13th Annual Mt. Snow Brewers Festival
Beer Ratings Report
Grade: A -I'll search long and hard to buy the beer at home
Grade: B - I'll buy the beer if I see it at my local liquor store
Grade: C - I'll drink it if someone hands me one but otherwise, I'll avoid
Grade: D - I'd rather piss in the drink first before being forced to drink it again
Grade: F - I'll drink a Budweiser first
Overall Rankings (see below the break for full reports from each brewer present - over 20 personal beer review)...
- Orlio Common Ale (A+)
- Harpoon UFO (A)
- Brooklyn Weis (B+)
- Magic Hat Circus Boy (B+)
- Rock Art Magnamus ESB (B)
- Trout River Rainbow Red (B)
- Long Trail Blackberry Wheat (B)
- Magic Hat No.9 (B)
- Rock Art Sunny & 75 (B)
- Orlio Seasonal Black (B)
And now onto the Beer Review... in order of appearance in the Mt. Snow Brewers Festival Guide:
Otter Creek/Wolaver's (Middlebury, VT)
- Grade: (inc.)
- I didn't try any. I'm not a big fan of Otter Creek (available in NJ), but was intrigued about the White Sail Belgian-style white, at least until they ran out of it by the time I attempted to try it early on Sunday, which left them as the only small brewer I didn't at least visit once. As for Wolaver's, I'll get to them later.
Smuttynose (Portsmouth, NY)
- Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale Grade: D
- Probably the worst beer I had this weekend. Just way too
"pumkiny," which I guess was the purpose but the taste wasn't so much
of pumpkin pie and more of "cinnamon and nutmeg poured into a vat of
beer and stirred." I heard good things about their IPA
but I didn't return after the bad pumpkin experience. In fact, I dumped half the glass. Sorry.
- Probably the worst beer I had this weekend. Just way too "pumkiny," which I guess was the purpose but the taste wasn't so much of pumpkin pie and more of "cinnamon and nutmeg poured into a vat of beer and stirred." I heard good things about their IPA but I didn't return after the bad pumpkin experience. In fact, I dumped half the glass. Sorry.
Brooklyn Brewery (Brooklyn, NY)
- Brooklyn East India Pale Ale Grade: C+
- I don't remember much about this beer, but based on the grading, I must not have loved it. But I'm not really that big on IPAs, so my opinion should probably not be trusted.
- Brooklyn Weis Grade: B+
- This beer was labeled as Weis at the pump, but is sold as "Weisse" in bottles at stores and is an excellent Hefeweizen. Of course, I love just about all Hefes, so I'm a little biased but this beer got multiple visits from me, which is certainly a good thing.
Stone Coast (Portland, ME)
- 420 IPA Grade: D
- One of my first beers on Saturday, which came highly recommended, received my initial D rating before we finalized the rating system above. I'm not sure if I would piss in it rather than drink it, but I guess I wasn't a big fan. Others in my party absolutely raved about their black-colored Jamaican Style Stout (with hints of coffee and chocolate) but I never got around to sampling one.
Long Trail (Bridgewater Corners, VT)
- Blackberry Wheat Grade: B
- The longest line of any of the vendors at this year's Brew Fest was for Long Trail, which has been available in NJ stores for at least a couple years. I enjoy their Long Trail Ale, but only got a chance to sample their Blackberry Wheat early on Sunday when the lines weren't as long. An excellent summer brew with a hint of blackberry, this offering from Long Trail slightly made up for the fact that the Long Trail guys destroyed us in the first round of the horseshoe tournament.
Orlio Organic Beer Company (South Burlington, VT)
- Common Ale Grade: A+
- The discovery of the Brew Fest, this brand new brewer offered up a light golden ale that perfectly balanced a smooth beer taste with an understated sweetness. Orlio is a certified organic brewer, which to me was a bit of a turnoff, since Wolaver's is the only other organic I'd tried in years past and I was not a fan at all. But organic or not, the beer just tasted great - crisp and refreshing and not heavy at all... perfect for a warm summer day at the Brew Fest. Now, as a new brewer (they've only been operating for 6 months, I was told by the very helpful and friendly Susan at the Brew Fest), they are not available in NJ yet. I'm not sure how far south they even go, but given time I'm sure they will grow, especially if they keep putting out beers as tasty as this one. And while my tastes may tend toward the lighter or fruit-flavored beer entries than many festival-goers, I heard only positive responses from everyone I spoke to about this beer. I also think I had at least ten Common Ales during the two day festival, so that was good too.
