CNY Brewfest 2009 Recap

This year marked my 6th consecutive CNY Brewfest, held at the Horticulture Building at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, New York, on the day before the Super Bowl. And for the fifth out of a possible six years, I was accompanied by my good friend and old brewing partner Bruce “Fat Bastard” Flanders. [Full disclosure: his nickname for me is also “Fat Bastard.”]

Though this may not have been the most memorable of the Brewfests I’ve been to — and let’s face it, they get less and less memorable as the day goes on, am I right? — it is always a good time and I’m sure a financial success for those who run it. And at $25 at ticket in advance ($30 at the door), it is one of the best beer bargains you can find. You get a limited number of tickets and a commemorative tester glass, and you can go to get more tickets if you are not “visibly intoxicated.” Long story short, I always end up going home with extra tickets.

First, I do want to mention my slight disappointment about the breweries that were not present this year this year but had been in past years, just to get it out of the way: Stone, Dogfish Head, Rogue and Ellicottville were not there. Neither were pie-in-the-sky hopes like Clipper City, Green Flash, Flying Dog, Flying Fish, Troegs or Stoudt’s. Nor were sell-my-well-worn-liver-for Hail Marys like Three Floyds, Russian River or Bell’s. Rochester’s own Rohrbach showed up a bit late, and as such, I was not able to sample their wares.

But the breweries that were in attendance were a solid lot to be sure: Ommegang, Dundee, Long Trail, Ithaca, Saranac, Anchor, Sierra Nevada, Blue Moon (Coors), Lake Placid, Smithwick’s/Guinness, Bud, Smuttynose, Victory, Southern Tier, Middle Ages, Magic Hat, Wachussett, Butternuts, Newcastle, Boddington’s, Stella Artois, Miller Lite, Empire Brewing, Landmark Brewing, Red Stripe, Smirnoff, Sacketts Harbor, Arcadia and Franziskaner all made an appearance. There was also something called “Joose,” which is apparently an alcohol energy drink, was there, and it was 9% alcohol so I decided not to try it since I was already pushing the limit.

And here are just a few brief observations about the festival this year.

My pal Bruce said that he thought it was a busier festival than normal, but I disagreed. In fact, I thought the crowd was well-distributed, with less logjams than usual.

The first beer I had was a very good, underrated Empire Brewing IPA. I haven’t heard anyone else really rave about this one, but I think it’s quite good.

There were lots of very good beers I had, most of which I’d had before. But there were four extremely interesting beers. First was the young Horseheads (NY) Brewing, and their Hot-Java-Heim, which was — and I shit you not — liquid nachos. I have had other smoked beers before, but none have had the full-on nature of cheesy, spicy nachos than this beer. It was remarkable, and this is a brewery that I have to get to soon. (Care to join, Herr Bojangles?)

Secondly was a Coffee Stout from a brewery we have maligned a bit in the past, Long Trail. This beer was a magnificent, thick and roasted coffee flavor, with lots of coffee/mocha flavors and some sweet caramel malts. I had this one early, so it wasn’t a brutalized tongue fooling me. I haven’t seen this one commercially available, but this one is a winner.

Next up was the Sierra Nevada Wiezenbock, which was spicy and wheaty, but didn’t have the overwhelming banana/clove flavor in it that many weizenbocks have. In fact, it had no clove at all, and only a hint of banana, which was the perfect amount. This beer was really terrific, and I’ll be looking out for it.

Finally, the last beer that I remember well was the Arcadia Hop Rocket, a very strong, very thick, very hoppy IPA that I liked, but that Bruce did not care for. The hops were extreme, and cut through all the beers I had before it. BeerAdvocate says that it’s 9% alcohol, and it tasted every bit that. It’s very viscous, like motor oil, and has a hint of dark rye bread in the malt. I can definitely see why someone might not cotton to this brew, but it hit me the right way.

Of course, after it was down, I started to feel more lightheaded than usual.

Some other quick thoughts:

  • Ommegang came correct. They were very friendly, inviting, informative, and encouraged me to come to the brewery and even gave out a pamphlet with a coupon! Awesome!
  • I asked the guy at Magic Hat if there was anything we could expect from them, and he said they were going to be unveiling a Belgian beer called “Wacko.” And get this: it’s pink!
  • Both the Wachussett beers on tap — Blueberry and Green Monsta — were much much better on tap that they ever had been in bottles. Ditto Ithaca’s Flower Power. Anchor‘s beers — Steam and Liberty Ale — on the other hand, were slightly stale and disappointing.
  • The event, as always, was very smoothly run. The line into the building moved in a quick and orderly manner. There were no hooligans, just a chilled out crowd of people looking to try some good beers. Even the Port-a-Lets were a good experience. They really know what they are doing. One suggestion, however, which is to spread out the “heavy-hitter” breweries out a bit so that the crowd doesn’t bottleneck. Also, it would be nice if the food was served in the middle of the floor instead of all the way to one end.

As always, this was a great event, and a great way to get you to pace yourself for the Super Bowl. If you get a chance to be in Syracuse next year, try to make it. Four great beers and a bunch of good ones for $25 is a helluva deal.


~ by William H on February 4, 2009.

One Response to “CNY Brewfest 2009 Recap”

  1. Well done guys! I love the new site and always enjoy the quality journalism. Perhaps I’ll tip a few in your honor tonight.


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