Coverage of High Street Grill Winter Beerfest 2009
‘Tis the season…for Beer Festivals!
With the Philly and Atlantic City beer festivals just weeks away, this past Saturday I was fortunate enough to attend a somewhat smaller, quainter festival. Strike. Make that THREE festivals. And although I am a big fan and will be attending both larger festivals in March, I couldn’t help but be intrigued.
I originally found out about this brand new festival a few weeks ago, and I immediately emailed the owners of the Mount Holly, New Jersey-based High Street Grill, Nancy and John McDevitt, to find out more information. As it turns out, there were 12 breweries scheduled to attend from all over the United States, ranging from smaller Eastern breweries like Stoudt’s and River Horse to nationwide industry powerhouses like Stone and Lagunitas.
I’ve heard of High Street Grill as they were recently featured on my favorite weekly beer show, Still Crazy After All These Beers, and I knew the host Gary Monterosso was a big fan of what John and Nancy were doing for the craft beer experience. In addition, I was extremely excited that All These Beers would be filming at the festival so I made arrangements to be interviewed for our very own, TheFullPint.com exclusive. Look for that post in the coming weeks.
I counted down the days and finally, this past Saturday was the festival. I wrangled up my beer-drinking friend John and we made the trip up to Mount Holly. Although we did not realize that this festival was a part of a larger, town-wide celebration, we finally found parking a few blocks away on the street since all the nearby lots were full. After a short walk to High Street, we could see that the festival was already underway. I made my way inside the restaurant and found Nancy, who graciously told us that she planned on covering the $20 per person admittance fee. John and I were pleasantly surprised and want her to know how much we appreciated the gesture.
Given the nod to enter, we advanced through the roughly 25×25 tent and were immediately in beer heaven. We both grabbed our tasting glasses and without saying word but somehow still knowing what each other was thinking, John and I both headed to Lagunitas table, mainly because no one was in line there. As soon as we took our first sip, we were introduced to the guest host of the show, Guy Zompa and camera man Brian Wilson. We chatted for a minute and decided we would wait a little while before filming our interview.
We were then introduced to Executive Chef, beer lover and owner of High Street Grill, John McDevitt. After thanking him for the generous hospitality, we chatted about everything from gourmet foods to the craziest ingredients we’ve ever seen in a beer. If you know John personally, you know that he loves to joke around and he had me in stitches the entire day. By the way, John, if you are reading this, I’m planning on making another trip to Mount Holly so I can hand deliver those home brews I brought with me and forgot to give you.
Back to Lagunitas. My first tasting was of their Brown Shugga, a seasonal strong ale that is highlighted by sweet caramel and molasses notes. It was so good that right after the last drop hit my tongue, I asked for a refill. I can still taste it in my mind. Next, I tried their Censored ale, which had a bold and beautiful copper color and a terrific flavor.
From there, we shuffled our way around the tent, squeezing in between other beer lovers until we made our way to the front of each table. A trick that I learned some time ago is to try to stick to tables that are not as crowded. It may sound like a no-brainer, but typically this will enable you to enjoy more samples and even get faster service. Trust me, the people at those crowded tables will eventually spread out and you can move right in. Works every time.
At the Tröegs table, we were treated to one of my favorite beers in the whole world, Hopback Amber. This also happens to be Tröeg’s flagship beer and is loaded with spicy Nugget hops, providing a sensational aroma. Also on tap was the Tröeganator double bock, a rich and dark lager that weighs in at over 8% abv. I knew after my first sip that I would be back to this table before days end.
Next up was what would be the highlight of the festival, and the entire day as far as I am concerned. We were treated to a gloriously, hop-packed IPA from Clipper City’s brand Heavy Seas, called Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale. The moment that this beer touched my mouth, I was deeply in love (in a beer lover kind of way). My curiosity led me to inquire about the beer and I learned that it uses 5 strong IBU-packed hop varieties and is hopped in the kettle, the hop back and by dry hopping. If you are looking for a hop explosion, look no further because Heavy Seas has already perfected it. Their Winter Storm, a strong extra special bitter ale, was not bad either and weighed in at nearly 8% abv.
