Let’s be real, guys. I like beer (don’t you?). More specifically, I like saisons – light, effervescent brews more reminiscent of champagne than what filled your refrigerator door in college. So when I heard Drink Craft Beer’s Summerfest was an event totally dedicated to these ales, and was set to feature over 70 different kinds… you better believe I got myself there. I attended the Saturday afternoon session because day drinking is even more fun when you’re doing it for work. To make sure my stomach was appropriately coated with grease before I began sampling, I snagged a sandwich from Roxy’s Grilled Cheese. Their famous Mighty Rib Melt was sadly not on the Summerfest menu, so I opted for the Green Muenster instead. A solid choice by me, if I do say so – the creamy guacamole melded wonderfully with pungent Muenster cheese, and the salty, crisp bacon made everything better.
Drinking time! I started at the first booth (Night Shift Brewing, MA) with Arnie, a saison made specifically for the Fest. Inspired by an Arnold Palmer, the classic tea/lemonade fusion, Arnie is brewed with Meyer lemon zest, fermented with Meyer lemon juice, and blended with kombucha from Portland, Maine’s Urban Farm Fermentory. Arnie smelled like a freshly cracked lemon kombucha (no surprise there). Upon tasting, the notes of tea came through much stronger than I anticipated, but the lemon still managed to give a fresh wallop to my taste buds. What I was really excited to try though, was Night Shift’s set of sour beers. As taproom exclusives, they aren’t sold in bottles outside their Everett, MA brewery. I (embarrassingly) hadn’t tried them yet, even though I live about two miles from the brewery (I’ll come some day guys, I promise). I settled on two samples; first, Somer Weisse, a Berliner Weisse-style sour ale brewed with lemongrass and ginger, named for Somerville, MA (where the Night Shift crew first got their homebrew on.) The strong lemongrass scent hit my nose first, followed by a hint of sugary crystallized ginger. The beer had a powerful lemongrass flavor, was wonderfully funky, and incredibly delicious.
The second sour ale I tried from Night Shift was Ever Weisse, another Berliner Weisse-style sour ale, this time aged on strawberries, kiwis, and dried hibiscus flowers, and named for the city of Everett. I know what you’re thinking – fruit? Flowers? But this is beer! Whatever, guys. This was my favorite of the afternoon. Ever Weisse is like a rebel raspberry lambic – effervescent, wild, and fruity, refusing to let anyone define it. How can you notwanna get down with that? Another sour brew I absolutely loved was the Sour “Cidah” from Urban Farm Fementory. Cloudier than a typical hard cider, it smelled like a blend of sour beer and apple cider, everything fermented, wild, and wet, what I think of as classic New England terroir. Typically, I’m not a fan of hard ciders. I find they can be far too sweet, and when I drink something, I’d like to be able to drink a few and not have my gut rot out. Sour “Cidah” solved all my problems, boasting the drinkability of a cider, with no cloying sweetness. I’m a believer, UFF.
Allagash was another Maine brewer whose booth I visited. I’ve been a fan of their beer for quite awhile now, particularly Allagash Black. Of course, this event was all about light, bubbly, summer brews – the exact opposite of Allagash Black, so I was intrigued to see what they brought. I love beers with soul, so the Saison Rye immediately piqued my interest. It smelled sweet, with all the caramel-y, sugary notes of rye whiskey, but without the bite. It tasted almost like a (very smooth) whiskey & water, but with a much fuller flavor profile. This is the saison to drink on brisk summer nights when you’re ready to write some poetry. What better to follow a rye saison than a rye saison? I loved High & Mighty’s Fumata Bianca. Not only is this a rye beer, but it’s smoked, too. Oh, yes. Fumata Bianca reminded me of smoked cheeses, in the sense that the smoky smell was much more powerful than the taste. When you smell a smoked cheese (or this beer), it can seem as though you’re standing over a charcoal grill. Happily though, a taste of Fumata Bianca yielded clean, balanced flavors. I’d be glad to sip this on someone’s porch – and I’m very intrigued to see how it would play with some smoked cheeses. Let’s go a little darker, shall we? RiverWalk (Newburyport, MA) brewed a beer specifically for the fest that all black licorice lovers would adore. Charon, made with star anise, is sadly not available anywhere else, because it’s the perfect summer beer for dark-only drinkers. It walked like a stout, talked like a stout, but was remarkably crisp, clean, and light – easily drinkable on a 90-degree day.
After this barrage of beer flavors, I needed a little pick-me-up. And by little pick-me-up, I mean fatty, sugary, glorious Union Square Donuts. They had their famous standby, the Maple Bacon Donut, but I just couldn’t say no to the caramel-dunked, pretzel-and-potato chip-encrusted Bar Snack Donut (which required two hands to eat, by the way).
I washed that down with two hop-spiked pickles from Grillo’s, and was good to go.
Next up, a beer from my birthplace (Lowell, MA) that didn’t taste like beer at all, but champagne. It’s cool though – that’s what the folks at Enlightenment Ales are going for. I tried the Enlightenment Brut, and was impressed by its resemblance to the sparkling wine, and its crisp, clean flavors. At 11% ABV, you just might be convinced it’s champagne after a few glasses.
I finished off the afternoon with my second-favorite sip of the day: Jack Straw from Cambridge Brewing Company, a barrel-fermented 100% Brettanomyces blond ale. It smelled super sour and funky, with hints of citrus, particularly grapefruit. The yeast flavors were very assertive, which I really enjoyed, and they played exceptionally well with the wild, cheek-sucking flavors of a traditional sour beer. Drink Craft Beer put on one hell of a show, but (of course!) the second I walked out of the doors I was hit by a cheese craving I couldn’t shake. Luckily, Bacco’s Wine and Cheese was only a few steps away from the venue, where I snagged a round of Cremont, a bottle of Hazy Jane (Mystic Brewery’s summer wheat saison, because why stop now?), and a wedge of the monger’s recommendation: Briana, from Jacobs & Brichford Farmstead Cheese – a creamy, stinky, mouth-coating washed-rind. It was really my wife’s pick, but I may have eaten more of my fair share…and washed it down with beer, naturally.Photo Credit: Featured image courtesy of the Sommerville Scout