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Defiant Brewing’s 5th annual Abominable Snowfest was another smashing wintertime hit as curious local minions and professional beer geeks once more collided on a cold January afternoon to plow some of the finest regional draughts. As usual, the amiable hour-and-a-half VIP pregame featured many fantastic one-off ‘big beers’ (most of which I sampled and described below) while the entire 5-hour gathering also benefited from good BBQ, fine pub fare, great live music, an elastic female contortionist and a ceiling-raising stilted lady.

Proving again that there are an ever-increasing amount of local breweries within a 35 mile radius, the Snowfest brought aboard a few more recently opened businesses. Naptime, Big Alice, Fifth Hammer, Long Lot and Gentle Giant were represented alongside another dozen or more regional establishments.

Getting there at a quarter to twelve, the line has already started. I meet veteran 381 Main promoter, John Fladung, then receive my complementary Defiant Abominable Snowbeer, an easygoing Belgian-styled golden ale aperitif with spritzy lemon zesting picking up orange-candied tartness and mild white-peppered honey spicing over dry pale malts.

Keeping it light, pale and sessionable, musky honeyed grains and lemon-rotted Noble hops casually consumed off-dry German-styled(?) moderation, Big Alice NYC Pils, respectable blue collar Brooklyn fodder.

Carefree dry-bodied moderation, Barrier Extra Krona IPA (a collaboration with NYC nano  Brewski), let tart guava and passionfruit adjuncts gain lemony grapefruit-orange tanginess alongside botanical grape tannins and pale malt spicing, gaining light musky hop astringency by the finish.

Rye-caramelized pale ale, Fifth Hammer Autumn Rye, did a fine job as a moderate-bodied early afternoon eye-opener, leaving wispy floral-spiced sweetness and earthen hop foliage upon pumpernickel rye breading.

Glistening lemon-peeled grapefruit, orange and tangerine spicing embraced approachable Millhouse Led Ashtray IPA, which stayed mild via oats-neutralized pale malting.

Light lactic-soured milk sugaring and subtle vanilla creaming grazed brisk mango-pineapple-papaya tropicalia and candied citrus spicing for commendable Millhouse Cashazacca India Pale Ale 

Durable Peekskill Pantry Beer, a briskly clean coffee IPA, linked dark-roast Ethiopian coffee to black chocolate malting without totally compromising its contrasted citric-spiced pale malting.

Brewed with Graft apple cider, fine saison hybrid, Newburgh Farm Boss, mingled Spanish cedar, elderflower and coriander subsidies with herbal lemon tea reminders, relegating its sweetly soured cider finish.

Bitter dark cocoa, burnt coffee and sour dried fruiting aligned with bitter nuttiness for Broken Bow Nick’s Hazelnut Praline Porter, leaving sweet hazelnut and praline adjuncts to get pushed aside.

Velvety spirits-aged, Pine Island Bourbon Barrel Porter, let sweet bourbon vanilla alacrity drape cocoa-sugared brown chocolate malts and wispy spiced rum licks.

A few rangy rye-influenced Imperial Stouts from Brooklyn’s KCBC caught my attention next. Firstly, medium-roast iced coffee tenacity scored for KCBC Ryders of the Black Rainbow Imperial Coffee Stout, leaving nutty brown chocolate malting upon sweet rye breading.

Then, KCBC’s rye-barreled Demons On The Dancefloor, a smooth 11% potion loading bittersweet cocoa nibs onto dry rye, bourbon and burgundy elegance, proved to be an ultra-relaxing solution.

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Defiant started really packing up by 1:30 as I got my hands on a few more craft suds while diggin’ the BBQ.

Dark chocolate-caked cold brew coffee consumed Big Alice Date Night Bro Stout, a bitterer-than-sweet full body with nut-charred dark roast hop abundance.

Creamy black chocolate syruping coated hop-charred vanilla bean bittering for Pine Island Oatmeal Creme Stout, but its up-front ‘heaviosity’ soon retreated atop the oats-sugared malt base.

Lactic liquid cocoa (cholaca) escorted black chocolate, vanilla bean and coffee bean bittering thru sweet cardamom spicing and brief cayenne peppering for briskly clean milk stout, Naptime Fika, a bustling mocha-spiced Swedish dark ale.

Silken mocha-enriched stout, Captain Lawrence Double Pull, guided coffee-roasted black chocolate bittering towards espresso-milked nuttiness above lightly charred oats.