Now that we had quite a few tastes under our belts, we met back up with Guy and Brian and I decided that outside the tent, in front of the festival signage would be a great place for our interview. What a mistake. I have not mentioned that this festival was for all arguments sake, an outdoor festival. An outdoor festival, on the last day of January in New Jersey means one thing – freezing temperatures. We thought that the thin plastic tent surrounding the brewer tables was little consolation, until we stepped outside and felt the full force of 20-30 degree weather.
The interview actually went very well, and I enjoyed talking about The Full Pint and the goals we have set to keep craft beer lovers from all corners of the globe informed. We talked briefly about how and why TFP was created and how we gather and spread news from craft breweries all over the country. We also discussed how we rate and review beers on our site and some of the characteristics that we look for. Before long, we concluded our interview and simultaneously picked up our stuff and sprinted back into the tent. All kidding aside, it was C-O-L-D. Whose idea was it anyway to do this outside?
Soon after our bodies returned to normal temperature, the first festival was coming to a close. As I mentioned before, there were actually three festivals, with each session lasting just over an hour. As the crowd finished their beers and made their way to the exit, we could see a huge line forming for session two. Fortunately, we were able to stay in the warm (well, warmer) confines of the tent and were invited to stay for each of the following two sessions.
A new crowd meant new beer lovers to meet, chat with and even toast to. We enjoyed meeting everyone we came in contact with, brewery rep’s and festival customers alike. As we continued to make our way to the other tables, we stopped to say hello to our friends from River Horse and sampled their Hopalotamus and Belgian Freeze. The Hopalotamus was my first experience with this double-IPA, and it reminded me of fresh grass and floral notes. Too bad they don’t bottle this because I wouldn’t mind keeping a stash in my beer fridge. The Belgian Freeze, on the other hand, was actually frozen. No, this was not a new attempt at a beer slushie, the line on the keg had actually frozen. Did I mention that it was cold? After some creative thawing by the River Horse folks, we got a full pour of this strong winter ale. I wish I could say that I liked it, but you can’t like them all. Or can you?
Right near River Horse, was one of my friend John’s local favorites – Victory Brewing Company. Prima Pils and Hop Wallop were both available and were both equally delicious and refreshing. We then moved onto Sly Fox to try their scotch ale and their famous O’Reilly’s stout. I felt that the stout offered just the right balance of creaminess and roasted flavors. It was one of the lower alcohol beers of the day and had a dry, somewhat light-body compared to most stouts. I did not get a chance to try the scotch ale before I was whisked away by the allure of Founder’s Reds Rye. The Amarillo hops, one of my personal favorites, presented a very citrusy bouquet that married nicely with the sweetness from the malts.
Flying Dog, a Frederick, Maryland-based brewery to which I am no stranger, offered their Old Scratch Amber, a traditional beer that flies under the radar as well as their bold and hands-down winner of my second favorite beer of the day, Gonzo Imperial Porter. I can hardly wait to get my hands on this beer again. It is a dry-hopped porter with a “shit load” of Cascade, Warrior and Northern Brewer hops, creating a divine flavor that goes hand in hand with the strongly roasted malty body.
By this time, we were counting down the remaining minutes of session two and to be perfectly honest, John and I were feeling no pain. As the crowd headed out and the third and final group was permitted entry, I found myself doing more gabbing than drinking. Sure, I still pranced my way around the tent and drank glass after glass, but now I was more interested in asking questions and talking with other home brewers.
I do remember talking for quite a while with the Stone and Lagunitas crews, about everything from the extensive list of beers on draft at the Torando in San Francisco to the casked Captain Lawrence Imperial Double IPA that was available to paying customers right inside the High Street restaurant. The draft version of which was also available at the Captain Lawrence table. Everyone was amazingly knowledgeable and I was able to pick up some really neat tips about brewing and even more impressive facts about each brewery.
For a beer-geek like me, this day was like a beer utopia (sorry, Sam Adams). As my first festival of 2009, I was very lucky to be surrounded by such great friends and fellow craft beer lovers. The hospitality that John and Nancy showed us, coupled with the excitement of doing my first on-camera interview with Guy and Brian, kept me giddy as a schoolboy all afternoon and right into the night. I want to thank everyone who made this day possible, all the brewery folks, and all the cool people we met and talked to. I am so happy that we only have 364 days until the 2010 High Street Grill Winter Beerfest!