Saturday, June 7, 2014

What I Learned At TAP NY 2014

Note: I received free press passes for this. Just wanted to disclose that.

Sorry for the delay in this. Shortly after TAP NY I had a bit of a medical emergency (okay, several) and the medication I'm on for it has been knocking me for a loop. A huge, dizzy, shaky loop.

That being said, even with my fuzzy mind, I can't tell you how much I enjoyed TAP NY. It was my first time being there and, overall, I enjoyed the hell out of that festival. It was also my first beer festival so it proverbially unleashed the beer dragon that I will forever chase. But what did I learn from TAP NY? What did I discover? Well, if you'll permit me (once again) to wax poetic about the things I love, I'll tell you. So buckle up, pop a beer, and get ready for...

What Bacchus Learned At TAP NY 2014

1.) I REALLY Love Beer. And I Forgot That.

I have burnt out on spirits a bit, I admit. I have put my nose to the grindstone for too long and spent far too much time wetting the hone with liquor. My brain may be sharp...but it's waterlogged with spirits. Metaphorically. Most of my time spent on the internet, in magazines, in books, and on the phone is liquor, liquor, liquor. When I originally got to the show, I honestly found myself slightly anxious. Will there be something there as complex as the spirits I've been tasting? I mean, it's just hops, malt, and water, right? How many beers will it take for me to get bored? Would I be spending most of my time eating and waxing hipster about spirits?

And then I had my first pour.

I had focused on spirits for so long, admiring the profound complexity of it...that I became almost snobbish. Puritanical in my alcohol approach. But I forgot what the best part of beer is: it can be beautifully simple. So what if it's hops, malt, and water? Sometimes that's all you need. And even then, there were some beers that I had at TAP NY that blew my mind in ways that spirits couldn't. Mouthfeel, body, tartness. And hops. I missed hops! The floral aromas and citrus bite. It reinvigorated my palate. After the show, I promptly went out and bought beer. A lot of beer. Because that craving for simple pleasures couldn't be quenched. And it still hasn't. I genuinely forgot how much I loved beer, how bolstering and refreshing a proper pint can be. So thank you TAP NY for helping Stella get her groove back. Or, in this case, Bacchus get his Stella back. I guess.

2.) Where Did All These Breweries Come From?

TAP NY is a beer festival that exclusively has NY located breweries. When I arrived, I checked the layout sheet and almost passed out. Every nook and cranny of the resort was crammed full of beer vendors. Vendors I had heard of and had tried, vendors I had heard of and hadn't tried, vendors I'd never heard of, and even vendors I thought quite possibly were a test that when you went up and asked for a beer it was a sign you were too drunk and were kicked out. Where did all these breweries come from? Where did all of these BEERS come from? NY, broadcast your beer bounty broadly. Not enough is being said and the whispers on the wind are not reaching the right ears. Or I could just be crazy and beer-deaf. This is a possibility.

3.) Beer Nerds Are Awesome

With many alcohol centric festivals, there a distinctly divided crowd and you can tell who belongs to what of the three categories as the festival wears on. The first category is the connoisseur; the person there to sip and sample to broaden their palate. Then there's the Jolly Roger; the person(s) there to be outdoors, drink some beer, and have fun with friends. Then...there's the Bluto; the person that paid $60 and is damn well sure they're getting their money's worth. The first, by hour two, is stone cold sober and actively perusing the pour lists. The second, by hour two, is slightly tipsy and laughing congenially with friends over a pretzel or sandwich on a bench. The third, by hour two, is just walking up to every stand, demanding a pour (not specifying) and then pounding it and moving onto the next. The third is like a Henry Ford-esque assembler of inebriation. And the last chaps my ass a bit. I understand the mentality. I really do. But if you get a pour and you lose half of the beer to the ground before you make it ten paces from the should probably drink some water and have a sandwich. If you're standing there, smoking a nub of a cigar, all while your eyes are slitted and blinking independent of each other...maybe take a seat for a bit. You paid $60 but you didn't pay $60 for BEER. It went to other things. To the food that you should be eating. To listening to the band that's playing. To talking to vendors about...I dunno...what they're brewing next.