Conditioned on chocolate-coconut- vanilla, heavenly Imperial Milk Porter, Brix City Coconut Crème Choco-Lit Pastry Party, let fudged brownie, chocolate mousse, malted milk and coconut cream pie illusions rise to the confectionary mocha-candied surface.

“Udderly sweet” Finback Coquito Milk Stout brought richly lactic brown chocolate malting to cinnamon-spiced coconut toasting, sweet vanilla creaming and wintry nutmeg snog in fabulous dessert-like fashion.

Even more profound, superb Rushing Duck Dirty Chai Ded Moroz Imperial Stout, a kaleidoscopic variant on its mocha-enriched dried fruited original version, adds chai-spiced black peppering to medium-roast coffee, dark chocolate, anise herbage and cinnamon-spiced Graham Cracker sugaring.

Before heading out, I went sour for a nifty change-up. Winterized by tart plum and cranberry adjuncts, mildly acidic sour ale, Rushing Duck Don’t Stoke The Bear, gained a harmonious lemon-limed green grape pucker.


-John Fortunato


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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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Hosted at the valley fairgrounds of Devil’s Backbone Brewing’s Basecamp site in the Roseland’s Wintergreen Mountains, August 2015′s sold-out 4th Annual Virginia Craft Brewers Fest gathered serious-minded beer geeks, young families and local denizens for a memorable and spirited celebration. 60-plus brewers offered 300-plus beers as live music played and several food trucks served fine fare for a few thousand campers, RV enthusiasts and hotel-bound patrons congregating along the stunningly bucolic Blue Ridge Trail this sunny Saturday afternoon.

During the 5-hour escapade, I hit 20-plus Virginia brewers’ beer tents and consumed nearly 50 previously untried offerings (listed directly below in Beer Index). Over the last ten years, the Old Dominion State’s brewing capacity has grown exponentially thanks to less antiquated regulations being enforced. Nowadays, instead of having barely ten craft breweries statewide as it did a decade hence, there are close to 100 licensed Virginia breweries with many more debuting this year.

My favorite brewery at the fest had to be Richmond’s Strangeways Brewing, whose diverse range of elixirs included Gourd Of Thunder Pumpkin Porter, Boom Choc-O-Lotta Chocolate Lager, Legalize It Kulture IPA, Lucky Charms Berliner Weiss and Wake Me Up Before You Gose Ghost Pepper. Ashburn’s Old Ox Black Ox Rye Porter and Alpha Ox Session IPA fared extremely well, as did Charlottesville’s Champion Killer Gose and Missile IPA. Culpeper’s Beer Hound Olde Yella Pale Wheat Ale was also superb.

Best of Show went to Richmond-based The Answer Brewpub for titillatingly fruited Grand Larceny India Pale Ale, whose Headina Weisse also fared well competing against Midlothian-based Extra Billy’s My Only Weiss.

See entries listed below for individual reviews.


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As the commercial hub for affluent Westchester County (just north of New York City), White Plains boasts a host of upscale shopping centers and restaurants in close proximity to busy Route 287. Amongst several neighboring Mamaroneck Avenue bars such as Brazen Fox, Porter House, Hudson Grill, Element Food & Spirits, Ron Blacks Beer Hall and Black Bear lies the city’s best beer pub, LAZY BOY SALOON.

A tan exterior with brown company lettering and windowed garage door-like entrance welcomes varied patrons to the partitioned one-room pub. A closed-in patio with twelve tables and tan umbrellas allows for outside dining in the warm weather months while the exquisite cherrywood interior, with its pristine crown molding, retains a splendid cocktail-lounged sportsbar atmosphere. The elegant six-column right side bar features five tap stations with forty-two draughts, 200-plus bottled beers, sterling spirits, twelve stools, several TV’s and a mirrored inlet etched with the proud historic slogan ‘established on a Tuesday in 1994.’

Along the front wall are several neon craft beer signs from Paulaner, Founders, Abita, Pilsner Urquell, Palm and Sam Adams. The side walls are cluttered with sundry tin beer logos. The seperate partitioned left side dining space serves early Saturday afternoon ‘comfort food’ with a Southwestern flare as the place fills up during this late September ’13 sojourn.

