My friend and fellow beer enthusiast Noah sent me an email about a month before the Garden State Brew Fest that happened on September 26th. I’ve never been to an event like this, but, for various reasons, I anticipated needing a day of outside time and adult beverages around the end of September, so I looked into it. The tickets were more than I usually spend on anything.
Then, he said the magic words: “As your attorney, I advise you to go.” [Note: Noah is not an attorney, nor has he played one on TV.]
So, I ponied up the fee and we went. I just hoped it wasn’t in bat country.
The day was sunny and cool. Perfect, really. Noah’s wife drove us. (This is a necessity, I found. You cannot attend this event and have any hope of driving yourself home. With all the John Q. Law sitting around, it’d be like flying through enemy airspace with a flashing target on your underbelly, or trying to slip out of the mall a “free” pair of sunglasses while wearing a flashing “I just shoplifted” sign on your forehead. Generally a bad idea.) We gave the local Whippany Fire Department our tickets, got our orange wristbands and our tasting cups, and headed in.
There was an impressive list of breweries giving their stuff away for free, many of which I’d never even heard of. The first tent we hit contained all the German breweries, complete with an oompah band. I decided to start with the krauts for two reasons. First, I wanted to lay a nice foundation to give me the fortitude to keep tasting for four hours, and the Germans know how to make a solid beer for all day drinking. Secondly, it was the closest to the gate.
After the Kloster Andechs, the nice lady at the Eindecher table waved me over and filled my cup. She was standing next to the Erdinger Oktoberfest people, who were across from the ladies hawking Heavy Seas. Then, I slid over to River Horse and Ramstein. So, that killed the first ten minutes. I was about to go around again when I saw the giant inflatable can of Founders All Day IPA outside the second tent. I can’t resist Founders, or giant inflatable cans, so I went over there. Disappointingly, Founders only sent the All Day IPA, my least favorite of their beers. So, once I got one, I went right past to the third tent.
We bounced around the third tent for a while, but the crowd was really starting to build. Around this time, I decided I wanted to hit up as many of the New Jersey breweries as I could. Flying Fish was just down from 902, and then, at the end of the row, was Tuckahoe Brewing.
Tuckahoe’s selections gave me a bit of cognitive dissonance. Then again, it could have been everybody else’s selections that made me a bit slow on the uptake here. They had a 4.8%, light-bodied, pale selection - as one would expect for an all-day drinking event - and a 9.1%, wine-barrel-aged Belgian Strong Ale. I balked at the abv, but Noah said, “As your attorney, I advise you to get the big one. It just cursed at you in French, so if you don’t drink that, all the other beer will think you’re weak.” It was fantastic.
About this time, I started to notice all the t-shirts people were wearing (like Matt Baltuch pictured below). I tried to figure out what other venue would allow the wearing of these shirts. I mean, I was, myself, wearing a shirt that said, “I like my water with barley and hops,” which I have trouble wearing on casual Friday. It’s the beer-geek equivalent of cosplay. There was even a golden angel on stilts, which I still can’t figure out.
With about an hour and fifteen minutes left, and one full tent to go, we decided to get some food. The effects of the festivities made us want meat. Thankfully, that was in strong supply. The best of this was Mr. and Mrs. Jerky. Halfway through my spicy elk jerky, and awaiting my pork bacon jerky, we landed at Bolero Snort Brewery. Now, first of all, their rep gave me serious beard envy. But, besides my benvy, they also brought me in with three beers instead of the customary two. Their third beer was the winner of the day: Coffee. Maple. Brown Ale. Holy crap. I want that beer for breakfast. It would go great on pancakes. I just want more of it. All the time.
In the end, there were beers to try, and tasting them was fun. But, I think the real benefit to these events is just to hang out with other people with your same geek. There were fifteen of us standing around Bolero Snort drinking that killer beer, and we were all quoting Beerfest, dropping names of other beers with coffee or maple, and just generally geeking out. The realization hit me that this is essentially beer-con. I am not a comic book fan, and I never felt the need to publicly interact with other fantasy nerds. But this was a fun day.
While I was basking in the glow of this realization, Noah leaned in and said, “As your attorney, I feel the need to inform you that there’s only forty-five minutes remaining. I think our best course of action is to hit every open spot in this tent.”
Forty-five minutes later, we jumped on the bathroom line, released the beer from our bodies, and wandered with the herd back to the parking lot. It was more expensive than most things I do, but worth it, I think.
Post-script: Buzzing that hard at six leads to a hangover by nine. Be prepared.