A little bit ago, Nate and I attended the Brooklyn Waterfront Beer Festival. Nate had moved to Manhattan about a month ago, and I had never been. He found out about the festival somehow, and I found a reasonable flight. We bought our tickets and, in no time at all, a plan was hatched.
There was an afternoon session and an evening session available (each 2.5 hours long). We opted for later session to give us more time during the day to do the standard touristy stuff, and ending at 9:30p, the later session transitioned nicely into Bar O’Clock. This festival had some pros and cons, so lets start off on the happy notes.
What they did right
The location of the festival was amazing. It was where 11th Ave ended into the river in Brooklyn and it featured some great views of the sun setting behind Manhattan. Also, the neighborhood around the festival had tons of cool bars. Most notably, Brooklyn Brewery was about 2 blocks away. We didn’t make it there, but it looked like plenty of people decided to stop by.
Like I said earlier, the timing of the festival was really nice. It ended early enough that we weren’t too exhausted to head out for a few drinks afterward. Initially, we were a little worried that it was only 2.5 hours, but that proved to be more than enough time for us. The crowd and lines really weren’t bad at all. We were able to get to the beer we wanted very quickly.
They did actually have a lot of good beer there. There were a lot of breweries from the Northeast and mid-Atlantic that I never see in Chicago. They also had some places I really didn’t expect to see, including a meadery from Colorado that had a delicious, dry hopped mead. Unfortunately, a lot of the beer notes are going in the next section…
What Went Wrong
First, and very quickly, when you’re hosting an event with well over 500 people and the equivalent of an open bar, you need more than 2 port-a-johns. It was gross. I don’t really know how the women there were physically able to use the facilities.
Let’s go back to the beer. There were a few local breweries that had their taps manned by people from their brewery. 508 Restaurant and Bar had their brewer there to answer questions, and providing a nice Black IPA and Saison. Most tables, however, were put together by distributors, with the tenders knowing either the rehearsed sales pitch for the brewery or even less.
I was excited to see some of the bigger, more national craft brewers there as well. Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada, Ommegang, Allagash and Goose Island all had tables, but the beers that were being poured were al the standards. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Michigan Brewers Guild festivals, but the beer choices all seemed uninspired. I think this is largely due to the event being put on by an events company working with distributors, rather than brewers working together with an event company coordinating. Beyond that, I really don’t think Blue Moon and Negro Modelo belong at a craft beer festival, but that could just be snobbery.
Finally, since the beers were being put together by the distributors, you’d think they could put together a list that had some variety instead of half of the booths having at least one Black IPA, IPA, DIPA or IIPA. There were very few malty beers, very few belgian style beers, and virtually no contrast.
The Best Beers There
Like I said, I enjoyed the two beers from 508. Firestone Walker Double Jack is always a winner in my book even among a sea of hop heavy beers. The dry hopped mead was delicious as well. The best beer we had though, was the Innis and Gunn Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer. I think it won out for two main reasons. First, it was a contrast from all the hop heavy beers at the festival. It was malty, sweet (but not cloying) and delicious. Secondly, it was a flavor profile I hadn’t had before. I’ve had scotch ales before, and I’ve had beers aged in rum barrels before, but the combination was something new and exciting. Those moments of discovery is why I enjoy going to beer festivals and tastings and events. Those are the moments that event coordinators should try to create.