Celebrating Octoberfest with twenty tapped pumpkin beers, my wife and I share jalapeno-peppered chili-cheesed nachos before I settle on the renowned tequila citrus wings while imbibing five previously untried libations. Two well-defined dessert-like Alaskan seasonals hit the spot post-haste. First, Midnight Sun Trickster Pumpkin Ale coalesced pastry-caked banana daiquiri sweetness, honeyed pumpkin spicing and black-peppered Belgian yeast. Then, Midnight Sun TREAT Imperial Chocolate Pumpkin fused dark-roasted black chocolate and fudgy caramelized molasses to cinnamon-nutmeg spicing. Another autumnal fave, soft-watered Kuka Pumpkin Porter (from local New York state brewer, Andean) layered dry cocoa-powdered chocolate malts alongside pronounced pumpkin-pureed spices.

Breaking away from the seasonal deluge, Robinsons Iron Maiden Trooper brought lightly creamed corn-sugared caramel malting to perfume-hopped citrus illusions for an approachable ESB. Bayou Teche LA 31 Passionne (a pale wheat ale) layered mild passionfruit across tart guava-mango tropicalia, biscuity malt sedation and mild smoked peppering (all fully reviewed in Beer Index).


Hundreds of beer geeks joined ranks Saturday, December 10th, for the first BEER BAR FEST NYC. Hosted by prospering New York City Homebrewers Guild bellwethers Chris Cuzme and Mary Izett at a hot new venue, this merry two-session gathering culled eight new-sprung Big Apple beer bars serving ‘the choicest small plates’ of artisanal food alongside unrivaled craft beer ‘under one roof.’

And that’s no small boast. While the Guild continually educates people on the interesting array of progressive-thinking micro and nano breweries popping up in the last few years, Cuzme and Izett keep developing close relationships with the freshest local eateries promoting craft beers.

“Hopefully Beer Bar Fest will biannually showcase new beer bars across New York City,” Cuzme explains. “For far too long beer bars haven’t been given deserved respect for the fantastic booze they serve and the awareness given craft beer. As bar menus showcase better beers, it’s fun and exciting to pair them with food.”

An enthusiastic group of appreciative gourmandizers congregated at the luxurious 15,000 square foot club known only as 404, a chic West Side Hell’s Kitchen art space with cement-floored white interior, exquisite cocktail bar and pristine loft used as a banquet hall, reception area or for special events. The distinguished assemblage of tapped beers on hand went extremely well with the recommended food pairings, widening the palates of many zealous goblet-palmed quaffers.

I preliminarily headed upstairs to the loft, where famed British-American Real Ale fanatic, Alex Hall, held ground at the center serving stations at high noon. The stacked half-keg barrels behind Hall housed eight rangy cask-conditioned brews. The salty seafood brining of raw oysters from Sayerville’s NAKED COWBOY OYSTER BAR complemented the soft-toned elegance of these smoothly unpasteurized libations.

The cask version of gypsy brewers’ Wandering Star Raindrop Pale Ale contrasted pleasant honeyed sweetness against fig-dried grape and woody earthen herbage. Sixpoint Little Frankie’s Pale Ale spread peanut butter across orange marmalade. Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter – Cask brought mellow dark chocolate to peat-dewed dried fruit, bettering its glorious filtered version.

Grabbing a few more oysters, I ventured into the cask-conditioned Firestone Walker Pale 31, which balanced its sour citric impetus against floral-dried rye breading. Meanwhile, the remaining four cask conditioners made a good overall impression on a smattering of beer espousers at this 4-hour afternoon session.

I then decided to venture into a few previously untried Belgian-styled ales sans food post-haste. A moderate aperitif, Wandering Star Zingari Witbier (brewed with cardamom, India fenugreek spice, lemongrass and a splash of coriander) brought delicate herbal pungency to crisply clean-watered citric fig. Contrarily, Greenport Harbor 2nd Anniversary Ale (a complex Belgian strong pale ale) draped creamy caramel malts and candi-sugared Belgian yeast atop a not-so-subtle grapefruit-peeled juniper bittering and refreshingly floral-spiced mint stint.

After dipping into Brooklyn-based Sixpoint Mad Scientist, a light-tongued, black-chocolate-spiced, cocoa-dried altbier, I drifted back downstairs to Chelsea’s Guilty Goose table, where this mod American Brasserie held court. I paired the resilient rice ball-like Bacon Cheddar Risoto with California’s Lagunitas Bay-Styled Doppelweiss, an adjunct weizenbock contrasting brisk mustard-seeded hop sharpness against creamy rum-spiced Bananas Foster lacquering. Guilty Goose’s Duck-Smoked Pork paired fairer with Wandering Star Berkshire Hills 01201 Saison, boosting its meaty aspects with sharper sour-fruited fig-prune musk and fresh-watered citric spicing.

