by Bob Weyersberg
Strawberry Banke, founded in the 1600s, was one of the original colonial New England settlements. It is located in the port city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Strawberry Banke functions as a "living museum", and is the annual site of the Grand Old Portsmouth Northern New England Brewers Festival and Homebrew Competition. And this year on the weekend of September 26th, the ol' Salty Dog was representin'!
B.R. and I got to the contest site as the coordinators were finalizing the judging assignments. As usual, B.R. was asked if she was there to steward. It turned out that B.R. was the only woman at the contest at all! But they worked her hard, getting her to judge 2 flights (Belgian and Wheat Beers)and gave her the honor of judging Best of Show with two other judges! I judged American Light Lager and German Amber Lager along with the contest coordinator, Dave Hamel.
The contest was run by the Seacoast Homebrewers Club (SGC) of Portsmouth, which is lucky to have a really nice bunch of members! The guys who ran the contest, Scott Kaplan, Dave Hamel and Rod Gardner, treated us extremely well, and ran a very efficient competition of over 100 entries. The contest took place outside, under a large tent and was an integral part of the festival. Many visitors peaked in to gawk at the beer nerds and ask about homebrewing. The local paper ran a big story on the fest and contest with pictures, and they even quoted B.R.! On the 2nd day of the fest, the SHC had an impressive homebrewing demonstration which drew much attention.
But homebrew wasn't the only thing of a beery nature at the fest (thank God!). Under an enormous tent were beers from 14 Northern New England Breweries. From Maine: Geary's, Seadog, and Kennebunk Brewing Co. From Massachusetts, Sam Adams (why not Ipswich, dang it?!). From Vermont: Otter Creek, Catamount and Long Trail. And from N.H.: Nutfield, Smuttynose, Franconia Notch, Lucknow, Stark Mill, Loon and, yes, Red Hook. Though Anheuser-Busch has a brewery in Merrimack, N.H., they were notably(and happily) missing.
People would enter the big top to plunk down $1 per 10 ounce serving (after paying a $5 entry fee to the festival) and then roam around the beautiful grounds surrounded by buildings from the 17th & 18th centuries. There were a few vendors selling beer memorabilia (I picked up an old Schaefer patch for 50�!), some homebrew supplies, a root beer making demonstration, some food vendors (including the chowdah wagon!) and an eerie (but sort of cool)puppet show. There was also a large, imposing woman dressed in period clothing trying to get people to sign a temperance pledge and join the temperance rally. I think she scared people, though.
With two days to do it, we did get a taste of everything at the fest and took notes on all but the Loon beer. KBC's Old Thumper was a bitter, sturdy, strong tasting ale full of malt. Long Trail's Harvest Ale had an odd banana note along with hop aroma, and a strange yeasty flavor mixing with malt and hops.
A real winner was the Franconia Notch Grail Ale, which was brewed to the brewer's taste and not to any style guideline. It had a bright straw yellow color, though a bit murky, with a distinct green-hop aroma and slight tang in the nose. It was rich in hop flavor and bitterness with a citrus note and lingering hop bite. We were surprised to learn that it was made with no wheat malt and no pilsner malt.
Smuttynose's Portsmouth Lager was probably the most delicate beer at the fest, with a good head, mild hop aroma, mild graininess, subtle malt character and a nice dose of hop bitterness in the finish. Catamount's IPA didnt really stand out, nor did Seadog's Blonde. Geary's Pale Ale was a well made beer (but not as well made as their Special Hampshire Ale and Export Ale, either of which I would have rather had!). The Nutfield Black 47 was a stout with a very roasty aroma with a hint of smoked malt. It was a nice, thick, creamy and slightly chocolatey brew, whose aroma was a touch bigger than its flavor. In the same vein, but down a notch on the roast-scale was Lucknow's Porter, which had some nice finishing hops, though its roast component was a bit more acrid than what I'd like. Stepping further down the roast ladder was Stark Mill's General Stark Dark -a dark beer that had a sweet aroma, moderate roastiness and a faint sourness.
There were a few Oktoberfests on hand. Otter Creek's had a floral, perfurmey, even soapy aroma, was pale in color and had a grainy malt quality. There was some low hop bitterness, but over all it was dull, flat, chalky and didn't remind us of Munchen. Sam Adams attempt at the O'fest was a bit buttery though malty. The Redhook Hoptoberfest was pale in color and had a faint sour note in the nose. It also had an uncharacteristic smoked-malt note in the flavor which didn't work for our tongues.
