Fans of fine beer descended upon the Bethel Woods Center for the Performing Arts this past Saturday for the inaugural (and hopefully annual) Craft Brewers Festival.
Twenty-two different breweries and two cideries served up samples of some of their finest brews. In most cases, each showcased two varieties thus giving festival goers a wide selection of potent potables from which to choose.
All of the beers and ciders that were featured are produced in New York State and a good many of them are made in Westchester, Dutchess, Orange and even Sullivan counties. Some breweries, such as Brewery Ommegang and Butternuts (both from Cooperstown), Southern Tier from Lakewood (Chautauqua County) and Sixpoint (Brooklyn) can be found in Pennsylvania.
However, the vast majority of the featured brews are not for sale in the Keystone State, heck, most aren't sold outside of New York.
When asked about his distribution, Nick Califano from Yonkers Brewing replied, "It's wherever I can drive my pick-up truck."
Unlike many small brewers, Yonkers isn't trying to reinvent the wheel. Many microbreweries try to make a mark by coming up with an over the top, unheard of recipe to gain attention.
Their approach to getting noticed is to develop a line-up of very approachable beers such as their Vienna Lager and Belgian Pale Ale. Like many of the breweries here, Yonkers is an upstart.
"We sold our first kegs in January," Califano continued, "and since then we've expanded to 145 locations in West Chester, Rockland, Manhattan, Queens and Dutchess counties."
One doesn't have to travel that far to get some craft beer.
The Roscoe Beer Co. in Sullivan County not only recently began producing its own Trout Town American Amber Ale after serving as a contract brewer for the Adirondack Brewing Co. in Lake George, in spite of what that brewery's website might say.
The fine folks from Roscoe were serving up beers from both brands. In Sullivan County their beers can be purchased at Peck's Markets, Lander's River Café & Deli, and Sunoco Country Stores, as well as many other restaurants and event venues.
Another Sullivan County brewery, Callicoon Brewing Co., is also new to the game.
Started by Jim Shemus just a few months ago, they currently are offering just one beer. Callicoon Country Lager is a medium bodied amber colored lager that offers good flavor and drinkability.
This is the first festival for Shemus and his crew, Mary Head and Patti Moorhead.
"I thought a brewpub was something the area needed," Shemus related. "We opened the brewpub this past summer and things have been going well. Right now we have 11 New York State beers on tap plus one of our own."
Page 2 of 3 - Like many events at Bethel Woods, Wayne County residents are usually in attendance.
Don Kemman from Prompton noted he was enjoying the festival and has been a fan of craft beers for about 10 years. Among his favorite tastes of the day were Rushing Duck's Coffee Porter, Keegan Ales Mother's Milk Stout and The Bronx Brewery's Black Pale Ale.
The Orange County based Rushing Duck kegs did seem to be a popular destination for festival goers. The Beanhead Coffee Porter is a dark, mysterious brew heavy in body and dry in flavor.
While other coffee porters and stouts hint and play with the flavor of the roasted bean, Rushing Duck doesn't skirt around the issue. They add 10 pounds of coffee to every 450 gallon brew kettle giving the beer a rich scent and taste. Rushing Duck has wide availability through Orange County and is featured at the Callicoon Brewing Co.
The Kingston-based Keegan Ales has been pouring out the suds since 2003. Their Mother's Milk Stout is a creamy, dark treat that would appeal to Guinness fans, while their Hurricane Kitty is a copper colored India Pale Ale that aficionados of heavily hopped, bitter ales would enjoy.
IPAs are the hot ticket in U.S. microbrewing. While several California, Pennsylvania and Vermont based breweries have set the benchmarks in this style, New York brewers are kicking out some stuff that can hold their own when it comes to a hops based battle. Rockland County's Andean Brewing's American IPA presents a good spicy scent, and a nice hoppy bite.
It also clocks in at 6.2 percent alcohol and is one of Andean's lower alcohol level brews. Bronx was dishing out samples of its Rye IPA, an up and coming IPA variety, which has a rich hops flavor with an unmistakable hint of seeded rye bread.
Another style, the Belgian IPA, combines the hops found in American IPA recipes but adds fruit and floral notes typical of many Belgian styles of beer. Three Heads Brewing from Rochester showed off its Ontario Coast IPA in this category, as well as its Loopy Oatmeal Red which also packs hoppy punch as well.
Other beers of note were Elmira's Upstate Brewing's IPW (6.5 percent), a hybrid between an American Wheat style and an IPA and Andean's Belgian Tripel (9.1 percent) a cloudy, golden brew ripe with fruity notes and sweet, warm finish.
The venue was great and the weather perfect. The Market Sheds provided ample cover and room to house the tasting stands as well as the festival attendees who waited patiently in line for their samples.
While well attended, the festival didn't seem crowded. Seasoned beer veterans sported shirts supporting their favorite breweries or past beer festivals they had attended, much like music fans at a concert or baseball fans at the hall of fame.
Page 3 of 3 - While some were there just to catch a buzz, many self-proclaimed beer snobs were in attendance commenting and comparing notes about the day's offerings. Should more brewers come to future festivals, there will be the need to expand the sampling areas as to not overcrowd the area, but Bethel Woods has plenty of room and new breweries are always popping up, so who knows how big this event could become down the road.
Author's Top Five Beers:
- Rushing Duck's Beanhead Coffee Porter
- Three Heads' Loopy Oatmeal Red Ale
- Yonkers' Vienna Lager
- Andean Belgian Tripel
- Middle Ages' Wailing Wench Double IPA