But at TAP NY...that pretty much wasn't the case. Sure, the two examples I used above I DID see there but for the most part it was mostly Connoisseurs and Jolly Rogers. And the, it was refreshing. They weren't snobbish or elitist. They'd take their pours, congregate around a table, and chat about the beer in front of them. They'd uproariously laugh at beer jokes. They'd agree that a beer wasn't for them but instead of deriding the beer...they simply moved on. It was...nice to see such civil discourse going on. It brought a tear to my eyes to hear scraps of conversations about carbonation levels, alpha acid levels, and even "did you try that sour beer over there?" Which, actually, brings me to my next point.

4.) No Sour Grapes. Just Sour Grains.

I was surprised by the inclusion of several sour beers dotted among the tables. The East Coast, in my opinion, lags behind on the West Coast beer trends. We're slowly getting over the West Coast hop bombs and are JUST moving on to brewing sours. And frankly, this is fantastic. I love sour beers but they're hard to come by. You can either try to have a friend send a carrier pigeon with Russian River stuff to a boat waiting by a river which will carry it to a Pony Express station that hops a train (heh, hops) to Philly where it is then smuggled by wagon...or you shell out $20 for a bottle of Cantillion that you're not sure you're going to like. It's hard to find affordable beer that you can use to cut your teeth on the sour sector. But, thankfully, East Coast / NY is picking up the pace. A few places had sours that I really enjoyed. Tart, effervescent, almost kombucha-like (except kombucha is the spawn of the devil and should be cast into the sea), I really got to sample a lot of sour and fuel my craving for more. Now they just need to bottle said sours so I can cellar them to see how that goes. That and gueuze is expensive.

5). Passion Isn't Just A Fruit

I talked to a lot of brewers at TAP NY. The interface time available was really, really nice. And, combined with the sheer beer geekery, it lent to some awesome conversations. It's awesome to see the passion behind a lot of these breweries. The brewers, the sales people, the marketing staff. I think the best example of this was hanging out with Galaxy Brewing out of Binghamton. They contacted me pre-fest and asked if I wanted to stop by and chat. Naturally, I took them up on the idea. As the head brewer, Seth, and I got talking, it was awesome to see the passion come out. The thing that struck me the most was the inspiration behind their name. With a name like Galaxy, I figured he had a passion for stargazing (which I freely admit I do) or astronomy or something...but it was far simpler than that. He had sat, staring at a beer, and watched the foam on top lazily spin. It ended up spinning into a shape that he thought looked like a galaxy. And that's how the name came about. A name born from a passion for beer that went far beyond just foam spinning in a glass. And that's cool.

The best way I can sum up TAP NY is: yes. I will be back, as scheduling allows, and I will report on it every damn time. Not only was the beer refreshing, but the company, atmosphere, and conversation as well. My only stickler of a problem was getting food during the event as any food item worth nomming was quickly mobbed by people as the server left the food station. But that's nitpicky at best. I'll be there and I'll be happy to hoist a pint with anyone that recognizes me or wants to meet up. And you should be there too. Because it's fun.


ADDENDUM: What I drank!

Captain Lawrence Seeking Alpha  - A sweet yet bitter syrup of a beer. Clocked in at some outrageous ABV so it's a one and done beer. Not that I could drink more than one anyway. A good nightcap beer.

Peekskill Brewery Vaporizor - A stout stout. It poured like liquid velvet and had the exact same mouthfeel. A bit better than average in terms of flavor but the mouthfeel was like a liquid velvet Elvis painting which pushed it over the edge from fine to great.

Peekskill Brewery Share The Sunshine - Delightfully tart and almost savory. It would do well with a pickle juice back. Lemon zest, malt, and some brett funk going on. Nom.

Galaxy Brewing Company St. Stusan - Cloves, white pepper, banana, heavy wheaty goodness. Not outlandish, nor sub-par. A good and solid drinker.

Finback Starchild - Delightfully puckery and thirst-slaking. Definitely a sour beer. Minimal malt, all sour, with a nice grapefruit highlight throughout that rallies on the finish. Like I said...NY's cranking out sours.

Bar Bacchus Brewery Orchard Sour - The best beer I had all day. The layers of sour fermentation on this one were kind of crazy. It had that sour that tingles the tip of your tongue the one that makes the back of your throat hum. They put some sort of syrup in it (raspberry, I think) which provided some sweetness to balance but, syrups be damned, it didn't need it.