Though the festival was great fun and a fine way to spend a weekend in a quaint New England seaside town, it was made all the better by cracking open some local brew and cracking open a fresh lobster! We found the lobster to lack any malt component despite its full body; it had no bitterness; and, was very buttery... so we had another!
by Bill Coleman
I have been reading and writing about Belgian beers for years now, but never travelled to the country-or Europe at all, for that matter. I was finally motivated to make the trip by the generous offer of the Dits', at our meeting several months ago, that anyone who wanted to make the trip to Pipaix on the last Saturday of the month, could "brew" with them, and even had a place to stay.
Warren Becker, who has also long had interest in visiting the country, and I decided to make the trip together, visiting as many beer-related stops as we could in the two weeks we could both squeeze from our work schedules. As long-standing members of this club know, Warren always done a great job of securing great guests for the club meetings, including some from Belgium, or who were importing beers from that country. On this trip, he decided to contact as many people as he could, to secure a well-planned out trip that would allow us to visit as many breweries as he could during our trip. As you will see, he succeeded spectacularly!
We decided to take the last week of October and the first week of November: October 23 through November 8. Jim Simpson expressed interest in joining us for a few days, so we decided to meet him in the middle weekend, so he could join us at the Dits'. This would mean that all but one President or former President of this club will have attended the Dits brewery on brewday (when are you going, George?)
Basically, I concentrated on 2 items; 1, to verify with the Dits that our visit on the last Saturday of October (Halloween!) would be okay (and received a fax saying that we could stay the next day if we wanted, to attend a beer and cheese tasting!) and to also research the beer bar and beer store scene in Belgium, to find places to go to when we weren't at breweries. I found useful material on the web; I would find even more useful material on arriving in the country.
On Friday, October 23, I left for work with a huge suitcase. I had never taken a trip that lasted more than 3 or 4 days, so I wasn't clear on how many clothes to bring. As it turned out, I brought way too much! While carrying my cheap case to the subway station, it started to come apart, luckily, I was given a hand by two friendly souls on the way to the subway, or I never would've made it.
During my day at the office, I ran out and bought another case, and transferred as much as I could from one case to another. I actually brought some beer to Belgium (I know, coals to Newcastle-or Brown Ale to Newcastle), to give to our hosts, and show appreciation. So, with some concern as to whether they would arrive in one place, I packed the suitcases up, and wrapped the slightly damaged one up with phone cord, the only thing we had in the office.
I left the office at 3:00 p.m. to make a 6:00 flight on Swissair from Kennedy. I met Warren at the front of the building, and we piled into a car he had ordered earlier. We made very good time to airport. It took no time at all to get our bags checked (I was sweating all the way that they would make me open and throw out the beer-I haven't been at a customs office in ten years, at least), and our flight was running late, so we had plenty of time to wait around in the airport. I had a couple of Sam Adams beers, to relax me for the flight, which I was a little nervous about, not having had that much experience on airplanes.
Anyway, around 6:00, I believe, we boarded the plane, which left around 6:40. I passed on the airline food, but had a couple of little bottles of single malt scotch, all in the interest of getting some sleep on the flight. It was a long flight; about 6 hours to Zurich, then a transfer, and around an hour to Brussels. A number of hours into the flight, they showed a Sandra Bullock movie, which finally put me to sleep for about a half an hour or so near the end. That was the total of my sleeping on all flights for this trip.
The transfer went smoothly. The smaller plane, riding from Zurich to Brussels, had a much rockier flight then the one that got us there, and I have to confess to some nervousness during the flight. Finally, after all this, we pulled into Brussels, I had my passport stamped for the first time in my life, and we located our luggage. We also quickly changed some money into Belgian francs. Warren had rented a car from a Hertz affiliate in the airport, so we went down to the car garage to locate our transportation for the trip. After a bit of searching Warren located it-it was a Opel Astra. Imagine my pleasure to find that it had a CD player! This met that throughout our trip, we were able to delve into my collection of Country Blues, French Musette, Hillbilly String Bands, Greek Rembetika-however, the theme song of the trip would have to be William Shatner singing "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." I don't know why, but....
