing’s You Enjoy My Stout with Toasted Coconut on cask; an amazing improvement on a classic recipe. I am all-aboard the adjunct stout hype train and hope to see similar variants from these guys when it is brewed again next year.
There were a lot of complaints that EBF ’16 was too full of “shelf beer” this year. I respectfully disagree and found it a bit liberating to not be caught up in the mad dash for the next 20+ minute line for a sip of a whale. Sometimes it is much more fun to just relax, wander around with friends, and find beer you otherwise would never have known about rather than doing your best Captain Ahab impression. Once you got away from the meandering Tree House line and surrounding booths, the room felt much less crowded and chill. People were generally well-behaved and the “Whalez Brah” crowd seemed to be at a minimum or at least kept the elitism to themselves.
My biggest beef of the afternoon was with the Waffle Cabin. If I wait in your line for 15+ minutes, the damn things better be cooked all the way through. I get that they want to pump them out as quickly as possible, but as a liege waffle connoisseur, a doughy, uncooked center made me sad. I also missed the free bags of chips from previous years.
As I walked to the exit near the end of the session, I couldn’t help but notice that the passed-out girl from earlier had been replaced by several more, similarly unable to handle the utter extremeness of the event. Remember folks, food and water are your friends, both before, during, and after beer fests. You don’t want to be “that guy/girl” semi-conscious in the middle of the floor clutching a broken pretzel necklace while your friend holds a puke bag to your face.
As always, a good time seemed to be had by all, without a doubt worth the $60 price of admission. I certainly didn’t get to try everything, so feel free to share your personal highlights/lowlights, surprises, or disappointments in the comments.