Thursday, June 25, 2009

NJ Craft Beer Festival wrapup and the weekend in Philly

It's about time I posted a recap of the NJ Craft Beer fest last weekend...

Needless to say, R and I were worried about a crummy day in Camden what with the constant rain all Saturday morning. The drive on 295S got kind of hairy at times with some serious downpours. After checking into our hotel in Center City we took a cab to the River Link ferry and arrived in Camden about 40 minutes before the festival. The rain made for some confusion for those early for the fest - take the self-guided tour or pass? We passed and stood around in a smelly shelter while we watched one confused, wet, thirsty ticketholder after another try to figure out where to go. If the Guild can straighten one thing out with this festival, it's just that. How about some signage to let people know where they should be?

Once we got on the Battleship though, everything was fantastic. The Guild got a great brewery turnout and the rain slowed down quickly enough that folks could enjoy the areas outside of the tent most of the time. One of the great things about this festival every year is that it's always easy to get samples. No waiting around on lines in front of each brewery's table. I should also note that the food at this festival is pretty decent, at least as beer festival grub goes. I got a chili dog and a pepperoni pretzel. R just had a pretzel. Not bad, and a good base for all of the beers to come.

If I had to pick a favorite, the Old Smokey from Basil T's was probably the best. I had this a few weeks back when I went with R to Red Bank for a day, and it has definitely held up well. A golden hued Rauchbier, not quite the mouthful of bacon that you might get from a Schlenkerla, but not wimpy either. Just right. All of Gretchen's beers were great, as usual, including the XXX Summer Ale. I'd also point to the Paymaster Porter from Cricket Hill and the Imperial Pilsner from High Point as standouts.

One highlight of the day was running into fellow NJ beer blogger Jeff Linkous, whose Beer Stained Letter is hands-down the best source of info and commentary on craft beer in NJ. Great meeting you, Jeff, and keep up the great work!

We also heard a rumor at the festival of a new brewpub being in the works in Newark. Some Google searches turned up a few forum threads and a pic of a storefront. So yes, it looks like Port City Brewing is coming to Newark at some point in September. Great news for New Jersey!

Post festival, we hit some of the Philly beer bars. I had never realized just how close Triumph in Old City is to the ferry terminal at Penn's Landing, so we walked straight there when we got back to the Philly side. The Old City location certainly does justice to the other Triumph restaurants. I look forward to trying their refreshing and slightly yeasty Kellerbier whenever I'm there, and they're getting it right in Philly. The Oatmeal Stout was velvety and delicious as well.

A quick nap later and we checked out Nodding Head. Had our usual, a pint each of the Berliner Weisse and a plate of the white beans and sage. Perhaps not a legendary beer and food pairing, but it's just one of those things that we do every time. I also had a Prudence Pale Ale, which I was supremely impressed with. I've had a thing for really low alcohol beers lately (like 4% and below) and I've been trying them wherever I can. Prudence is only 3.75%, yet has plenty of body, caramel sweetness, and a punchy Pacific northwest hop profile that comes across in aroma, flavor, and finish. Nicely done.

Last but not least was the legendary Monk's Cafe. Really crowded, as usual. I found a little space for myself at the corner of the bar and settled in with a Pliny the Elder from Russian River in California. I had to try one because I've never seen it anywhere in NYC before and it's a pretty well-hyped beer. As a matter of fact, it was just voted #1 beer in the Zymurgy reader poll (the AHA's mag). Let's just say that Pliny didn't do it for me. It had a strong resiny/catty hop character that just doesn't agree with me. Sure, I can see why most of the hopheads would love it, but I had a hard time choking back the last few sips.

I did, however, have one amazing beer at Monk's. The Cantillon Monk's Cuvee Gueuze. This is a blend made by the owner of Monk's and the brewer at Cantillon in Belgium. You can read the full description somewhere here. I would say that I'm not the biggest fan of lambic, gueuze, and other Brettanomyces fermented beers. I can appreciate them for what they are, but I hardly go out of my way to track them down. This beer was different. I think it really showed a lot of the earthy, woody character that can come from these beers without being a brett punch in the face that you get with a lot of lambics.

Maybe the best beer I had all weekend, and I consider it very fortunate that it was how I ended the night.

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