In 1985, a fairly inconsequential person was born. Me.
In 1985, something seemingly inconsequential also happened. Jim Koch began hawking Boston Lager around to different bars. And while he may not always be cast in a positive light in the craft beer world, he helped pioneer the craft beer movement.
Twenty-six years later, on March 20th, the efforts of these craft-brewing pioneers culminated with me walking into Get Real NY, a craft beer festival celebrating “Real Ale,” beer fermented and served in casks with the live yeast still inside. The event included over 90 beers on cask and keg, including a wide array of single-keg home brews. Turns out all that hard work recreating the beer landscape in America wasn’t so inconsequential. And I, as well as the couple hundred people that I shared the floor with at the Altman Building on W. 18th Street, are full of appreciation for their persistence.
With the sweaty and claustrophobic experience of last year’s BrewFest on Governor’s Island in the back of my mind, this year I opted to spring for the more expensive VIP ticket. While I’m not all that much into self-flattery, it certainly was one of the better decisions I’ve made in my lifetime. For the first hour of the event on Sunday, a group of about 75 of us were free to roam and sample to our heart’s content.
In the middle of the room, a rectangular stack of casks, four-high and 12-long, with four-by-four stacks at each end, all offering live-yeast cask craft brews from local to distant breweries. Along the “bar” tops separating guest from staff, an array of over 20 home-brews. IPAs, porters, stouts, pale ales, milds, reds, browns, if it was a style of ale, it was there. And, more likely than not, it was delicious. With the smaller crowd at the beginning, there was more opportunity to chat with some of the wonderful staff there dispensing each liquid delight. Turns out some of the home brewers were there pouring their own beer.Take the Booyah Bitter. Or, Booyah Bitters, for that matter; two version of the same beer brewed with different hops. The two home brewers attended their respective kegs, invoking patrons to try each one and decide which is better. A friendly challenge more than any serious rivalry, both seemed more interested in seeing the pleased expressions on drinkers’ faces rather than hearing which beer was favored more. (Both were great, light and flavorful and not overpoweringly hoppy, surprising for bitters.)
Being a home-brewer myself, I asked another staff-dispenser about how the home brewers earned the opportunity to offer the fruits of their labor at such a great forum. They showed up, she replied. My face must have twisted into some sort of serious perplexity, because when she looked up, she immediately elaborated. Most of them know the sponsors or the participating brewers. That makes more sense. Perhaps I should start making more friends in the home-brewing world. And become a better home-brewer.
Along the walls of the event space, a cadre of food vendors set up shop. Most of them were offering their signature dishes, paired with beers to compliment their cuisine. Pulled pork, chili, beer popcorn, artisan chocolates, German sausage, seafood and more, it was all on hand and it was all free to those in attendance, important when you’re facing four hours of beer tasting.
In the back corner, live music, which was great, but was soon drowned out by the constant hum of a hundred conversations going on all at once. Downstairs, the coat check (which took me about an hour before I realized there was one), additional food vendors and beer and a small space for seminars. Also, the restrooms; easily accessible, which is always an important part of any beer festival.Despite having an affinity for darker, more robust stouts and porters, I found myself fairly smitten with the delightful Ballast Point Sculpin IPA. A bit disappointing because it was certainly not one of the rare beers available, it had me as soon as the deep, plant-and-earth aromas hit my nostrils. Following that irresistible aroma was a bold, balanced beer with a deep, complex hop character that matched its aroma quite well. Full-bodied, but not too heavy, this IPA was the epitome of the masterful use of earthy hops. I would certainly fancy another round.
In the category of knock-you-on-your-ass homebrews, the Funky Cold Medina, a Russian Imperial Stout crafted by the owners of Rattle n Hum (East 33rd St.), made quite an impression. Robust, full-bodied with only a slight sting from the 13% ABV, this namesake tribute to Tone Loc was in no way short on flavor. This stout presented with a subtle, light aroma of roasted coffee and bittersweet chocolate malts. A much bolder taste prevailed, with the bitterness of the coffee and chocolate joining forces to create a rather interesting experience. Surprisingly enough, this didn’t tip the flavor profile out of balance, meaning that while this may be a bit more of a sipping beer, it is still one I would recommend to a fellow beer enthusiast. If they ever make any more and offer it up to the public.
All-around, there really wasn’t too much negative to say about my entire experience. The people were great, the beer supply ample and the food delightful. If you missed out on this festival, Get Real NY will be hosting a Belgian Beer Festival June 10th and 11th. (I’m already thinking about picking up tickets when they go on sale.)
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