A Napolean Dynomite-attired Santa Claus named Wildman joined me for the next few tastings. I thusly paired Café D’Alsace’s exquisite uptown French cuisine with a few gypsy brews by Brain Strumke, whose engaging Stillwater fare gets contract brewed in Belgium, Netherlands and Maryland.

Stillwater Cellar Door, a Belgian saison with white sage, deepened its white-peppered basil-thyme conflux against sharp hop-spiced orange liming while capturing the savory tenderness of lamb-oxtail-pork-smoked Baeckeofe Alsatian Casserole. Picking up even more illusionary complexities alongside D’Alsace’s meat casserole, Stillwater Our Side IPA/Saisondeepened the thyme seasoning of the Pinot Gris-braised dish, raising its herb-seasoned grapefruit rind bittering above fresh rosewater nuances.

Crisper and cleaner than the previous two, Stillwater Stateside Saison tossed resinous earthen hops at taut apricot-pear fruiting and rye-spiced orange souring. Perhaps the most expressive, Stillwater Folklore Belgian Dark Ale latched lactic schwarzbier-like cocoa bean dryness and dark chocolate spicing onto dried fruits, gaining a dusky earthen soiling that may’ve constricted the meaty food pairing. Our host, Mary Izett, enjoyed the Alsatian casserole with Allagash Black, a Belgian-styled stout with nutty chocolate spicing, hop-charred molasses bittering and cappuccino notes.

Astoria-based Sunswick 35/35 broke out Buffalo Wings for six notable Denmark-brewed Evil Twin elixirs. Dry moderation, Evil Twin Williamsburg Hipster Ale, countered woody-hopped grapefruit rind bittering and dried orange tartness against caramel-malted toasted almond. A commendable stout brewed with orange peel, Evil Twin’s The Talented Mr. Orangutan delivered Belgian chocolate spicing to its coffee-roasted core.

Eloquent coffee roasting also affected Evil Twin’s fudge-y molasses-espresso-vanilla-draped Yin Imperial Stout, a wonderful changeup to tropical-fruited Yang IPA (where fresh-watered floral serenity dapples apricot-pear-pineapple-orange-apple fruiting in an approachable manner). Combining both, dark chocolate malts outdid Yin & Yang Black & Tan’s currant-nipped dried fruits. Thereafter, extraordinary Soft Dookie Vanilla Imperial Stout rendered molasses-sugared crème de cocoa, brown chocolate, and vanilla creaminess.

Then it was off to Madison Avenue-based Rattle N Hum’s table to consume shellfish sliders with Netherlands’ strikingly illuminating Emelisse Barleywine, a slow-sipping cognac-like almondine pleated with red cherry, caramelized chocolate, honeycomb and rye. Equally fine was Rattle N Hum’s squash-pureed Wild Boar, paired with Greenport Harbor Black Duck Porter, a robust combination plying schwarzbier-like chipotle-sauced chocolate creaminess to tender pork crisping.

Lower East Side’s Idle Hands catered mini onion-sauteed jalapenos burgers, a casually-spiced delectable well-suited for Vermont’s zesty Hill Farmstead Harlan IPA, a tame herb-spiced fruit juicer juxtaposing slightly wooded grapefruit-peeled orange rind bittering with creamy crystal-sugared pineapple, peach, red apple and plum tones.

Long Island City’s Alewife Queens supplied peppery veal-pork parmesan meatballs to go alongside Greenport Harbor Strong Ryeland ESB’s hop-spiced tea acridity. And Gramercy Park’s Taproom 307’s thin-crusted prosciutto pizza complemented Italy’s spectacular Sangria-like Baladin Nora.

For a closer, I figuratively visited my childhood neighborhood, combining Bronx Ale House’s braised short rib chili with Bronx Pale Ale’s supple almond-toasted caramelizing, spicy orange-backed dried fruiting and minor wood pining.

The response for Beer Bar Fest NYC was overwhelmingly positive as attendees loved the food, beer, and atmosphere. And the night session apparently had a higher attendance. I can’t wait for the next Fest.

-John Fortunato



-By John Fortunato

An eclectic array of hardened beer enthusiasts converged at popular Park Slope music club, Southpaw, to try some of the best offerings ever available under one roof.

