By Gwendolyn Connors
The first annual Ubeer Fest took place this past Saturday at Eastworks in Easthampton. A crowd of hundreds turned out to taste 45+ beers from 27 breweries. The theme of the event skewed local, but it also featured beers from France, Belgium, Germany, and New Zealand.
Organizer Mark Lattanzi worked with local beer distributors Shelton Brothers and Commercial to devise a beer list that celebrates Western Mass's flourishing beer culture, noting the Valley's exciting convergence of great farms, breweries, and bars. True to trend, hoppy beers, super hoppy beers, and super triple hoppy beers were in full force at this event. Almost everyone was on the IPA train, and if intensity was what you were after, boy were you in luck. Thankfully, Mark was keen to include a truly diverse array of beers in other styles as well.
With about seven Oktoberfest varieties available to taste it was tempting to try and compare them all. It is Oktober after all; the leaves are bright red, sweaters are on, you hear pumpkins carving in the distance. But Oktober fatigue soon got the better of my co-attendees and me. We tried the Spaten Oktoberfest (Germany), the Broad Brook Oktoberfest (Connecticut), the Warsteiner Oktoberfest (Germany). They were malty, golden, and flat.
“Tell me about your Oktoberfest,” I asked one brewer.
“All German ingredients. It's well balanced.”
“What makes your Oktoberfest the best Oktoberfest?”
"We like it.” He said, shrugging.
Fair enough. It was then that my crew and I realized the best way to elevate an Oktoberfest is to add sausage.
Although several food trucks were promised, only two vendors were in attendance. This easily could have spelled disaster, but Captain Jack's Roadside Shack was serving up an Ubeer menu of pierogies, sausages piled high with kraut, hotdogs and BBQ meatballs. We tried all but the meatballs, and everything complemented the day perfectly.
It was my intent to try all of the beers, but this was over-ambitious, and after my Oktoberfest interest fizzled I knew I need to prioritize. Between myself and my two friends, we tried around 30, attempting to hit the breweries that were far afield (the Europeans), the new locals (sorry, High Horse), and the unique brews (Hello German sour!). Here are the highlights:
The standout in the India Pale Ale category for us was Brewmaster Jack's Galaxy IPA, brewed with Galaxy hops from Australia. This IPA, as with the other Brewmaster Jack Beers, had nice depth. What separates Brewmaster Jack is his treatment the hops- more like a winemaker, his Hop Essence Series is looking to teach you something about the hops, not just pile them on. It made a statement without overwhelming your palate.
Ciderie L'Hermitere brought two ciders, their Perry and Brut. L'Hermitere describes their Brut as “complex, with the delicate aroma of ripe apples, leather, and freshly mown hay.” I tasted basement, and a friend compared it to drinking cider and eating smoked cheddar at the same time. It was musty, funky, but didn't let you forget it was made of apples. They also offered up a super bubbly Perry, made with unpasteurized pear juice. It was fresh, dry, and fun to drink.
Boulevard (Missouri) brought a nice citrus-y Saison that was a great respite. Yes, Saisons are typically a summer beer, but I'd wager Boulevard's Tank 7 paired with some good pizza can comfort in any season. Someone behind me asked, “Is it against the rules to get a full pour of this?” It was against the rules, so he just came back for seconds.
The Ritterguts Gose (Germany) was one of two sour beers at the festival. Sours don't fit neatly into the taxonomy of beer. The Gose is low on hops, spiced with coriander, a little salty, and super tart. This is beer that expands what beers can be (it only flies as beer in Germany under the exception that it is a “regional specialty”), but it would be unfair to label it a novelty. Sours have been having a mini-revival, and if people get burnt out on hops (which organizer Mark says he is), Gose-style brews could bring the relief.
Best New Up-And-Comer went to Stoneman Brewery, a family-owned brewery in Colrain, MA. Stoneman brought three beers, the Very Wizeman Ale, which read light and spicy, Monk, malty abbey style brew, and the King Korby Imperial Stout, which offered intense coffee without the bitterness. Stoneman brewery boasts single-barrel beers made with almost 100% local ingredients, including using only fresh mountain spring water. They offer the state's first Beer CSA, which makes more sense when you learn they actually grow the ingredients for their beers on their 74 acre farm.
Ubeer Fest 2014 hit the ground running. The organizers curated a savvy mix of what's big right now while providing a glimpse of what might be next. It only begs the question: Is it 2015 yet?
Gwen Connors is a freelance writer and baker based in Northampton, MA.