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On the waterfront: Beer finds at the Williamsburg beer fest

Beer on the Williamsburg wateront

More than a thousand beer aficionados and, for sure, a few novices, thronged to the event at the foot of N. 11th Street, the Brooklyn Waterfront Beer Festival, on June 16, where the wares of 86 breweries were available for sampling.

The organizer, the Hand Crafted Tasting Co., a unit of concert promoter Mad Dog Presents, relied on craft beer industry stalwart Jim Pickett to curate beers for the two-session event.

Fesltival’s beer curator Jim Pickett

Pickett, who among other things now markets artisan non-alcoholic beverages at his own company, Gotham Artisanal, has been around craft beer for more than two decades, having started as New York State brand manager for Brooklyn Brewery. He later marketed Stella Artois, Hoegaarden, Leffe, Boddingtosn and Bass Ales before jumping into the spirits business. In 2007, he joined Pipeline Brands, a marketer of beer, wine and spirits.

He says he requested that participating brewers present beers appropriate to the summer season and those with limited release.

For the most part, I’d say Pickett did an admirable job.

Tasting at the afternoon session that I attended, however, proved to be somewhat haphazard as there was no printed guide to the beers, just a grouping by distributors. This turned a visitor into a beer explorer. And explore I did.

Still, there was plenty of pleasure to be had in the beers available — both to the masses in the main areas of the fest and for those willing to splurge $125 to sample harder-to-find brews in an indoor connoisseur’s lounge far from the crowds. The latter were brews “not on everyone’s radar,” said Pickett, “We were looking for things that you generally do not see anywhere.”

Sommelier Roz Donagher oversaw the festival’s connoisseur’s lounge

Indeed, in the connoisseur’s lounge a crew led by sommelier Roz Donagher (the wife of beer-bar impresario Patrick Donagher) poured a range of extraordinary brews.

I particularly enjoyed the refreshing Corsendonk Apple White Beer, a bottled conditioned Belgian wit with a touch of apple juice added.  It reminded me of a wit I’d enjoyed years ago with a slice of apply pie. It’s a combination that lingered in my memory and this spicy brew rekindled it.

Onto more fruit. This time the flavors of dried raisins, figs and caramelized sugar, which dominated the palate of Southampton Publick House Abbot 12, a 10.5% abv Belgian-style quadruple–not exactly the kind of beer to start the day with, but what the heck.

There also was the vanilla-accented, malty Innis & Gunn Independence Day, a Scottish ale aged in American whiskey barrels, and the tart, funky and fruity, but oh-so-delicious Kelso Brett IPA. From Uinita Brewing in Utah, there was a rich and chewy, citrus accented Duhbe (doo-bee) and from Wandering Star Craft Brewery there was Bert’s Disqualified Stout with an unmistakable alcoholic bite. Also very good were the whiskeyish Founders Brewing Curmudgeon, and the rich Stone Brewing’s Double Bastard

The main event, too, had plenty of new, exciting brews to sample.

Wit beers were plentiful. Besides the Corsendonk, those that impressed were White Aphro from Kelso of Brooklyn spiced with ginger and lavender. Meanwhile Blue Moon, which so many love to hate because of its Coors parentage, presented its floral Farmhouse Red Ale, a cross between a red ale and a saison-a new year-round release, and Vintage Blonde ale, which is made with Chardonnay grape juice and offered notes of apple on the nose and palate.

And there were pils, helles, hefeweizens and saisons galore.  Among the saisons I enjoyed Unibroue’s Blonde de Chambly with its notes of lemongrass; the spicy, dry Radius from Brooklyn Brewery and the crisp, fruity Open Saison from Ben’s Beers, a small upstate New York brewer.

And while I’m a huge big fan of fruit beers, lambics excepted, I took great pleasure in Tommyknocker’s Tundrabeary Ale, a refreshing light brew with a huge fresh berry character.

Bruton Momus, an abbey dubbel style beer from Birrificio Bruton of Lucca, Italy, with intense sweet malty notes and a hint of coriander, was also a winner. Another Bruton offering, Lilith, was an Italian take on American pale ale with notes of resin and citrus.

All told, a pleasant afternoon spent with mostly extraordinary beers.

Robert Howell, one of the organizers, told me that one of the reasons for undertaking the event was “to put New York City on the map of craft beer festival destinations.” With a few tweaks, I believe, he and his partners could be well be on their way.

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A beer festival grows anew in Brooklyn

Back in the early days of craft beer in New York City (we’re talking 1993-94) Brooklyn Brewery organized beer festivals on the waterfront near the Brooklyn Bridge. Huge white tents lined the esplanade of Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park where dozens of small brewers from across the country and around the world poured samples of their beers to thousands of attendees and dozens of restaurants served samples of their cuisines.

Attendees paid a mere $15 in advance and $25 at the gate to attend the New York Beer Fest, according to a 1994 New York Times clipping (Steve Hindy recalls the fee at $30 in his book, “Beer School”). No matter. It was a bargain and it was hard to imagine a better way to spend a sunny weekend day.  Craft beer was new and exciting and the Manhattan skyline across the river provided a terrific backdrop for the sudsy showcase.

But the festival folded its tents after just two years. In 1995, then New York State Parks Commissioner Bernadette Castro decided she did not want beer served in her park.

The fest was “the perfect embodiment of the sort of beer culture that we were trying to promote in New York City,”  Hindy wrote, adding, “I still hope a festival of that nature can be revived at some point for the city’s sake.

Looks like HIndy’s wish is being fulfilled. A new beer festival, dubbed the Brooklyn Waterfront Beer Festival, is scheduled for June 16 at 5 N. 11th St. at the waterfront in Williamsburg, just one block from the Brooklyn Brewery.

The organizer, the Hand Crafted Tasting Co., a unit of concert promoter Mad Dog Presents, has put together a two-session event — 12:30 p.m.-4 p.m. and 6 p.m.-9:30 p.m. — with 75 breweries pouring 150 craft and imported beers.

And there’ll be food for sale from a variety of Brooklyn-based gourmet and specialty food purveyors, including Sheep Station (Australian lamb sandwiches and meat pies); Brooklyn Star (meatloaf sandwiches; sea food specialist Cornelius (shrimp and grits); Coolhaus with its all-natural ice cream sandwiches, and the Morris Grilled Cheese Truck.  Live bands will also perform.

“Between the outdoors, Williamsburg waterfront location, seasonal summer craft beers, live music, and great food, we think The Brooklyn Waterfront Beer Festival will be a beer tasting, block party people won’t want to miss.” Robert Howell, producer for Hand Crafted Tasting, said in a press release.

In addition to the main event, there will be first-come-first served seminars, limited to 50 attendees, focused on women in beer and urban home brewing.

Those who want to splurge can upgrade to VIP and Connoisseur tickets offering an extra hour of tasting and express entrance lines to the festival.  Connoisseur ticket holders also get access to a Connoisseurs Lounge for the entire session with a selection of such rare beers such as Blue Point Sour Cherry Stout, Bruton Stoner Ale, Alchemist Heady Topper, Founders Double Trouble, Cigar City Maduro, Corsendonk Apple White and others not available in the main tent.

General admission tickets are $55, VIP passes are $75 and Connoisseur packages cost $125 and all can be purchased online. Add $10 if you pay at the gate. Will I see you in Williamsburg?

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