Friday, August 23, 2013

The Weed Beer Festival at Lake Quassy Amusement Park (Pt. 2)

I started talking about the Weed Beer Festival at Quassy Amusement Park yesterday; that’s the one that Sally and I attended while our kids rode the Wooden Warrior over and over and over again.  As promised, here’s part two…
After Sally and I left the actual Weed table, we started going down the rows, intent on sampling everything.  That turned out to be something of a challenge, but I wanted to give it the old college try, and if you ask me, it definitely was a thing that was worth trying.

The next brewery was Cottrell, a Connecticut-based craft brewer with whose products I was already partially familiar.  They brew a very nice east coast IPA called Mystic Bridge that I buy every once in a while, especially when I want something with some backbone that’s not super-hopped.  But since I’m already a regular Mystic Bridge drinker, I decided to try their Old Yankee Ale because that one I’d never seen before.

Old Yankee Ale turned out to be the best beer I’d tried to that point and one of my favorites on the day.  It’s a well-carbonated hop-forward amber, light and very drinkable.  Somewhere between a typical IPA and a smooth-drinking session beer[1].  And yeah, I really liked it.  It’s the kind of thing that a lot of craft brewers are trying to put out there—an easy drinking beer that’s not too heavy but also not a lightweight and plenty strong on flavor.  That’s a delicate balance, and most brewers tend to just lean one way or the other—towards hop bitterness or malty smoothness.  Old Yankee was balanced—and delicious.
After the tasting, I chatted with the guy from Cottrell for a while, and he seemed like a nice guy.  It probably helped that I was super-enthusiastic about his beer, but if I’m him, that’s not the kind of thing for which I apologize.  I mean, you make good beer, and you get it out to people with a smile.  That’s a good day’s work if you can get it.
After Cottrell, I walked maybe three steps and there was 1757 GW Beer, another concoction with which I wasn’t at all familiar.  I started talking to the guy, and it turns out that 1757 GW Beer is brewed using George Washington’s personal recipe for “small beer,”[2] which he apparently brewed in thirty-gallon batches way back in the day at Mount Vernon.  Who knew?

The 1757 GW Beer Display
Washington’s beer turned out to be an American pale ale that’s brewed as a session beer, and yeah, I liked it quite a lot, too.  1757 GW Beer is plenty flavorful with a slight but definite hop presence that’s perfectly balanced with its malty drinkability.  Similar to the Old Yankee but balanced a little less towards the bitter side.  Balance is absolutely essential to a great session beer, and this one gets it exactly right.  This is a smooth-drinking beer that nevertheless retains just a hint of bite.  That’s kind of amazing considering the source of the recipe, but I guess that the founder of our country knew his beer.  Certainly, he had to have spent some quality time testing it in order to come up with this exact recipe.  Good thing for us that he took the time to write it down once he had it perfected.  Next time I have the opportunity, I fully intend to buy some 1757 GW Beer and use it for its intended purpose, hopefully alongside a quality football game.  What could possibly be more American than that?
Anyway, by this time Sally and I had been sampling beer for awhile, and I’m not afraid to admit that I was getting a little tipsy.  But we had a lot more beer to try, and I knew that Sally was driving, so I committed to the effort because, come on, how many times do you get an opportunity like this?
The next brewer down was Dawley, Connecticut’s newest craft brewer and probably my favorite stop of the day.  Dawley’s so new that they’re not even legal yet; the whole brewery was two guys, a couple of freshly brewed mini-kegs, and a menu.

In retrospect, I wish I’d taken more pictures.
I decided to start with Dawley’s Sex on the Couch, a mango IPA that the brewer described to me as:
“Something different.  You know, sex in a bed is good, but sometimes you want something different.  So you have sex on the couch.  This beer is like that.”
I sipped it, and WOW!  Holy shit, that was amazing beer!  Strong mango presence blended into a stiff, nicely hoppy IPA.  It was terrific, terrific beer—easily the best thing that I tried that afternoon.  Sex on the Couch reminded me strongly of Dogfish Head’s Aprihop spring seasonal, an apricot IPA that is another of my absolute favorite beers, and I believe, one of their best sellers in-season.
With that in mind, I told those guys, “Wow.  You know that this beer is gonna take over the world, right?”  And they, of course, admitted that they hoped that it would.  After that, we talked a little about beer reviewers, but sadly, I didn’t have much to add to that conversation.  Certainly not as much as I would’ve hoped, anyway.
After Sex on the Couch, I had to go through the rest of Dawley’s offerings, whether I was tipsy or not.  The Dawley IPA was also very nice—a strongly citrus IPA, not overly carbonated, and brewed more in the west coast style than a lot of the Connecticut craft beers tend to be.  Carbonation is fine in beer, but especially with IPAs or Stouts, I think you’d rather see light carbonation, more in line with the kind of thing you get from barrel fermentation.  This particular beer is a cloudy dark gold, and the Dawley guys told me that it’s basically the same thing as the Sex on the Couch, but without the mango.  I find that easy to believe.  It was a super-high quality product, as a lot of these very small craft brew IPAs tend to be.  The hop-citrus in particular popped, and truthfully, I could have made a day of it right then and there.
Finally, I tried Dawley’s Razzapeño, the beer that my wife had been sipping this entire time.  Razzapeño, as it happens, is Dawley’s raspberry/jalapeño beer—a creature of pure, unadulterated mad science if ever there was one.  The beer itself was golden like a pilsner and maybe a little cloudy.  I sipped it, and it exploded on my tongue.  Light and super-spicy with a sweet finish; the stuff was as wild as you might expect, definitely not the kind of thing you see every day.
Razzapeño is the very definition of a sipping beer—an interesting and exciting experience but definitely not the kind of thing you can kick back with for four quarters of NFL football.  I liked it, but Sally didn’t, and even with that, I’m not sure I would ever buy it, except as part of a sampler that I was showing off to some friends and fellow beer-geeks.  Don’t get me wrong: the Razzapeño  is definitely an A+ beer; but it’s also such an intentionally bizarre product that I can’t imagine that it’s ever going to make it as a successful mass-market product.  That doesn’t mean that I’m not recommending it, but if you do, I want you to know what you’re getting yourself into.
And that’s all I’ve got on beers today.  Next time we’ll talk about City Steam and the Southport Brewing Company, both of which make exceptionally fine products that I hope to see again in the near future.
If you’re wondering, I’m finally back down to something like my normal weight.  I’d gained six pounds or so during our weeklong vacation, getting all the way up to 198 lbs.  Well, last night I was 194 lbs. before I hit the water and 192 lbs. after I got out.  That’s still not exactly where I’d like to be, of course, but it is pretty close to where I was before we left.
I’m planning to swim tomorrow and then go out for a five-mile run, so hopefully that’ll be the end of that, and I’ll feel like myself athletically for the rest of the summer and early fall.  Guess we’ll see.
And that’s about all I’ve got this week.  Have a great weekend!

[1] Session Beer: A beer that’s suitable for an entire drinking session, i.e. the kind of thing that you and your buddies might drink by the case while watching a football game.  Session beers are lighter and maltier than “sipping” beers, which tend to be either super-hoppy or stout.  Typical session beers include pale ales, amber ales, and pilsners.

[2] A “big” beer is typically one that has a high percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV).  However, 1757 GW Beer is 5.1% ABV, and that’s a bit “bigger” than is the standard for American beers, so either standards have changed since Washington’s day, or he was referring to batch size when he called his beer “small”.

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