- Seasonal Black Lager Grade: B
- This dark lager was surprisingly tasty for someone who doesn't typically like dark beers, as the tinge of sweetness evident in the Common Ale was present here as well, and the smoothness of flavors was very effective. Oh, and I forgot to mention that Orlio is a subsidiary of Magic Hat, which explains a whole lot of my love for them and definitely gives them a model for future marketing success southward into NJ.
Shipyard (Portland, ME)
- Sea Dog Blue Paw Wheat Ale Grade: C+
- Not horrible, not great, a little too much fruit flavor contributed by the Maine blueberries used in the brewing process. Tasted a bit like a blueberry muffin and smelled 100% like a blueberry muffin, which didn't necessarily work that well on a sunny, hot Vermont afternoon.
Rock Art Brewery (Morrisville, VT)
- Sunny & 75 Grade: B
- Light and refreshing, perfect for a sunny afternoon, but not quite as tasty as other light offerings I tried on the weekend, so I only visited once. Rock Art does sell in NJ, so I'm going to try a few more of these to get a better judgment. I just ran out of time at the Fest. And Orlio and Tony's Pizza were only about 10 feet away, so that made things a little difficult for Rock Art.
- Magnamus ESB Grade: B+
- Another excellent selection, a very hoppy beer (something I don't typically love), but very tasty - not nearly as bitter as other hoppy beers. This one was also advertised at 8% alcohol content, which I was told by resident beer expert Bob is the legal limit for a beer without being called a malt liquor, so that the actual alcohol content might actually be closer to 10% or higher. Personally, I loved the taste, and the extra alcohol is just a bonus. And I just located a list of NJ liquor stores selling Rock Art. Definitely one of the top 5 brewers at the Fest this year.
Berkshire Brewing Co. (South Deerfield, MA)
- Steel Rail Extra Pale Ale Grade: B
- The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, MA - where we always stop for lunch on our trip home from Brew Fest - serves this beer on tap, so I'd had it several times before. It's a very good EPA despite the rather excessive hoppy flavor, and I highly recommend.
Trout River (Lyndonville, VT)
- Rainbow Red Ale Grade: B
- My friend favored Trout River over all others this weekend, but they are not available in NJ and although he got the brewmaster's email address, I'm not sure how legal it is to ship beer across state lines, so he'll probably have to wait until next year to hit the Trout again. They also offered a Scottish Ale and a Hoppin' Mad Trout, but I only had the Rainbow Red, which was - well, reddish colored, but had a nutty medium-bodied flavor and, again, might have been a highlight if other beers hadn't distracted me.
Harpoon (Boston, MA)
- UFO Grade: A
- My second favorite beer of the weekend (and previously 2nd place Beer of the Festival in 2005), my first taste was sans lemon, which drops this brilliant Hefeweizen down to about a C level. Like most Hefes, the lemon improves the taste dramatically, but for Harpoon's offering, it makes the UFO heavenly. Just a wonderfully sweet and pleasant tasting Hefe, this cloudy brew has a light, citrus flavor and clean finish that is unique even among the Hefes that I've drank. I know I've seen Harpoon all over NJ, but I can't seem to remember finding a UFO. I didn't try the IPA here this year, but that's also good.
Dogfish Head (Milton, DE)
- Festina Peche Grade: B
- Their "peach"-flavored offering, which was a first for me, was very, very tasty, but I think the uniqueness might get old after a while since there was definitely a tart aftertaste present. People were raving about their 60-minute IPA, while others were complaining about their Raisin-flavored beer. I didn't try either although I would have liked to. There's only so much beer one can consume in 6 hours. The Brew Fest really needs to be three days long.
