Beer festivals are more than just open-air excuses to revel: they’re also giant classrooms.
“What’s that, professor?” you ask. “Classrooms? But I thought that when the bottle pops open my brain turns off.”
On the contrary, misguided pupil. With schools closing for the summer, the education is only beginning. Beer festivals in the region are perfect for learning more about new beers on the market, new breweries, beer styles and the brewing process.
You don’t need to necessarily take notes, although I do. All I recommend is that you ask the right questions and use the one sense not associated with beer tasting: hearing.
Ski Sundown Connecticut Brewers Guild Brewfest
To gain knowledge about our great state’s breweries, there’s nothing like doing some liquid research all in one place. At Ski Sundown’s event, you can learn about established and newer breweries alike. At most festivals, you can talk to a brewery’s representatives. At this one, at least, you can talk to the brewers and owners themselves.
Like a specific beer? Ask the brewer how they achieved it. Was it the hops? The yeast? What effect does the rye have?
The festival, held at a beautiful ski resort, is named for the organization of state brewers, headed by Curt Cameron, who also runs Thomas Hoooker Brewing Company in Bloomfield. Connecticut breweries that make up the 35 overall breweries on hand will include big Two Roads Brewing of Stratford and little DuVig Brewing of Branford.
Ever wanted to sample something from a brewery that doesn’t (yet) bottle or can? Check out beers from Firefly Brewing of Bristol or Stubborn Beauty of Middletown. Curious about what makes a Belgian beer “Belgian”? Try some Overshores Brewing of East Haven. Can’t make it all the way to Willimantic Brewing? Do your research more locally at the festival.
Now, for a little self-promotion: I’ll be leading small tasting classes at the festival once an hour at my own booth. I’ll talk about ways to get the most from a beer tasting, and serve up Connecticut beers. I’ll talk about the history of their respective styles and pass along some info on the beers themselves.
The rain-or-shine event includes live music from Flyin’ Blind and food from The Meat House of Avon, available for purchase.
Time: 4-8 p.m., this Saturday, June 21
Location: Ski Sundown, 126 Ratlum Road, New Hartford
Tuition: $25 in advance, $30 at the door
More info: www.skisundown.com
The Half Full Hop Skip & a Run
If you want to focus your research on a single brewery, and get some physical education in while you’re at it, sign up for the “Hop Skip & a Run” 5K and Festival.
The June 29 event is sponsored by Half Full Brewing of Stamford, a fairly new brewery that only recently has had cans available in the Waterbury area. Its head brewer, Jennifer Muckerman, and founder, Conor Horrigan, make for entertaining and informative teachers, and if you’re lucky enough to grill them, they’ll certainly expand your knowledge of all things beer.
The 5K run, which begins and ends at The Waterfront @ Harbor Point, supports Achilles International. This organization helps people with disabilities participate in sports.
After the run, there will be a festival with Half Full beer, along with meals from local food trucks LobsterCraft, Melt Mobile and Vanchetta.
Time: Noon-5 p.m., June 29
Location: The Waterfront @ Harbor Point, 17 Harbor Point Road, Stamford
Tuition: $47 + fee to sign up for race (by June 26), $20 for festival only
More info: www.halffullbrewery.com
Delaney’s Beer Festival and Chili Cook Off
Get your chemistry credits at this annual cook-off, outside of Delaney’s Taproom in New Haven on July 19. You’ll be able to conduct experiments in your mouth as you pair chilis of differing degrees of explosiveness with selections from more than 100 different beers.
From my experience, it’s a toss-up as to which styles pair best with chili. In general, if it’s a sweet chili, I go with a malty beer, like a porter or stout or even a dopplebock. If it’s a 5-alarm chili, I’ll go with a double IPA or similarly hoppy beer; the bitterness can offset the heat.
If you go, you’ll also have a chance to benefit some great organizations. Proceeds from the event go toward helping the Hole in the Wall Gang and Ronald McDonald House.
When: July 19
Location: Delaney’s Taproom, 882 Whalley Ave., New Haven
Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp Across America
Think summer road trips are just for jam band concerts and cousins’ weddings? Think again. Beer Camp Across America is an ambitious experiment in which Sierra Nevada Brewing Company of Chico, Calif. has partnered with breweries around the country.
They’re holding festivals in seven cities to commemorate opening its second brewery, in North Carolina, and to showcase a 12-pack made with collaborations with 12 different breweries. The closest it will come to us is on Friday, Aug. 1, in Portland, Maine.
On this field trip you can experience the wonders of communal good vibes, along with beers from New England breweries. Allagash Brewing of Portland will feature prominently, no doubt. For some reason, amazing brewery 3 Floyds Brewing of Munster, Indiana, will be there as well. And our very own Back East Brewing of Bloomfield has signed up to represent our state with pride.
When: Aug. 1
Location: Thompson’s Point, Portland, Maine
More info: beercamp.sierranevada.com
Craft Beer Races: 5K Brew Run and Festival
Here’s a chance to learn about what the body does when it burns off calories only to put them on again. Like the Half Full run on June 29, you’ll have a chance to walk or run five kilometers, then drink beer. However, in this scenario, you’ll have 20 local breweries to choose from when you’re done.
As Principal McGee said in the 1978 classic, “Grease,”: “ if you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter.” You can skip the run altogether and just celebrate the beauty of motion with a beer in your hand. With food and a band on hand, consider it a culinary class with music appreciation thrown in for good measure.
When: Noon, Aug. 2
Location: Edgewood Park, New Haven
Tuition: For run and festival: $45 by July 5, $55 by July 30, $65 on site; For festival: $35 by July 5, $45 by July 30, $55 on site
More info: www.craftbrewraces.com/newhaven
This column was originally published in the Waterbury Republican-American on June 18, 2014.