Friday Froth: Notes From Big Brew NY Beer Festival

James Gribbon

Session beers are popular now, but a single drinking session rarely includes 250 different beers. The Big Brew NY Beer Festival returned to White Plains on Feb. 7 with hundreds of kegged and bottled beers, plus a VIP area with almost 30 casks of special ales. It's tough to write with a beer in one hand and camera in the other, but I managed to record a few notes and observations from what has become a very good midsize beer festival.

First: it may look crowded in a few of these photos, but the crowd was never an issue. Beer fest attendees tend to be pretty easy going. Most seem happy just to be in a place where they can simply stick out their glass and have it filled, and it's exciting to try new brands and styles without running the risk of taking your first sip and realizing you're now stuck with a six pack of beer you wouldn't use to poison driveway weeds. So the crowd was in generally high spirits, and there was a good amount of space to move from booth to booth.

The best part about attending an out of state beer fest is the ability to try beers which are unavailable in Connecticut. BigBrew is in New York, which means it can draw beers from basically every brewery in America. Have you missed Avery's beers since they reduced their distribution footprint? You could do that here. You could likewise have beers that have never been in CT, like Midnight Sun from Alaska, or sours from The Bruery in California.  

VIP tickets got you an extra hour of sampling time before the rest of the masses filed in, plus a quick snack of chili over rice, courtesy of Mambo 64 of Tuckahoe. The chili was made with stout from Broken Bow Brewery, also of Tuckahoe, and it was a welcome bit of base to lay down before the festivities. The real perk of the VIP tickets, though, was access to all the cask ales which were lined up and gleaming under the lights of the elevated stage. 

Greenport Harbor Brewing sent a saison that was absolutely alive with Chinese five spice. This was a new twist to me, and it worked better than M. Night's last four movies. 

Cigar City of Tampa presented their Maduro brown ale aged with vanilla beans. It was a rich, slightly heavy but easily drinkable brew, straight from the cask, and the the deep roast of the malts actually lead to a somewhat chocolatey flavor. 

Finback Brewery of Queens came with a smoked rye IPA they called Miasma. This was casked with extra Amarillo hops, which came through as a nice little sharpness over a very subtly smokey flavor. This was great for a bit of additional complexity, but they didn't get too cute with it. I can appreciate that, and I enjoyed the beer. 

One of the real winners in the cask tasting was Carton Brewing from NJ and their 077XX double IPA. The name of the beer is a sort of generalized NJ zip code, and the beer was heavy in all the right places. I could have happily sat and drank this one for a while, but the main festival floor was calling. 

Remember The Bruery? They've been threatening to invade the Connecticut market for some time, and the word is they're getting close. I didn't try all the beers they brought to BigBrew - festivals are hell on an ADD-addled brain like mine - but I made a point to have a few ounces ofRueuze, a blend of sour lambics and a sour blonde ale which has spent time in bourbon barrels. The results are magnificent. I'll be a full review of this one as soon as it hits the state, but don't wait for me: try it as soon as you can.

There's not too much hope of seeing beers from Bell's Brewing of Kalamazoo in Connecticut any time soon, so it was a treat to have some Two Hearted and Hop Slam again. I'd had both of those before (and you can find them at the beer distributor just over the border in Port Chester, if you're looking) so I was pleased to get my first taste of their Smitten golden rye ale. This was very smooth and round for a rye, with little of the spiciness which usually arrives part and parcel with that hearty grain. It drank almost like a wheat, and I could see having a few of these with a cheese plate in the spring.      

I had to sample the new Beast Mode porter from Sixpoint in Brooklyn, and I was surprised by how light it was in body, if not color, and its slightly fizzy carbonation. This one should be at bottle shops all over our area.

Dogfish Head beers are also common as grey squirrels in southern CT, but I hadn't seen theirPiercing Pils just yet. The light, clear pils had a super attractive aroma in a sort of nontraditional way, and a head thick enough to stand up a toothpick. Sharp but creamy, this one defied a lot of my expectations. It will be a great one if we ever see the summer again. 

Oskar Blues beers have pretty good market penetration in the Constitution State, so keep and eye out for taps and cans bearing the Pinner IPA name in the coming months. It is a deliberately light, grapefruity IPA, and I need many of these in my life as soon as possible.

Everyone should go to a beer festival at some point; they're a lot of fun, deceptively educational, and there are more and more fests to choose from every year. Keep an eye on the Weekly NIbble series here on CTBites for an early heads up on upcoming events, and I'll see you out there.