From the righteously stylized to the diligently experimental, FREAKTOBERFEST 2011 had something for everyone this breezy Friday evening in Brooklyn. Trendy Black IPA’s and sour ales generally took a backseat to prodigious dark ales, autumnal pumpkin-spiced concoctions, and some frolicking fruited fare.

As expected, the real story here at the third annual Freaktoberfest had to be the contagiously incessant do-it-yourself spirit of Shmaltz Brewery host, Jeremy Cowan, whose two successful product lines (Shmaltz’s expansive Hebrew series and the ensuing sideshow-inspired Coney Island lagers) habitually astound ardent beer geeks. Selling over ten million beers since ’96, Cowan’s bi-coastal contract brewing company has regaled San Francisco and New York City and many cities in between from its auspicious inception ‘til now.

Another seasoned DIY-spirited maverick perusing Southpaw at this gathering was Gotham Imbiber web host, Alex Hall, a ‘real ale’ fanatic promoting not only cask conditioned libations but also a new Massachusetts brewery whose inspirational English-styled ale got the party started for yours truly. I immediately make my way through the crowded front hall at around 7 PM with fellow beer enthusiast, Dennis Flubacher.

Feeling like a privileged rock star, New York City Homebrewers Guild President, Chris Cuzme, recognizes me upon entering and welcomes us to the main open area post-haste. Now lobbying for Massachusetts’ newly operational Wandering Star Brewery, the long-time beer maven (and professional musician) proudly serves us samples of the perfectly rounded Wandering Star Mild At Heart – a creamy schwarzbier-like English dark mild with crystal-malted dried fruiting and caramel-burnt chocolate spicing.

“There were three licenses supposedly readied for brewers,” Cuzme says as we work our way over to the opposite side of the table to quaff Two Brothers Heavy Handed IPA, a wet-hopped dry body with peach, pear, orange and tangerine fruiting emanating from Illinois. “But Massachusetts’ ridiculously antiquated laws could be a drawback to getting a brewery started. The state changed the way to determine what qualifies as a farmhouse brewery. Sam Adams and Harpoon qualified previously. At court, we argued that growing hops and barley on premises should let us qualify.”

Opened June, 2011, Wandering Star’s all star crew includes above-mentioned cask ale expert, Alex Hall, whom I didn’t get to speak to even though our elbows rubbed during dangling conversations.

Between sips, Cuzme declares, “We’re really proud of our traditional mild ale. We try to give our beers extreme flavor without extreme alcohol. At the moment, we’re working on a Lemongrass Wit brewed with cardamom and lemongrass. Then, there’s a spelt-grained Saison and an Alpha Pale Ale that hasn’t been tapped.”

After cheering it up with Cuzme, Dennis and I head downstairs to the dank catacomb-like cellar, where a copper-topped corner bar serves a cornucopia of fascinating bottled beers and Shmaltz’s latest one-time seasonal Geektoberfest Sour Brown Ale. A vinous cherry-soured, raspberry-tart, grape-dried, high-octane ale made in coordination with respected New York brewers Captain Lawrence and Ithaca, its elegant bourbon theme caressed chocolate-malted marzipan sweetness and ginger-spiced fig-raisin tartness.

A few previously untried libations that were bottled got examined next. The collaborative Shmaltz/ Terrapin Reunion Ale ‘11, a succulent Imperial Brown Ale with advertised chili-peppered cocoa nibs and vanilla adjuncts, retained a creamy chocolate-milked Kahlua, coconut and chocolate cake sweetness. Dry-hopped Belgian-styled golden ale, The Bruery Mischief, used sour brettanomyces yeast to punctuate the farmhouse-wafted basil-thyme seasoning and lemon-rotted bittering of this persuasive Californian. Pretty Things Baby Tree, a cleverly formulated herbal-spiced, citric-hopped, floral-accented Massachusetts-based ale replicated Belgium’s finest Abbey quadrupels.

As we trek back to the main floor, the crowd has doubled in size, but the sampling tables are still easily accessible. I finally get the chance to try a few of Greenport Harbor’s well balanced, eager-to-please brews. The newest Long Island-based brewery to pop up since 2009 (alongside Great South Bay and Barrier) proved it’s not necessary to make only ‘big beers’ for snooty aficionados. Greenport’s Harbor Ale brought crisp Amarillo-hopped wood dryness to light wheat-cracked dried citrus bittering. Leaf Pile Pumpkin Ale’s creamy cinnamon-toasted pumpkin pie sweetness contrasted leafy hop foliage above allspice-cardamom-nutmeg spicing. Black Duck Porter wrangled cocoa-powdered, soy-milked black chocolate creaminess out of brown-sugared grain toasting and dark-roasted hops.

