…was the completely appropriate, albeit admittedly corny phrase I shouted to the attendees of Drink Craft Beer & Cheese Fest, on Saturday, February 28th. Although I was not press coverage for the event, the large camera and flash I was toting around were enough to prompt fellow fest-goers to request pictures of themselves (which I happily obliged).
I have a love/hate relationship with beer festivals. On the one hand, they’re wonderful because you get to try so many beers from talented brewers all in one setting, while mingling with fellow beer lovers. Yet the same applies to why they’re loathsome: you try so many beers in a short period of time that it becomes difficult to remember said beers, therefore diminishing their uniqueness (not to mention the inevitability of a giant hangover the next day). Drink Craft Beer & Cheese Fest, however, was a different story. As the beer buyer at American Provisions, I got to attend this event as a representative of my store, an individual with a purpose (other than getting smashed at a beer fest). I was there to try new beers from several of the breweries we support, connect on a personal level with these companies, and witness any interesting pairings happening between the beers and cheeses that we love.
And despite what my boss may believe, I did not show up at work with a hangover the next day!
This was the first beer AND cheese event for Drink Craft Beer, so it was very exciting to see so many of AP’s beloved breweries and creameries all under the same roof. Uncertain of where to begin the epic event, I hung back by Toby of Peak Organic, who graciously started me off with a soothing cup of their cask-conditioned Nut Brown Ale. Peak Organic is a killer brewery from Maine, focused on local ingredients and awesome brews. Their line up that night included Hop Noir (a black IPA), Espresso Amber Ale, which was continuously pronounced “X-presso” (much to Toby’s chagrin), and Citrus Saison, a Belgian style saison that invigorated me with the promise of warmer days to come.
Armed with Nut Brown Ale, I set off into the crowd, ready to taste. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wander far to find a familiar face: Al Snape from Far From The Tree Cider was at a nearby booth, sampling up four new cider concoctions that we have been eagerly waiting to try since our visit with them back in January (read about it here!) The new cider offerings were Lust, a cherry cranberry cider; Cord, an oaked maple cider; Juno, a maple ice cider; and Milanowski’s Nightmare, a sour dry-hopped cider. While they were all delicious & seriously unique, Juno stood out with its velvety consistency and intense depth of flavor (check back with us in a few months to see these new products on our shelves).
We were stoked to see more familiar faces in the form of former AP-staffers, Joe Quintero & Erin McIver, at the Vermont Creamery table. Joe left AP to become the New England sales rep for VC, while Erin now works as the marketing coordinator for hip food site BostonChefs.com. This dynamic duo was shelling out samples of Coupole, Cremont, & Bonne Bouche, three of our favorite goat and cow cheeses. According to Erin & Joe, the creameries attending the event each brought 100lbs of cheese for the three sessions of the Drink Craft event (a bit of an over-estimate, in Joe’s opinion). A few other creameries I spoke to had an excess cheese leftover at the end of the night—it seems that Drink Craft Beer was following the Boy Scout motto to always be prepared!
The event was filled to the brim with a wide range of local cheeses. Narragansett Creamery, for example, challenged the norm by serving up a hot sample of their Mediterranean-style grilling cheese. Old classics held strong in the form of aged cheddars from the ladies at Cabot Creamery—they encouraged you to pair these sharp and sweet hunks of cheese with hoppy libations like Wormtown’s Be Hoppy & Notch’s Left of the Dial. The crew at Jasper Hill Cellars pulled out all the stops with an array of cheeses—Alpha Tolman, a nutty Alpine style; Bayley Hazen Blue, one of the best blue cheeses around; and Moses Sleeper, a Vermont take on the classic Brie style. Their table display also provided attendees with an anatomy lesson on the source of all things good: the cow.
My next cheese stop was a very special creamery, Robinson Farm from Hardwick, MA. Raymond & Pamela Robinson were not at the event, but Pamela’s son Ben was there promoting the farm’s cheeses. It was because of Ben (who lives in Southie) that the Robinson’s cheese, Tekenink Tomme, became one of the first cheeses ever to be sold at American Provisions. I was able to chat with Ben and his crew while enjoying samples of Tekenink, Barndance, & Arpeggio—their strong bloomy rind cows milk cheese, which paired especially well with the always wonderful Wunderkind cider from Bantam.
Many more stellar pairings between cheese and beer were formed that night, several of which I don’t remember or was not witness to, but the spirit of the fest makes me believe they existed. Some of the pairings that I do remember were suggested in Drink Craft Beer’s fest guide, while others were born out of mere fate. Otter Creek’s Kind Rye IPA was quite the match against several cheddars in the house, specifically the suggested Grafton Village’s Extra Mature Cheddar. I discovered my own pairing between Notch Brewing’s luscious Černe Pivo (Notch’s founder Chris Lohrig explained to me the name is Czech for “black beer”) and a creamy piece of Berkshire Bloom from Cricket Creek Farm. Over at Idle Hands, I indulged with Triplication—their Abbey style tripel—which provided the perfect amount of spice and fruity flavor to complement the buttery, nutty notes of Jasper Hill’s Alpha Tolman (and the guys at Idle Hands were kind enough to inform me that a Wild Turkey barrel-aged version of Triplication will be out in a few weeks!)
Now, it was probably around this time in the night that my conversations were becoming less focused, my notes were barely legible, and my camera felt like it gained 20lbs. This is also when my distrust of beer festivals began to surface. Though abundant and delicious, cheese samples can only sustain a fest-goer for so long. Which is why I (and I bet many others at the fest) was psyched to remember that, strategically stationed in the corner of the event, were the stands of KO Pies & Roxy’s Grilled Cheese. The employees of these two companies didn’t need to try very hard to entice buzzed attendees, as each beer sample we consumed made the idea of a savory pie or grilled sandwich seem more and more desirable. The intoxicating smells wafting from Roxy’s grills and the mesmerizing glow from KO Pies’ cases didn’t hurt either.
As claimed before, I did not leave this event completely hammered, despite what usually happens at beer festivals. We can’t say the same for other attendees that night—the crowd increasingly became livelier as the night stretched on, and inhibitions were thrown to the wind with ease. I began to wonder how the inevitable intoxication of fest-goers was being perceived by the very people responsible, the brewers, so I decided to ask them.
The best response I received was from Billy Morrissey, the sales rep for Allagash Brewing. Now, I’d like to believe that Billy and I were equally excited to meet each other—I was extremely excited to learn that he was the reason AP receives specialty Allagash beers, while his excitement might have been directed at the awesomeness that is American Provisions generally, and reminiscing about visits there. I don’t mind taking the credit, though—but I digress.
As streams of drunken attendees pushed past us to sample more beers, Billy explained to me his feelings about their debauchery. He suggested that there was a difference between drunken fools at a festival and beer lovers who are enjoying themselves with their favorite brews. Honest interest and enjoyment of the beers is what was important to Billy. He reminded me that our shared love for craft beers (and artisan cheeses) was what brought us all together. And it is that experience that is so integral to the craft beer world. Cheers to that!