In previous years, I've taken a commando approach. I printed the list of available beers and highlighted my priorities, color coding my top ten and backups. I lined up early and mapped a route through the booths. One year, I made a beeline to Allagash, where I sampled the last ounces of a nearly extinct ale barrel-aged with wild Maine strawberries. I felt elite. I carried a golf pencil in my pocket and rated the beers, taking notes on smell, flavor, and mouthfeel. Toward the end of the evening my notes became less systematic and harder to decipher ("raisin dragon" is scrawled diagonally across a page).
This year I relaxed. I've been to enough festivals that I've got a good handle on beer styles, and I'm familiar with the flagship extreme beers: Dogfish Head's 120 Minute IPA, Sam Adams' Utopias, double and triple-IPAs, imperial stouts, ales aged in wine or whisky barrels. This year's list included many terrific beers I'd tried before and some intriguing new ones, but few I felt I absolutely must try. My goals were to sample some new breweries, take good pictures, and pace myself so I wouldn't have a headache on Sunday. I'm sure I missed out on some good ones, but of the beers I tried, these were memorable:
American Flatbread (VT)
The 2009 edition of Winter Saison made with green & pink peppercorns
Wheaty, crisp, with just a hint of bite. My favorite of the night.
Kentucky Breakfast Stout
Founders Brewing Co. (MI)
Bourbon Barrel Aged Chocolate Coffee Stout
Oh my. Flavors of chocolate milk, espresso, licorice, and ginger. Rich without being heavy. I regret missing out on the Canadian Breakfast Stout, aged in maple syrup barrels. Unfortunately, Founders is not available north of Boston.
Morimoto Soba Ale
Rogue Ales (OR)
Specialty Ale made with buckwheat
I haven't understood the hype about Rogue, but I liked this beer, which has a subtle nutty flavor like 12-grain bread. Morimoto would be nice with pasta or spicy tomato foods.
Peanut Butter & Jelly
Short's Brewing Co. (MI)
This beer really tasted like bread and peanut butter, with an aftertaste of grape jelly. How did they do that? Did they just drop sandwiches into the fermenting vessel? I would imagine that a little of this goes a long way, but 10 points for creativity and execution. People were also raving about their s'mores beer, which I didn't try because it came with non-vegan marshmallows on top (Wilbur's hooves, you know).
Our pictures didn't turn out well because it was dark and people kept moving, and it seemed impractical to bring a tripod. You can see the rest of them in this gallery.