Anyway, I do not have a license, so, unfair as it was, Warren had to do most of the driving, except for the brief time that Jim was visiting us. So we pulled out of the airport carpark and tried to find our way to Brussels center. As it turned out, the directions Warren got at the airport were really more useful to someone who had some experience with the city, so we had some difficulty finding our way to the hotel.
Warren had a little difficulty getting used to the manual shift in the car, so I had some slight concern that we were actually going to be able to drive around on this trip at all! As it turned out my concerns were misplaced, but it kept my mind occupied at the time. The mere fact that we were finally in Belgium, after all these years, was pretty amazing. The hotel we were staying at was located very close to the Grand Place, so it wasn't outrageously hard to find signs directing us to that location. When we got into the Brussels ring, the streets got tightly packed and we began to get more lost;e couldn't find any street names! I walked out and asked for directions from several people; finally, an American explained to me that the street names were not on posts, but on little signs attached to the buildings! I see, that way, you can find out the name of a street after you've passed it! Well, that information was helpful, and with a little more driving, we found our way to the hotel, George V, on the Rue T'Kint. We were lucky with parking, and dropped off our bags, and decided to immediately wander around Brussels. It was around 1:30 in the afternoon. As it would be for almost every day of our trip, is was drizzly and rainy off and on throughout the day.
Anyway, we headed over to the Grand Place. (We passed T'Spinnoke, just a block and a half from our Hotel, on the way over. As it turned out, we never had a chance to go there while we were there! The only time we were actually able to go over there, they were only serving dinner, not beer, and we had already eaten. Other days, we just picked a bad schedule.) It was, indeed, just a ten minute walk from the hotel. We were pretty stunned by the amazing architecture of the place, and stood there a few minutes, soaking in the fact that, yes, we were finally in Belgium!
Okay, enough reveries-time to find some beer. Using my info from the web, and a street map from the hotel, we found our way to our first stop, Mort Subite. It was a very impressive looking place, with big mirrors and vintage signs. As my first beer in Belgium, I ordered a Mort Subite unfiltered gueuze, which was, unlike some of their other beers, totally authentic lambic: sour, tart, with a big bret aroma. Warren ordered a Palm ale, which was sweet, clean and spicy, and excellent example of a Belgian ale. We decided to have a bite with our beers, and randomly decided to order waffles. Imagine our surprise, when they were brought to us cold, wrapped in plastic! Well, I learned a lesson there: I Belgium, order your waffles from a stand, not a restaurant!
For the second beer, I ordered a Gordon's Xmas ale, a genuine Scotch Ale from Younger's (McEwan's) that is not available in Scotland. It was big, sweet and mellow, unlike some bottles I brought back with me, which had a slightly harsh burnt-caramel aroma and aftertaste. Warren got a Mort Subite cassis, which is a filtered lambic, but nevertheless interesting for the huge blackcurrant flavor and purple color. The beers, by the way, cost around three dollars each!
We walked around a bit, and found an interesting place called the Bierkeller. All the beers there were from Interbrew. I tried a Ginder ale, which was another nice Belgian Pale Ale, and Warren had a Leffe Radiase, one of the best of their line, a strong (8.2 %) amber ale.
We had a bite to eat at a Frites stand, and went home, a little jet-lagged. At a store in the Grand Place, I picked up some bottles: Export Guinness (8%!), Verboten Fruit, and Ciney Brown. I tried the Guinness and Verboten fruit at the apartment, and was finally able to fall asleep, happy with my first day in Belgium, looking forward to the trip ahead...
Continued in the Next Issue...
Be the first on your block to have the latest edition of the Malted Barley T-Shirt. It comes in gray with a small picture of Salty in the "Yo Brooklyn" mode and a logo on the front, and then, on the back, is a complete, tabloid-sized reproduction of the off-flavor comic strip used in our competition in February. The shirt is only $15 ($25 for 2) if you pick it up at a meeting or a Hop, Skip and Brew. Otherwise, order it via the mail (add $5 for postage & handling, from Hop Skip and Brew, 50-07 Metropolitan Avenue, Ridgewood, Queens, NY.
The Next Meeting of The Malted Barley Appreciation Society will be on Wednesday, December 9, at 8:30 p.m. We are expecting Rob Mullin of the Commonwealth Brewery in Manhattan. As usual, the meeting will be held at Mug's Ale House, 125 Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, which will be serving 2 of the beers on handpump. And, as always, there should be lots of good homebrew. See you there!
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