The first ever 4b Festival had several teething problems, but attendees having fun didn't seem to be one. Well, let me back up a step...
The 4b Festival was a celebration of the bacon, BBQ, beer and bourbon available in Connecticut. Do you like these things? Yes? Then 4b was for you... and you, and you and you, and a lot of other people. Many Americans, let's say most of us, love these alliterative drinks and foodstuffs, and are all about an event which puts them in the same place at the same time. I personally had several B's for the first time at the festival, both food and drink, learned quite a bit, and met some great new people. I also left hungry, and not in a figurative sense.
The inaugural 4b Festival was held at the Old Trolley Barn, a warehouse just off the State Street exit on I-91 in New Haven. Most of the event's parking was several blocks off site (and an extra $5), but it was a sunny day and walking off a few calories before an event like this is for the best, anyway. I walked through the gates just before the fest's second session began at 5:30, and was met with a line of people which would have done the TSA proud. Like I said: people like bacon.
I queued up and noted we were ringed by mobile BBQ stands with delicious smelling blue smoke wafting over the crowd. I was there with a friend, we had both fasted in the hours leading up to the event, and I thought I'd walk over and grab us some delicious pork to act as a preliminary base for the beer and bourbon once we got inside those doors. One problem - none of the assembled food appeared to be included in the ticket price of this BBQ festival. In place of samples, there were menus with dollar signs. Nope. I got back in line.
Inside, the Trolley Barn's large front hall was walled with booths of all different varieties. The crowds fell upon the initial food and drink booths in overlapping waves like a zombie horde. I saw Bob Le Rose of Bar Q/Bobby's Q's handing out pulled pork on flat bread to outstretched hands so fast he was nearly a blur.
I snagged a delicious little deviled egg with crumbled bacon from Oakhaven Table&Bar, and made my way through the initial crush to the Thimble Island Brewing Company booth, where I immediately went for their summer Kolsch, which was exactly the kind of refreshment I needed. The slow moving mass of humanity propelled me down the brewery's tap lines in time to sample their American Ale, which was malt-forward, caramelly, and very nice, and Ghost Island Imperial IPA. This last is part of what Thimble Island calls their Uncharted Series - it was deliciously citrusy, not too rich, and recommended to you by me. Founder and brew master Mike Fawcett told me it's available now, so look out for this one, especially if you're in New Haven county.
A large back room with plenty of space and natural light was where the lines finally started to settle down enough for the crowd to dig in. The distillers were pouring dainty drams (undoubtedly a good idea) and the first to find its way into my glass, happily enough, was Pinhook Bourbon. This is a very new brand created, as far as I can tell, by sommelier Sean Josephs, proprietor of Char No. 4 in Brooklyn, and Maysville in Manhattan. Pinhooking is investing in young thoroughbreds based solely on their bloodlines, and this release (I sampled from bottle #526) is in honor of his current horse, the appropriately named Bourbon Courage. The whiskey had a delicate heat with just a nudge of sweetness, and I'd feel comfortable serving it at any occasion.
I turned to find Drew Kulsveen of Willett right beside me, and couldn't help but have a few quick nips of their absolutely outstanding Pot Still Reserve as I stole a minute of his time from patrons lined up to make his acquaintance.
The start of the festival had been slightly rocky, but the atmosphere had taken a distinct turn for the better back here. I swirled the last of the brown liquor in my glass and spied a hand-lettered sign: Pig... Candy? This was worth investigation.
Slow cooked with brown sugar, the glossy strips and crumbled bacon from the Pig Candy booth could be had as is, or in several other variations, including a cayenne-infused version. There were also bacon chocolate lolly pops, and you can find out a whole lot more about how to get these things in front of you ASAP by emailing them at Iwantpigcandy@gmail.com.
I've long been a sucker for Wild Turkey bourbon, and there were several of their labels on hand, including the new honey bourbon and their small batch, Rare Breed. I couldn't turn down a taste of this one but, gentleman that I am, I restrained myself from further whiskey tasting and directed my friend's attention to some of the better offerings from Woodford Reserve and High West, whose Son of BourRye and Double Bourbon engendered many blissful noises from her person.
