From Rob Fink. Follow him on Twitter @RobDFink or email him at rob[AT]borderstan.com.
I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the 10th Annual Extreme Beer Fest this past weekend in Boston. To be sure, Extreme Beer Fest exemplifies why craft beer in America (and the rest of the world, for that matter) is often beguiling and so endlessly fascinating.
Craft beer really began with a stern motivation to loosen the hegemonic control of bland industrialized lager with beers premised on flavor; beers which were complex, sharp revitalizations of by-gone styles made with conviction and personality.
With that being said, craft beer has admirably evolved over the years into a phenomenon concerned with seeking every possible alternative, whether it’s a brewing technique or ingredient, which will amplify, broaden or otherwise complicate the flavor profile of a given beer.
I would argue there are potential drawbacks to this idea, because not every experiment works.
However, when things click, it can be downright transformative. Organized by BeerAdvocate, Extreme Beer Fest seeks to gather those beers which challenge preconceived notions and possibilities for flavor.
Because the festival always brings in breweries which are not available in the DC metro area, I’ve found it a challenge deciding which particular beers are worth of mention, so I will discuss three beers from breweries who maintain plentiful selections in our area.
Firestone Walker Brewing Company
In terms of barrel-aging programs, I think Firestone Walker does it best, and their beers this year further convinced me of that. Rufus blew me away. An Imperial Red Ale infused with Brettanomyces (a type of wild yeast) and aged for five years in an Old Fitzgerald bourbon barrel, Rufus brings wild yeast funk which folds bright cherry into a wall of vanilla, coconut and charred oak.
As much as I think about food and beer pairings, I wouldn’t really know what to do with this one. In the end, I enjoyed this one all by itself in a moment of well-deserved loneliness. Thankfully, we see some of the other Firestone Walker barrel-aged gems in our area. Connecticut Avenue Wine and Liquor in Dupont Circle often has a stash of one of their anniversary beers, Sucaba, or Parabola, all of which are well worthy of exploration.
Stone Brewing Company
Stone wears its playful arrogance on its collective sleeve, and deservedly so. I had the chance to try a special version of their Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale with bitter chocolate and orange peel. Substantial hop bitterness segued into orange-infused dark chocolate truffle while being pleasingly dry. This was one of those transformative moments; a mind-boggling combination which proved to be a hit. Stone has a longstanding history in the D.C. area, and you can get much of their portfolio at your better Borderstan beer stores. Please be on the look out for their Imperial Russian Stout this summer.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales
As one of the sponsors of Extreme Beer Fest, Dogfish Head takes it upon themselves to up the ante each and every year, but they’d really only be falling back on their well-deserved reputation. Out of many innovations, their Randall (a filter mechanism between the tap and faucet which can be filled with hops, spices, herbs, etc.) pushed Burton Baton (an oak-aged blend of Old Ale and Imperial IPA) through a bed of cedar surfboard shavings. It’s easy to call this crazy, but it worked and miraculously so.
Uber fresh cedar notes added a lush mouthfeel, seamlessly intertwining with the beer’s oak presence while not at all diminishing the persistence of the hop profile. Now a year round release, Burton Baton (at least the non-cedar version!) can be found at your better Borderstan beer stores.
I wish Washington had a fraction of the wonderful little places–delis, coffee houses and bistros–you find in Little Italy and other sections of Boston. And a lot of the places are cheap and authentic. I bought of a piece of ricotta pie (cheese cake, more or less) with a polenta crust for $2.50 at a bakery on Hanover Street. It was enough for a meal.