Next table over, I found a few herbal-spiced Belgian-styled pleasantries. Sour-fruited Saison farmhouse ale, Sly Fox Grisette Summer Ale, may’ve bettered the equally upscale citric pepper-spiced Empire Golden Dragon (a Belgian golden ale utilizing garden-grown Thai basil).

Excitedly, I encounter the Shmaltz homebrewer table to taste a few one-of-a-kind ‘gypsy brews.’ These so-called gypsy brews, generally local craft beers with no permanent home base made at the whim of adventurous zymurgists, prove the entrepreneurial American spirit hasn’t died yet.

A true gypsy brewer, Jeremy Goldberg started up Cape Ann Brewing Company in 2004. Last year, the Gloucester, Massachusetts, company presented a musty caramel-glazed pumpkin beer that had Freaktoberfest ’10 patrons dazzled at Brooklyn’s smaller Rock Shop venue. This year, Goldberg brought down an eccentric potion known as Cape Ann Fisherman Tea Party, a fig-dried ESB-like barleywine with earthen hops and smoked peat malting appeasing black and green tea adjuncts.

Shmaltz loves to promote home brewing ‘gypsies.’ And a few scored high this evening. The most ‘active’ amateur brewer at this evening’s event may’ve been Fritz Ferno, whose cool website featured a Beerorgraphy and Beerjoints section. His Shmaltz-sponsored Horny Ryenocerous Rye IPA was aimed at “people who like to geek out on hops,” Ferno claims.

“There’s Chinook and Magnum bittering hops. Then, for flavoring, Centennial hops were used. Aroma hops include Citra and more Centennial. Then it’s dry-hopped with Simcoe and Amarillo,” the cordial Ferno explained like a well-versed pro. For me, the final product loaded lemony grapefruit rind bitterness atop caramel-roasted crystal rye malts.

Also worth investigation was Zomerfest, a homebrewed Dutch twist on a German ale. Its crisp lemony entry and almond-toasted easement picked up citric-floral nuances from Sorachi Ace hops, leaving a nifty gin and tonic finish.

Next up was Smuttynose’s latest edition to its established Big Beer Series, a casually splendid Belgian IPA dubbed Homunculus. Its tart lemony orange tang lingered through apple, apricot, and pear fruiting as well as earthen grassy-hopped leathering and floral jasmine-honeysuckle herbage. Nearly as rewarding and not far removed taste-wise, Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA saddled its mild woody-hopped, grapefruit-peeled bittering with bright peach, pear and orange rind illusions that grazed a leathery alfalfa-hay earthiness.

For dessert, I choose a tremendous cocktail-like elixir from a tiny Detroit suburb and a magnanimous barrel-aged tonic celebrating Shmaltz’s 15th anniversary.

I’d met the Kuhnhenn family (father Eric and sons Eric and Brett) at their intimate Warren, Michigan brewery several times in the past. And it was great to have them here in New York, even if they didn’t know where their serving table was assembled. Though I did find Kuhnhenn’s station unmanned, a leather-jacketed dude thankfully started pouring Dennis and I a few samples of the excellent Kuhnhenn Extraneous Ale. Months of aging changed the profile, complexion, and complexity of this wonderful ‘big beer.’ While its original tapped version provided a heady bourbon piquancy and Cassis-like blackberry curdle, tonight’s vintage tasted like a Mai Tai with its coconut-pineapple conflux, caramelized whiskey malting and candied apple sash.

Lastly, the stimulating Shmaltz Genesis 15:15 Barrel-Aged Barleywine gave its pomegranate-juiced fig, date, and Concord grape adjuncts a fantastic rye whiskey malting atop smoky hop roasting. Red-wined chocolate liqueur, Kahlua, and brown chocolate illusions settled beneath the profound dried fruiting, finishing like an awesomely full-bodied brandied barleywine.

As mustachioed emcee, Donny Vomit, proceeded to juggle knives and swallow a fake sword in honor of Coney Island Sword Swallower Pale Lager, I finished up my samples and grabbed some Chinese food across the street before heading home. Without a doubt, this was one of the best beer-related gatherings I’d ever attended. Can’t wait for next years’ shindig, wherever it’s at.