Magic Hat (South Burlington, VT)
- No. 9 Grade: B
- My first Brew Fest -- some six years ago -- was an eye-opening experience. Up until then, the most "exotic" beers I drank were either imports like Harp or Bass, or "micro" brewer Sam Adams. I had weened myself off of the Bud Light fascination that got me through college, but I didn't realize the incredibly wonderful flavors and tastes of so many American microbreweries that have been churning out batch after brilliant batch for over a decade now. Almost everyone who doesn't drink will cite the reason as "I don't like the taste of beer" -- believe me, I said that for a long time too, even after I became a beer drinker. But that's because the belief is based upon drinking a flavorless concoction like Bud Light just so you can get enough of a buzz going to choke down down several more. Actual beer connoisseurs (of which I don't even begin to claim I'm one of) can appreciate the wide variety of incredibly tasty beer offerings and love so many of them. The Brew Fest enlightened me to all of that, starting mostly with Magic Hat's No.9, which I'd never seen or heard of before, but whose hint of apricot sent my taste buds soaring and now, six years later, you couldn't get me near a Bud Light except in emergencies only. So that's not a bad thing. In the years since my first taste, Magic Hat started showing up in a select few liquor stores in NJ, then on tap at a few restaurants that served a ton of beers (Fox & Hound in Edison and Court Jester in Freehold were two of the first), and eventually in just about every neighborhood liquor store in the state. So that's amazing progress. Still a great beer, especially on tap, I find myself choosing other offerings (especially Circus Boy) in liquor stores in order to try new things, but I often come back to N0.9. One of the great beers being made today.
- Circus Boy Grade: B+
- Magic Hat's Hefeweizen offering, it's not really as strong-flavored as other Hefes, but is a crisp, clean tasting beer that I absolutely love. The only reason the Magic Hat selections are not higher in the ratings is because I only had one of each between the two days, knowing I could get them at home.
Samuel Adams (Boston, MA)
- (Grade: Inc.)
- This was Sam's first year at the Brew Fest that I can remember and if this weekend was any indication, they will not be back. Now I've been a Sam drinker for years and it was my beer of choice at least until Magic Hat became available in NJ just a couple years ago. And to this day, I love their Summer selection, which has been on tap just about everywhere this summer and has possibly been my favorite brew. I also enjoyed their White Ale that was available over the winter. So me? Big Sam fan. But I don't really like their "regular" Lager much anymore and that and their Oktoberfest were the only ones on tap this weekend. So I wasn't going to waste valuable beer-drinking time at their booth. And neither was anybody else. Now, I know the Mt. Snow Brew Fest is filled with beer snobs and we all laugh at Anheuser Busch's presence every year, but nobody - and I mean nobody - went anywhere near Sam's booth. I really felt bad for the guys. I would have had at least one Sam's Summer if they'd brought it, but no. So that's an incomplete. Sorry.
Anheuser Busch (St. Louis, MO)
- (Grade: Inc.)
- They come every year and usually have massive giveaways of T-shirts and hats and bottle openers, along with hot chicks manning the booths, just to get some - any - customers to come anywhere near them, but this year, they had a much smaller booth (probably as a result of previous years' failures) and no hot chicks. Hence, they had even less visitors than Sam Adams. They did bring along their Red Hook "microbrew," which might actually be tasty, but buying a microbrew from Anheuser Busch is like buying "spring" water from Coke or Pepsi and being surprised that Aquafina and Dasani are bottled from tap water in Elizabeth.
Woodchuck Ciders (Middlebury, VT)
- (Grade: Inc.)
- But that doesn't really count, because this isn't beer. Their first appearance at the Brew Fest was made this year, and I think the chicks liked it. I had one taste, tasted like apples. Not very good.
All in all, not counting the two big brewers (although Sam Adams cannot really be called "big" compared to Anheuser Busch) or the cider brewer, I only missed one booth this weekend (Otter Creek). By my count, that means I "tasted" 12 different brewers and 16 different beers. And by tasted, that means I drank at least 9 ounces (closer to 12). And since I had around 10 Orlios and a half dozen UFOs, plus multiple hits on the Brooklyn Weis and the Rainbow Red, I think that's about 35 beers in 12 hours between two days. Which sounds just about right. Like I said, more days are needed to really get to everything.