Beer galore

Beer galore

By Carleton Atwater

At the American Craft Beer Festival last Saturday, brewers from all around the country gathered to experience new tastes and old favorites. Here is one student’s adventure through the world of beer with some interesting facts he learned along the way.

Beer.

A one-word college staple that is as important as late-night pizza and Facebook.

Most concentrate on the quantity of the brew over its quality, but last weekend I had the chance to experience both, at the American Craft Beer Festival.

The festival offered the choice of more than 125 beers from 39 different breweries as well as some interesting people, including a beer monk. What’s a beer monk? Read on.

Most people are familiar with lagers like Budweiser and possibly stouts, such as Guinness. But that’s just the tap of the keg.

In reality, there are dozens of different styles and variations, from Pilsners, IPAs, Saisons and Porters to Hefeweizens, Bocks and Dubbels, which were plentiful at the festival.

One of the most interesting beers was the Speedway Stout from the AleSmith Brewing Co. of San Diego, Calif.

It was heavy, even for a stout, and weighed in at a whopping 12.5 percent alcohol by volume. It was delicious, but I’m not sure if I could have had more than the 2 oz. sample I was given.

However, not all craft beer is high in alcohol. There are many brewers who strive to make what is known as a “session beer.” This is a brew relatively low in alcohol, maybe only 3 percent, but still full of flavor. This style of beer was originally designed to serve the British working class, so they could enjoy a few pints at lunch and still work a full afternoon.

One group that strives to keep this tradition alive is the Cask-Conditioned Ale Support Campaign (CCASC). As opposed to the carbon dioxide pumps and taps that most beer is served through, cask-conditioned ale is stored in barrels and delivered to the glass through hand-powered gravity pumps, much like the old-fashioned water pumps found on farms. This is how beer was served for centuries before modern taps became prevalent. The result is a beer that’s much smoother, more consistent and allows for ales with low carbonation to be better served.

“Cask beer is quite a tradition in the United Kingdom, but it’s never been very big here in the U.S. CCASC is an effort to try and bring part of that tradition across the pond to American beer drinkers,” said Mark Bowers, Secretary of CCASC.

The camaraderie among festival goers kept the mood light and provided an opportunity for beer aficionados from all over to meet and discuss their foamy passion.

“The people here are really great. They’re friendly, polite, inquisitive. They want to know about the beers, they’re not here just for a party. It’s a good opportunity just to talk to people,” said Matthew Nadeau, President of Rock Art Brewery of Morrisville, Vt.

People like Woody Chandler.

With his long straggly beard and brown monk’s robe covered with pins and buttons from various breweries, he was hard to miss. (This is where “beer monk” gets defined.)

“Wearing the robe to beer events has become kind of a tradition for me,” said Chandler, 41, of Lancaster, Penn.

Chandler explained he began wearing the robes two years ago as part of a charity organization in Madison, Wis. but it soon expanded to beer events as a way of celebrating the influence Belgian monks have had in the development of beer. For centuries, monks would brew various ales in their abbeys and monasteries and pass the tradition on to future generations when it was in danger of disappearing.

“I had to train to be able to wear the outfit all day. On a hot day like today it could be a nightmare for someone who’s not used to it,” he said.

The festival goers were mostly in their late 20s and early 30s, but there were some college students in attendance, including senior music industry major Conor Perreault.

“It was cool to see all different beers that are offered. It’s nice to see people making beers that aren’t just Budweiser; things that actually have interesting tastes to them. You can drink beer for other reasons than getting smashed,” Perreault said.

Asked him if he thought craft beers could become more popular with the younger crowd, he said many students might be limited by tight budgets.

“Cost is an issue for college kids, of course. When you can get a six-pack of Coors for the same price that one bottle of some of these nicer beers are, a lot of kids will go for the six-pack,” Perreault said. “At the same time though, a lot of the craft beers are really full-flavored and can be quite strong, so you don’t need to drink 10 in a row to get a buzz going, if that’s what you’re after.”

Perreault said the apathy toward finer beers might simply be lack of exposure for many students.

“The first time a lot of people drink beer it’s probably something cheap like Bud Light at a house party, so they don’t know any better, but there’s a lot of really great stuff out there if you’re interested,” he said.

There are a number of great resources online, such as www.beeradvocate.com and www.RateBeer.com.

If craft beers are something you’re curious about but don’t know where to start, a good way to introduce yourself to the different styles is at one of the many brewpubs around Boston, such as Cambridge Brewing Company or Boston Beer Works, said Andy Crouch, author of “The Good Beer Guide to New England.”

Brewpubs are bars that make their own beer on site. Most will offer a sampler platter of all the different beers they offer so you can find the style that best suits your tastes.

“I don’t believe there’s somebody who doesn’t like beer,” Crouch said. “Only those who haven’t found a style they like yet.”

Miss the beer fest?

Or perhaps brew isn’t your cup of tea. Then check out the Annual Summer Wine and Beer Tasting at Huntington Wine and Spirits from 5 to 7 p.m. today. Located across from the YMCA and co-sponsored by The Boston Woman’s Journal, the event will enlighten those of legal age (21- plus only) about a variety of wines. Those who attend can pick up a bottle of their own for a 20 percent discount. There will also be a variety of summer beers to taste. For more information, call 617-536-0164 or visit www.huntingtonwineandspirits.com.

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