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A fantastic time was had by all at 2016′s Abominable Snowfest in Pearl River’s upbeat decade-old mainstay Defiant Brewing during a 5-hour Saturday session punctuating the wintry January weather. One of the finest  parties thrown thus far this year, this friendly boho celebration, now in its third year, featured approximately 60 beers from 20-plus local New York and Jersey breweries, Upbeat Vintage’s rustic cutlery, Caked Up’s cupcakes and cookies, two live rock bands, bagels, cheeses, barbecued meats, ciders and souvenir glassware.

Getting to Snowfest at a quarter to twelve, I got to spend some time with proprietary Defiant brewmesiter, Neill Acer, and Ale Street News publisher, Tony Forder.

Acer and I recalled the rough old days back  in the early ’90s when the Seibel Institute grad headed now-defunct Suffern mecca, Mountain Valley Brewpub, one of the first successful gastropubs in the entire Rockland-Bergen area.  At Defiant, Acer continues to expertly “challenge the conventions of mass-produced beers” while adding a terrific smokehouse menu to the growing biz. With roughly 400 new breweries opening across the United States in 2015, the craft beer movement has gone beyond trendy jet-setters to au courant deities. Unlike the ’90s, modern craft breweries are now experiencing profoundly widescale success.

“Those were the dark days in America,” Acer remembers. “Germany carried the torch for beer quality for the entire world along with England and Belgium. Maybe when they drop the Iron Curtain in North Korea there’s gonna be more fantastic beer. But we don’t know. Now, Germans are making American-styled beers (like India Pale Ales). That would’ve seemed unimaginable. It’s coming full circle.”

It is an exciting transition being in the craft beer industry during the last decade. And it has allowed the ever-popular Defiant Brewing to tear down a left side wall to increase their boundaries by 5,000(?) square feet. Reclaimed lumber fills one side of the expansion’s wall while a large stage area and small back lounge provide patrons with further room to stretch out. The large brew tanks still stand tall inside the original space, where the elongated wood-topped bar serves dozens of imbibing denizens.

As for the 300-minute Snowfest, a few hundred brewhounds and beer geeks ceremoniously merged upon Pearl River’s crown jewel for a few one-off ‘big beers,’ several fine flagship offerings and other stylishly stimulating elixirs.

Along with Gun Hill Brewing’s Chris Sheehan (Chelsea/ JJ Bitting/ Port 44 icon), Acer’s Defiant collaborated on fantastical hybrid, Cask-aged Rye IPA (with Belgian candy on Summit hops), a soft-toned gem bringing dehusked carafa malting, caraway-seeded Jewish rye breading and black chocolate-y cocoa beaning to tangy grapefruit-orange-pineapple juicing.

Nearby Blauvelt brewery, Andean (four miles from Defiant), delighted early goers with three tenacious Kuka-branded tonics. First up, Cocoa Ono London Porter came on like a German Black Forest cake, bringing dark chocolate-spiced cocoa nibs to the fore atop bittersweet black cherry and sharp hop-roasted grains.

Next, cohesively complex Kuka Habanero-infused Devil’s Treat, a heated version of the magnificent Imperial Milk Stout, draped maca-rooted cocoa nibs with cinnamon-sticked cayenne peppering and tangy bruised red cherry sweetness, finishing strong with its lightly lingered yellow-curried habanero burn searing the overriding mocha richness.

A few days later at Ambulance Brew House, a cask conditioned offshoot of Devil’s Treat proved to be just as multi-dimensional, letting its dark cocoa richness pick up maple syruping to sweeten milk coffee creaminess, brown chocolate-y vanilla sugaring, cinnamon-sticked cayenne peppering and black cherry tartness.

After consuming some smoked cheeses and barbecue chicken, it was time to dig in deep with a string of one-off aged ales and well-balanced hybridized derivations.

Blustery winter-seasoned black saison, Newburgh Spruce Mousse, found perfectly infectious groove as persuasive spruce-needled cocoa nibs lexicon enriches mint chocolate sweetener and fondued black grape, yellow grapefruit and pineapple undertones gather just below.

Another fine rye-spirited strong ale, Broken Bow Barleywine aged in Rye Whiskey barrels, spread peated whiskey graining across oaken black cherry, tannic red grape and dried fig as well as light bourbon-port warmth, picking up brown chocolate nuances and a hint of ginger for a majestic 14% ABV soothe.

Dangerously light and well-balanced, Captain Lawrence Bourbon Barreled Frost Monster hid its sinister 11% ABV, stout-defined chocolate-cocoa propensity and caramelized toffee sweetness beneath vinous sour ale-aspired green grape tannins and desiccated fig snips.

Bringing the heat, Captain Lawrence Jersey Devil , a smoked wheat IPA, brought fatali chili peppering (from Garden State’s Old Hook Farms) to lemony Equinox-hopped citric fruiting in a resolute manner.

A few eccentric breakfast-related derivations from Keegan Ales’ offbeat Cereal Series caught my attention next. There was ever-popular Keegan Mother’s Milk dry-hopped with Cocoa Puffs, a creamy milk stout working black chocolate into brown-sugared oatmeal and roasted hops. Meanwhile, Keegan Bine Climber IPA dry-hopped with Trix cereal brought lemony grapefruit and orange sugaring to dried oats, spelt and rye breading for a frooty morning wake-up call.

“We just did a blast from the past (in Ale Street News),” Forder quips. “There was a ’92 Michael Jackson interview. He said it would be quite possible every single town would have two micros and three brewpubs. But nobody saw it coming. Beer lovers waited a long time for this to occur. And all the breweries represented here are less than 88 miles away.”

Beer Index lists several more enjoyable Abominable beers from Gun Hill, Keegan, Kelso, Kuka, LIC Beer Project, Newburgh, Peekskill, and 902. At future date, I will try Barrier, Brix City, Bronx, Finback, North River, Plan Bee, Sloop and Yonkers ‘fest’ offerings.

John Fortunato

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