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7 Feb 2017

Extreme Beer Fest 2017 – Last year, when I was preparing for my sabbatical, I saw that BeerAdvocate was holding their Extreme Beer Fest in Boston in February. I quickly snatched up two tickets and put the event on my calendar. This was before we had even figured out where we were going to live, and HJ’s friends teased her about it. I figured there were plenty of possible places to live, but there was only one EBF.

“These days, I’m really into sour beers, and the EBF was there for me.”

Well, last Friday, the day of the EBF finally came, and HJ and I took the train out to Boston to visit the World Trade Center. We arrived early, as we were under the impression that there would be things to do in the area, but there turned out to be not much there outside of the WTC itself. Part of the plan was to get a meal before the event, so we looked around to see what was available. We found some people at a booth near the entrance, one of whom was Todd Alstrom, one of the owners of BeerAdvocate. He recommended Row 34 for great seafood, so we decided to check it out. It was cold and windy outside, but we walked the ten minutes northeast until we found the restaurant. It was still a little early at that point (maybe around half past four), so we decided to walk a little farther down and see what we could see. Aside from the Boston Tea Party museum, there wasn’t much around—or maybe we were just cold.

We went back to Row 34 to find the place absolutely packed; apparently a lot of people had the same idea that we did. We were told that it would be a forty-five minute wait for a table, but we decided to put our names down and then think about what we wanted to do. As it turned out, though, we only had to wait fifteen minutes. We sat down to appetizers of scallop ceviche and the best smoked salmon I’ve ever had (if you’ve ever had Iberico jamon, this smoked salmon was to typical smoked salmon as Iberico jamon is to typical ham—well, maybe not that extreme of a difference, but close), followed by four fresh oysters on the half shell, and then finished off with some crispy calamari. For dessert we had a chocolate tart with pistachios and a pleasant surprise on the side: hokey pokey! On the menu it was just listed as “honey,” but it was definitely hokey pokey. Our waitress knew how it was made but didn’t know what it was called, so we were able to share that bit of information. I suspect that they must have a Kiwi in the kitchen.

It was nearing six o’clock when we finished our dinner, but we weren’t in a tremendous hurry to get back to the WTC, even though the EBF technically started at six. One of the guys at the booth we had talked to said that it wouldn’t matter too much whether we arrived at ten minutes before six or ten minutes after six, in terms of how quickly we got in, because there was going to be a huge line of people waiting anyway. “Unless you just have to be the first in line to try something, I would show up at ten after.” We didn’t really feel like we had to be the first in line for anything, so we did as he suggested. Sure enough, there was a line, but it had started moving by the time we got there. The first checkpoint we had to pass through was an ID check. Then we went all the way around the building to the entrance, where they scanned our tickets and let us in.

There was a coat check near the entrance, but when we saw that they wanted three dollars a coat, we decided to keep our coats on. Besides, it didn’t seem like it was incredibly warm in the exhibition hall, which is not surprising for such a large space. I was wearing my heavy parka, as it was pretty cold out, but I never got too warm, so in the end I think we made the right choice. Also near the entrance were some plastic cups imprinted with “BeerAdvocate: Respect Beer” and a line indicating the two-ounce mark. They had an indentation on one side near the bottom; as soon as I grasped my cup I realized that it was a handy place for your thumb. It made the cup quite easy to hold—and also made sure that the logo and slogan faced outward, at least for right-handed drinkers.

We entered the main hall, which was arranged in two long rows with booths on either side and the beer-thirsty hordes between them. We walked around for a few minutes to orient ourselves, and then decided to get on one of the lines. My first beer was from Strangeways Brewing, a white wine sour ale called Must Be Nice—and it was, in fact, quite nice. My second beer was from Jackie O’s Brewery, a wheat wine called Wood Ya Honey. This one I wasn’t as big a fan of, as it was very sweet and high a very high alcohol content (12% ABV). I don’t think it was a bad beer, but it definitely wasn’t my style.

What is my style? Well, these days, I’m really into sour beers, and the EBF was there for me—there were a ton of sour beers in attendance. I quickly gravitated toward these and ended up trying 20 sour beers, out of a total of 29 beers tried. I know this not because I have an amazing memory, but because I was using the beer app Untappd, which I found out about from my friend Patrick back in Korea. Every time I tried a beer I “checked in” to the app and recorded it. Checking in also involves rating the beer in question, so I have numbers for each beer reflecting how much I enjoyed it. What could be better than beer but beer with statistics?

