Tuesday, June 19, 2012

It's hip to be (hyper-) local

Hyper-Local Craft Brew Tasting. When I heard about this festival being put on by Boston Local Food, part of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Boston, I was really excited about it. Their goal is to foster the growth of a local food system that is healthy and sustainable, and to create connections between "the eaters and local food sources, producers, distributors, restaurants, retail food businesses, government agencies and non profit organizations with a core interest in supporting locally owned independent food businesses."

The market for local ingredients in restaurants, and local products in stores is surging right now. It's hip to be local. And I'm a fan. And one area in which I can confidently say that more than 80% of my monthly purchases are from local purveyors is beer. And the number of micro and nano craft brewers in the Greater Boston area (let's say 100ish miles of the city) seems to be growing rapidly, so there are a lot of good local beer choices. Just figure in the last two years at least 5 such brewers have popped up within 30 miles of Boston, and (I believe) 3 of those hit the market within the last 9 months.

So, the brewfest. It was held at The Armory in Somerville; which turned out to be a great location for an intimate festival. The brewers in the main room weren't exactly set up in rows or a circle as one might expect, but somehow the flow still worked. Although it was crowded you didn't necessarily feel squished. Food vendors, wineries, the meadery, and cider were mostly set up around the outside edges. And then there were a handful or so of brewers (and Homebrew Emporium, and some chocolates) on the balcony which felt a little more squishy. Because of the open space and high ceilings I would have expected it to be naturally loud but even with some music playing via a radio it wasn't too loud, until the live band went on.

This wasn't one of those giant 100 plus brewery beerfests (which in my opinion can be fun but also a bit of a waste because let's face it who can try that many beers?!), there were 18 brewers, a meadery, a couple of cider offerings, and a few wineries. I was surprised to realize that I'd had, or at least tasted, beers from 12 of the breweries that were in attendance; but I was excited to see that all of them had brews with them that I'd never tried before.

Some beer highlights:

Cape Ann Brewing Company had a cask of their Fisherman's Pick Ale, which is brewed with cucumbers and had some melon flavors. It reminded me of a beer cocktail, in fact one of my companions likened it to a Pimm's Cup. It was certainly crisp and I am sure it would be a refreshing brew in the hot summer sun, but I'm not completely sold on it.

Blue Hills Brewery had their Watermelon Wheat Beer on tap along with a few other offerings. The nose on this beer was unbelievable, if I didn't know better I would have thought I was about to bite into a juicy piece of watermelon rather than take a sip of beer. Now I like most fruit beers anyways, but I think this one might even satisfy those who think fruit beers are too sweet.

Idle Hands Craft Ales brought their flagship beer, Pandora (which I've had) and one of their special releases, Blanche de Grace, a Belgian Wit. It had a surprising tartness at the end that really lent well to the other spices and flavors.

Slumbrew had several offerings but I was most excited to try their newest beer, Rising Sun Ale. A reddish German style beer with a rich malty flavors. I can't say enough good things about these guys; their beers always hit the mark for me (My Better Half is my favorite take on cream ales).

Night Shift Brewing was the only brewery where I had tried all of their offerings before (this is mostly due to the fact that I visited them at their brewery in Everett recently), but there was something I hadn't tried: a half/half mixture of their Taza Stout and Viva Habanero. Both are great beers but with their powers combined they're a force to be reckoned with.

Other notable mentions go to Mystic Brewery, who use an old world Belgian brewing style to create a variety of Saisons (they had 4 different types with them, I really dug their Mystic Saison); and to Notch American Session Ale, whose focus is on session beers (those 4.5 ABV and below, meant for multiple consumption over a "session) and whose newest offering, Tafelbier, is an extremely drinkable, flavorful 2.8% ABV Belgian style table beer.

I'd say the Hyper Local Craft Brew Tasting was a total success and I look forward to more events like it. Oh yea, and drinking more local beer!

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