Well, it’s Thursday, so I guess we’d better get around to posting a few of our adventures In Mount Holly this past Saturday! We came for the Fire and Ice Festival (John will update you a bit on that later, including a review of our impromptu lunch at the High Street Grill), but stayed for the High Street Grill’s First Annual Beerfest! Ahhh, a beersnob’s heaven: 12 craft breweries, under one tent, offering an array of intriguing brews, from standard porters to experimental recipes. I was in heaven!
A $20.00 ticket entitles you to a one-hour session of unlimited tasting. However, first let me say that sampling everything would have been difficult for me since: a) I’m nursing, so I was limited to drinking only what would “burn off” by the time I got back to my daughter; b) 12 breweries featuring 2 beers each=24 beers to drink. In one hour. Even if the glasses were small, I couldn’t even do all that in my college days…fortunately, there was a dump bucket provided (as is standard in wine tasting), so you didn’t feel obligated to drink every drop that you sampled (after which you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a grand reserve ale and a Meister Brau). My only problem with the setup as a whole was the unheated tent it was held in. Being that it was 30 degree weather that day, it forced the brewery representatives to serve everything ice cold- which is a no no when you’re tasting beer that has flavor (especially the porters; they are supposed to be served cellar temperature, 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit). There weren’t any beers represented at this festival that are typically served in cans which turn blue when it’s cold enough to drink (in order to cover up the fact that you’re just drinking corn-enhanced, yellow seltzer)…maybe they can improve upon this next year.
The breweries that were represented were: Lagunitas, Stone Brewing, Heavy Seas, Flying Dog, Troegs Brewing, Sly Fox, Stoudt’s, Victory, Captain Lawrence, Founder’s, Smuttynose, and Riverhorse. My favorites? Lagunitas’ Brown Shugga Ale and Smuttynose’s Perfect Porter.
Brown Shugga is a seasonal ale brewed with LOTS of brown sugar-yet it’s surprisingly crisp and balanced. There’s a sweetness to it, yes, but not overly so-and it’s balanced out nicely by the hops. The sugar gives it a beautiful, clean caramel color; it also has a nice head that hangs around. When John and I went up to the Smuttynose brewery rep to request a glass of the Perfect Porter, he insisted it was the best porter here, hands down. He was right. It may have been the best porter I’ve ever tasted; despite the temperature, both chocolate and a hint of smokiness came through the malty sweetness that was mixed with a slightly bitter finish. Dark, velvety, and lovely-it made all the other porters seem like thin, watered down imitations. I know this porter has been around for a while-where was I? I can’t wait to enjoy some at home at the right temperature, it should be amazing.
Other standouts were Captain Lawrence’s Smoked Porter (most smoked porters are either too weak-no smoke, or smoky to the point of coughing up a lung; this one was beautifully balanced, and would go wonderfully with barbecue or a juicy burger). Founder’s Reds Rye deserves a mention: brewed with 50% red rye, it blends surprisingly well with the hops, giving an overall floral character to the beer. One trend that is seeing overkill, however, is the “I-dare-you-to-drink-this” hopping. Beers such as Riverhorse’s Hopalotamus and Victory’s Hop Wollop are interesting, but in the end you wonder if you should just chew on a handful of hop flowers and get it over with, rather than go through the whole brewing process. A casualty of this trend was Stone Brewing’s Oak Aged Double Bastard. I was excited to try it, as the brewery rep gave a careful description of its aging in oak casks, as done with wine. It was so over-hopped, it killed any subtleties that the oak might have added, so what was the point, besides giving it a really pretty color?
Overall, it was a good experience for a first-time effort. I even commend them for the absence of bikini-clad bimbos serving up national brands (as I’ve found at many beer festivals), and for arranging several local breweries (including Riverhorse, one of the few New Jersey breweries) to be represented. Cheers!