So, let me throw some numbers at you. For starters, I should say that my ratings were fairly generous, although I think this was mostly because I had no genuinely bad beers. Out of a maximum of five points, my lowest rating was a 3 (awarded twice), while my highest rating was a 5 (awarded six times). The average rating tended toward the higher end of that scale, at 4.3. Not surprisingly, there was some discrepancy between my ratings for sour beers and non-sour beers; the average for sour beers was 4.5 (ranging from 3 to 5), while the average for non-sours was 3.9 (ranging from 3 to 4.25). Like I said, I prefer sour beers these days.

So what were the standouts for me? Well, I’ll start with the brewery that blew my socks off: The Rare Barrel. I tried two of their beers, American wild ales called Soliloquy and Shadows of Their Eyes. The former is (quoting from the description), a “golden sour beer aged in oak barrels with rose hips and orange peel,” and the latter is a “dark sour aged in oak barrels” that “showcases malt, yeast, and bacterial expression.” Two very different beers, but I loved both and gave them both fives. Sitting here writing about them again, I am sad that I can not be drinking one or the other (or both) right now.

Feral One is another American wild ale, a blend from Firestone Walker Brewing, that got a five from me. I didn’t take any tasting notes, so I can’t tell you exactly what this one tasted like, but I remember that it was good. (Checking in to Untappd does allow you to leave a tweet-length note, but when I did take the time to do so I ended up writing things like, “Either these beers are getting drunk or I’m starting to taste better.” It was funny at the time, I swear.) I can’t tell you exactly what Green Flash’s Nouveau Tarte tasted like, either, but I do know that it was a very sour and fruity red ale, and that I gave it a five as well. Rounding out my top beers were two more American wild ales, Certatio Equestris, a sour ale aged in bourbon barrels from Avery Brewing, and Golden Albarino, a sour golden ale aged in wine barrels from Crux Fermentation Project. Avery and Crux are in Colorado and Oregon, respectively, while my other top breweries are located in California. This does not surprise me at all after all the great wild ales and sours I had when I was in Long Beach in 2015.

Citra Bridges from Mill House Brewing was another nice find. It didn’t get a five from me, but it was very good (I gave it a 4.75), and I was delighted to discover that the brewery was based in Poughkeepsie, less than an hour’s drive from my parents’ house. I promised that we would pay them a visit over the summer. (Now I just have to bribe my mom into being the designated driver. Dinner on us should do it.)

We stayed until they dimmed the lights, and as time started running down we started running around trying to get whatever last pours we could find. The Golden Albarino was one of those last gasps (my second-to-last pour), so the effort paid off. Throughout the night, Untappd gave me badge after badge for “achievements” in beer drinking. Most notably, I rocketed to “Pucker Up (Level 4)” for drinking 20 sour beers. I also got quite a few levels in “Land of the Free” for drinking so many American beers. What I found most amusing, though, were the badges that seemed to be concerned for my well being. There was “Drinking Your Paycheck” after the fifth beer, accompanied by the flavor text: “It’s been a long week and you deserve a drink, or five. Besides, isn’t that what your check is for?” Then there was “Take It Easy,” which politely told me: “Either you must be sampling or really like beer! That’s 12 beers in 1 day.” After eighteen beers I earned “The Regular,” which proclaimed: “They know what you want when you walk in the door. That’s right, you don’t have to wait for anyone here.” After this, Untappd continued to hand out “Pucker Up” and “Land of the Free” levels as it smiled tightly at me from the corner and desperately tried to contact my friends for an intervention. Thanks, Untappd. It’s good to know that someone cares.

When they stopped pouring beer, we figured it was time to head home. We walked back out into the cold Boston night and quickly made our way to the World Trade Center station. On the train back, HJ said that she felt like she needed something to eat, and I agreed. She thought for a moment and then said, “Pizza!” I was so proud of her. We looked up some pizza places near the square and decided on Pinocchio’s, which serves up relatively inexpensive Sicilian-style slices. The pizza was a little greasy for my taste, but after a night of way too much beer, it was just what the doctor ordered. The next day I felt somewhat less than stellar, but it was worth it. It’s probably a good thing I won’t be doing this on a regular basis, though.

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