Newcomer Shebeen Brewing of Wolcott, Conn. was adjacent to the Pig Candy booth, and I got back to what I know best with their hoppy and richly malted Royal IPA, and Bacon Kona stout, made with both real bacon and Kona coffee. The bacon shows up as a whiff of smoke in the stout, which is more densely pervaded by the deeply roasted grains and coffee flavors. I liked these beers, and they're both planned for year-round availability.
Not from Connecticut, but new to Connecticut is Foolproof Brewing, out of Pawtucket, R.I. The second best benefit of festivals like 4b is the opportunity to meet the people whose vision you are currently enjoying. It was such that I spent a quarter hour with Nick Garrison, Foolproof's president and founder. He liked the mischievous, positive aspect of a jester, and decided to make it the avatar of his brand when they launched in January of 2013.
"We try to think about an experience when we think about a new beer," he told me. "If I was at dinner, if I was at a cookout, or hanging out at the beach, what kind of beer would I want?"
I began with their Barstool golden ale, which struck me as very European tasting, almost pilsner-esque, and moved on to Le Ferme Urbain, Foolproof's farmhouse saison, which I thought was very smooth, and was surprised to find contained spelt in the mash bill. Backyahd - well you can guess the inspiration for this one - and it's a mild, sessionable IPA, suitable for hanging out on the green grass. My favorite, and the winner of a silver medal at the Great American Beer Fest in Rhode Island last year, was the utterly opaque Rain Cloud porter, which was silky, and managed to be shockingly light. Garrison explained this was the brand's deep, brooding "stuck inside all day" beer.
Speaking of, DC Brau had a room all to itself, and I popped in to meet brewery CEO Brandon Skall and Matthew Murphy, and have a little more of their Penn Quarter porter.
Some other notable surprises from the 4b Festival included:
- Absolutely delicious heat from New Haven area hot sauce maker Swamp Yankee Products. I tried several, and ended up buying bottles of their Old Hickory - made with hickory smoked paper lantern peppers and bourbon - and Killah: a sauce more on the molé side, made with Habaneros, cider, molasses and dark cocoa powder.
- Apple bourbon e-liquid from The Steam Co. Vaporizing is a tremendously successful alternative to smoking, and this brand out of Orange, Conn. is the first legitimately artisinal brewer of e-liquids I've seen. I'm not a smoker, but I tried several of their brews, which come in both nicotine, and non-, and they were incredibly pleasant. The company even has a nicotine reduction plan they call Vitality which is designed to ween people off the drug entirely. A limited edition liquid called The Fifth was brewed specifically for the 4b Festival - the name stands for the fifth "b," bees, as in honey - and is currently on sale.
- Kombrewcha. As you know, kombucha is a beverage made from fermented tea. Kombrewcha is an updated creation of this ancient drink via a few graduates of the Yale school of business, which combines the probiotics and organic acids of kombucha with effervescence and a low dose of alcohol, about 2%. The original flavor tastes like tangy, bubbly, cool Chinese tea, and I liked it quite a bit. I can see some of these having a place in my fridge this summer. There are other flavors: lemongrass lime, royal ginger, mango passion, and blackberry hibiscus, which adds antioxidants as well as a distinctly juicy flavor to the mix.
The post-show upshot is this: the 4b Festival stumbled a bit out of the gate, which is 100% natural for a first year festival of this magnitude, but the people inside the Old Trolly Barn were wearing some big smiles. The show's organizers know about the issues, and they will be addressed by the time 4b is in its second year. In fact, anyone who attended the inaugural festival will get exclusive early ticket access to next years event and a 25% discount.
The organizers also donated 30 percent of the net proceeds to support the United way's Success By Six program, which helps children enter school developmentally on track in terms of health, literacy, social, emotional and intellectual skills, so you can also add that to the reasons why a bacon/BBQ/beer/bourbon festival is a good idea.
A few things went wrong, but there was a lot to like about 4b. See you there next year.