By John Fortunato


Featuring vintage versions of so-called Big Beers and boasting the health-conscious slogan, ‘beer is a source of B complex vitamins,’ Portland’s annual Holiday Ale Festival proved to be a fantastic way for a seasoned Jersey swigger to spend a few cold early December days. Held December 2nd to 6th at Pioneer Court House Square in the heart of town, the winter fest (organized by Preston Weesner – pictured below) offered over sixty luxuriously hardy one-time-only winter seasonal beers and ales from the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Ironically, one of the finest and most anticipated libations came from a different Portland cross-country in Maine.

A huge contingent of business professionals, local hippies, football-sized guzzlers, and ‘brew-pies’ (microbrew groupies – see picture of jacketed couple below) gathered under the tents for the festival’s opening day. By nightfall, the canvassed rooms were packed. Happily, getting to the tapped beers was easy, allowing the public to consume $1 four-ounce samplers without waiting on the long lines that often mire overcrowded beerfests. Then again, when word gets out that there’s a barrel of rare aged beer to be tapped, several brew-pies start hovering nearby for a short taste. The obvious thrill is to get a few precious sips of a limited offering before it disappears down someone else’s gullet.

Around 7 PM, several beer geeks and connoisseurs congregated around the far northwest section to try Allagash Curieux, a terrific bourbon-barreled curiosity with Sangria, spiced wine, chai tea, vanilla bean, coconut milk, and white apricot illusions. I’d had it in bottle a year hence, but the tapped version bettered my high expectations. But before our collective thirsts could be quenched, busy events organizer Weesner – in an obvious attempt to consume the bulk – takes a foamy swig, looks down at his cup, and jokingly snickers, “Oh, this is terrible.”

40330023Every beer snob should know Portland, Oregon, is the finest American city for quality brewpubs since there are a baker’s dozen within a five-mile radius. That’s no secret. And many local brewers contributed a fruitful array of Christmas spirits for this merry rendezvous. But I didn’t expect worthy Belgium brews such as sherry-serenaded caramel-candied Dubuisson Freres Scaldi Noel (vintage 2007) and lemon-peppered banana-clove-spiced Saison-styled Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux Saison or fabulous Eggenberg Samichlaus Doppelbock 2005, a cognac-like 14% alcohol doozy crafted at an ancient Austrian castle (consumed within the event’s first hour). These European brews added a certain flare and provided further depth to an already extraordinary lineup on tap ‘til Sunday.

Truth be known, I was in the midst of a Seattle-Tacoma-Portland brewpub tour and only attended the initial Wednesday presentation and the following days’ afternoon session. But I got to explore a wide variety of flavorful elixirs during this winter solstice celebration, trying out several excellent local brewers’ liquid gold for the first time. Inaugural tastings from Oregonian breweries such as Eugene-based Oakshire, Astoria’s Fort George, Silverton’s Seven Brides, Hillsboro’s Vertigo, and Sisters’ Three Creeks proved meritorious.

For starters, Oakshire Very Ill-Tempered Gnome, a gorgeous brown ale-styled barleywine, pleated perfumed nutmeg-cinnamon-gingerbread spices into brown-sugared macadamia and molasses cookie sweetness countering dry walnut bittering. Next up, Fort George North III Belgian Tripel brought honey-malted maple-syrupy sugar plum and dried fig illusions to oak-spiced niceties. Seven Brides Drunkel Strong Ale evenly spread dried fruits above coffee and black chocolate overtones. Vertigo Arctic Blast Vanilla Porter stayed robust as its vanilla-chocolate ice cream frontage crept into sharp hop-spiced toasted coconut illusions. Not to be outdone, Three Creeks Rudolph’s Imperial Red placed cinnamon apple spicing atop sharp-hopped fig-prune illusions and latent bourbon warmth.

State capital, Corvalis, flaunted Block 15 Restaurant & Brewery’s Oaked St. Nick, a bourbon-barreled beauty with dark rum warmth plus wintry cinnamon-nutmeg spicing grazing raisin puree, brown chocolate, vanilla, pecan, and praline illusions. Perfect for any occasion.

What truly sets Portland’s Holiday Ale Festival apart from other more massive brewfests is not only the easy access and reasonable pricing, but also its sheer profundity. There are no weak pilsners or wavering pale ales to be found, just a bunch of shrewdly handcrafted ‘Big Beers’ labeled thusly due to heady alcohol prevalence, robust full-bodied ebullience, and expansive stylistic range.

