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Moderation at the Beer Geek Festival

Buffalo Beer Week is a fun and exciting time to be a beer lover in this city. The events! The festivals! The beer!

This excitement was somewhat tempered for me, as the week before I started taking medication that, as a side effect, lowered my alcohol tolerance.

“I bet it’s not that bad,” I said, and then proceeded to drink a glass of wine and almost fall asleep on my son’s bed while playing with him.

This presented a problem: drinking beer is essentially my job. Getting drunk isn’t: in fact, that’s contrary to my goal, and it’s only very rarely when I don’t mind it happening. If I couldn’t have a few beers in a sitting then life was about to get very difficult for me.

2013-09-28 14.59.21

I tested the waters at the next Risk night and the Ballpark Brew Bash. By my best estimates I could drink maybe half what I could before. Suddenly, everything was imperial. I considered the Beer Geek Festival, where it was likely everything was going to be imperial already.

Time for an experiment: I would have three samples. Just three. It would keep me spry and able to drive to Alden, which is what I had to do when I left after the first session, and also force me to choose carefully, sip thoughtfully. To be mindful.

#1: Southern Tier Warlock

I had heard a lot about this beer before the festival, and even though I assumed it wasn’t the rarest or “best” beer there I wanted to try it. So I did, dag nabbit.

2013-09-28 14.32.40That pumpkin aroma. So thick, so overpowering. I was okay with that though, even delighted by it: I am ready for fall to have its way with me. I want pumpkin, I want cloves, I want nutmeg, I want scarves, I want visible breath and crunchy leaves and warm colors.

There’s still pumpkin spices in the flavor, spices aplenty, but with a forceful stouty roast alongside. There’s malt to back the spices up, a bitter charred flavor that provides more depth than its Pumking cousin.

It does seem inevitable to compare the two. I try to evaluate beer on its own, or at least I like to lie to myself about being able to do so, but in this case I can’t separate Warlock and Pumking. Warlock somehow manages to be both sweeter and more bitter, with a milk-stout like characteristic. I love Pumking and look forward to it each year, but I think it’s just been unseated.

For those of you who can get enough pumpkin spice in your life: I’m not sure what it’s like to be dead inside, but friend of the show Dan Baish has a suggestion (I know this is not a show but it seems like a fun thing to say): he says he’ll fill a glass 80-85% full of The Whale, then top off the remaining 1/5 or so with Pumking. He claims this is a much more muted, restrained experience.

#2-1: Rodenbach 2008 Vintage

I was only able to staff the festival for part of the first session, so as soon as I arrived I told Ethan to head out and enjoy himself. He stopped back at the table to see if I needed anything just as I was asking friend of the show Dan Baish which one beer he thought I had to try. He told me that he actually hadn’t had much himself, as he had been so busy coordinating (he looked very official, with a suit jacket and everything), but that he heard there was a bottle of 2008 Rodenbach that was half gone already.

2013-09-28 14.52.35My glass went to Ethan; Ethan to the beer.

This would be a two-parter: we split both the 2008 and 2010 vintages, meaning it still only counts as one beer. Right? That’s just basic math.

“Holy sour,” I tapped on my phone hoping people would realize I was doing the very important activity of blogging and not just, like, sending Snapchats or something. “So good,” I followed up.

The oak was very noticeable, as were sour cherries. This was a sour beer that most definitely lived up to its name: the acidity was overwhelming, but in a good way. It was a robust, overpowering, fireworks-inducing sort of acidity.

#2-2: Rodenbach 2010 Vintage

Ethan was soon back with the 2010 vintage. It was still very sour, but not nearly as intense. We tasted these out of order, but with good reason: the ’08 was nearly gone, and so dallying in the realm of structured tastings could have cost us the sample.

It wasn’t as smooth and lacked much of the barrel character of the ’08, but this was still one hell of a beer. By now the acidity was getting to me, actually hurting my stomach. It was blissful agony, a price I gladly paid.

Intermission: Lord Have Mercy

I had suspected from the start that my hard limit would be tested by brewers. It’s such a friendly profession: people are always offering you beer. When Chris from Pearl Street came over to say hi he leaned in conspiratorially: he had a growler, he said, of the beer that dripped out of the bags used to dry hop Lord Lupulin. Pounds and pounds of Falconer’s Flight, sopping with beer that sat a little too long, a little too close.

I couldn’t resist. Half a sample’s worth.

Hops; oh my, hops. A few years ago I bought a bag of hop candy from Niagara Tradition, Cascade and Kent Goldings in hard candy form. That was this, pure lupulin. Vegetal, but not off-putting. Aggressively, unrelentingly bitter. Good for a sample, an ounce or two, but not for a full glass. This beer flies too close to the sun for that.

I must hate my body, my frail shell that is so weak it put me on the medicine that necessitated this experiment. First I punished it with sour, now with bitterness. That will teach it a lesson.

#3-1: Grimm Bees in the Trappe

I expected brewers to push beer upon me; I did not expect it from roller girls.

AKAB is a great venue, but damn if everything isn't backlit to hell

AKAB is a great venue, but damn if everything isn’t backlit to hell

Members of the Queen City Roller Girls were volunteering as pourers, the majority of whom were on the Suicidal Saucies. Now, I don’t think I can speak for CBW as a whole to officially endorse a team, but I will say that I personally have been a fan of the Saucies since the league formed in 2006, thanks primarily to Sheer Tara (#138) being a close friend of mine. So it was great to hang out with them for the night: Bully Holiday (#28) poured for us, and as I walked past a table to inspect what was available for my final beer B’kini Whacks (#21) insisted I try some of the Bees in the Trappe, a tripel with honey. I managed to walk away with only half a sample.

It tasted waxy. I’m not sure how a beer can taste waxy, but there it was. There was a strong floral characteristic that was eluding me: I knew it was something, but the specifics danced just past the tip of my tongue. Lavendar? Was it lavendar? I decided it was (based on no further information than “it sounded right”)

#3-2: Green Flash Green Bullet

This one would be my final beer. No takebacks. I eyed the keg of 120 Minute next to me, considering just a taste, a splash to see if it was as I remembered it, but rules are rules.

2013-09-28 15.30.30I asked the volunteer next to me what he would recommend for my final beer. Without hesitation he pointed me to the Green Bullet, which advertises itself as a Triple IPA. He said it was his second favorite beer, next only to Southern Tier’s IPA.

There was a wonderful fresh hop aroma, though it seemed somewhat muted. The flavor was also good — some pine — but overall I wasn’t getting too much from it. It was a disappointing end to the night, honestly, but I had made my choice!

I don’t think it was the beer’s fault, honestly. It’s standard to pour beer out of jockey boxes: it’s what we use both at festivals and at Bidwell, and does a great job of dispensing beer, but the beer is rapidly chilled on its way to the tap. This is wonderful for filling growlers, as it ensures the CO2 is in suspension and doesn’t pour foamy, but for tasting beer it can result in an overchilled product. People were saying the same about our barrel aged cherry Whale.

My self-imposed limit worked well: by this point I was certainly “feeling it,” as they say. Sure, I had had six samples when I planned on three, but since all but one were half portions I was only half a sample over. And, thanks to planning, I was finished well in advance of the end of the session, so by the time I packed up I was no worse for wear.

It was a good experiment, and I’m glad I tried it. My body seems to be re-establishing its dominance, remembering how to handle alcohol properly, but I quite enjoyed being forced to plan, to savor, to experiece. I’ll quite likely be doing it again.

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