A true fest favorite was rummy whiskey-bent coffee-roasted espresso-milked Kona Da Grind Buzz Kona Coffee Imperial Stout, a post-noir Hawaiian dessert beer amplified by brown chocolate-y macadamia-hazelnut intrigue, toasted almond-coconut swagger, and sweet vanilla piquancy.

Better still, California’s Bear Republic Barrel Aged Old Baba Yaga Imperial Stout, aged in French oak cabernet barrels, tendered bourbon boozing for smoked chocolate malting, dark-spiced raisin pureed prune souring, and black cherry smear.

Another fave was Walking Man Ho Ho Homo Erectus Imperial Double India Pale Ale (2006) from nearby Stevenson, Washington. Its up-front rum warmth deepened syrupy whiskey malting saddling raisin, prune, bruised banana, and overripe apple tones.

Afterwards, I drove two-hours south to Eugene, America’s most liberal college town, to see who’d win what was defined as the Historic Civil War for the Roses, a back-and-forth gridiron battle between Oregon and Oregon State for Rose Bowl consideration against Ohio State. I also met a few herbal cultivators who’d make my drive back to Seattle that much easier. Remarkably, on the way northward, I stopped at Portland’s Amnesia Brewery and found iconic Rogue brewer John Maier sitting at the bar enjoying a few brews before completing my journey to Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Six years earlier, Maier and company put my wife and I up at one of their brewpub loft apartments. He remembered and I thanked him. What a trip!

Here are some more recommended beers, listed alphabetically by brewer, served at Portland’s Holiday Ale Festival – 2009:


Alameda Papa Noel’s Moonlit Reserve (Portland, Oregon) – Oak-aged winter warmer with cinnamon-nutmeg spicing had bittersweet mocha-backed dried fruit enticement.

Bayern Face Plant Doppelweizen (Missoula, Montana) – Another fine Bavarian-styled beer from Big Sky Country brewer, this dark wheat bock kept earthy mineral-watered peat-y funk up-front trailed by mocha-spiced ginger tea illusion.

Black Diamond Winter (Walnut Creek, California) – Candi-sugared Belgian malting upends hop-spiced gingerbread, raisin, plum, prune, and cherry variance.

Cascade Drie Zwarte Pieten Barrel-Aged Sour Ale (Portland, Oregon) – Tart bing cherry-fruited pinot noir-barreled whiskey-bent Flanders-styled Red Ale offers dry-hopped cherry pie theme saddling white wine, vinous cider, and port undertones.

Deschutes Lost Barrels of Mirror Mirror Oak-Aged Barleywine (Bend, Oregon) – Dark-spiced candi-sugared brown chocolate, butterscotch, and crème de cocoa illusions adorn candied apple sweetness.

Firestone Velvet Merken Oatmeal Stout (Paso Robles, California) – Barley-roasted cocoa-buttered black chocolate-y frontage reinforced by chewy caramel malting.

Golden Valley Barrel-Aged Tannen Bomb Winter Warmer (Mc Minnville, Oregon) – Oaken pinot noir-barreled seasonal retains creamy brown-sugared white chocolate, vanilla, and butterscotch accord above rummy sugarplum-raisin-date illusions.

Hair Of The Dog Jim -2009 (Portland, Oregon) – Astounding Strong Ale leaves butterscotch, brown chocolate, and cocoa powder traces upon ripe apple-peach-pear-cherry fruiting, cinnamon-spiced raisin puree trail, and dessert-like barleywine finish.

Kona Black Sand Porter (Kona, Hawaii) – Soft-watered bittersweet chocolate dryness capsizes dark-spiced hazelnut-macadamia influence.

Laughing Dog Chocolate Huckleberry Stout (Ponderay, Idaho) – Nutty bitterness pervades chocolate-covered dark-spiced raspberry, blueberry, and huckleberry tones usurping black cherry reminder.

Old Lompoc Brewdolph (Portland, Oregon) – Sugarplum-spiced Belgian-styled Red Ale places ripe cherry above mocha-malted cinnamon-nutmeg-allspice-clove contingent and rummy bruised banana snip.

Widmer Collaborator Sled Crasher Winter Warmer (Portland, Oregon) – Spruce-tipped candi-sugared nutmeg-cinnamon spicing reaches chocolate-covered black cherry midst as macadamia-hazelnut-cola illusions counter peat-y earthiness.


-John Fortunato