Actually, it was the 2006 Empire State Brewing and Music Festival down in Syracuse in central New York and I sent my pal Paul on special assignment. Click on his pictures for a better view:
Many a good sprout of inspiration hath sprung forth nurtured by the dung of a boring meeting. During one such a bout, a tangent of festivals and beer germinated and Alan let me in on a gem:Now I am really jealous. I can second that recommendation for the Marx. It has a particularly nice bar itself that always seems to have Southern Tier Porter."There's this awesome little thing in Syracuse where a bunch of craft brewers roll out their wares - I think it's in July - and there is a great hotel, too."A few clicks later and the better half and I were on our way to the Empire for the July 21 event. We were not really sure what to expect other than a festival that allows for tasting of over 120 specialty and hard to find (especially for Canadians) brews, face time with guru-brewers, some live music and good eats. After entering the gates and being handed a little 4 oz. tasting glass and some funky beads we were told to go forth and taste! We were most definitely in the right place at the right time.
With so many little beer booths sprawled out before us the only question was where to begin? Start light, end heavy, start light, end heavy - got it! Three tasty IPA's down and you didn't need to be Kreskin to figure out that this event was going to be a lot more than promised - I mean they had a specialty tent just for Belgians!! Servers were cheerful and happy to pour. Wheat beers and IPAs were present in the largest numbers followed by darker ales, stouts, lagers and assorted fruity concoctions. A minor sampling of wines and coolers were also present - presumably for the date who couldn't find the Coors Light table. While the place was not exactly crawling with brewing gurus we did manage to get in a bit of Q&A with a nice chap from Colorado who seemed to know his way around a mashtun.
It's always the details that separate the good things from the great things. Details like making sure the perfect accompaniments to beer were offered up - barbeque from the Dinosaur BBQ, some fine sausage and an eclectic mix of really good live music that had the crowd swaying and tapping and in good spirits. Even the porta-potties were above par - flowers and cup holders as standard options for crying out loud! Of course there was plenty of beer swag to be had as well. There were some awards for best beer and all that. I don't know who won. I came back across the border the next day with a case of Dogfish Head's Aprihop Pale Ale though.
Ya sure, it's hard to have a bad time at a beer festival but you just can't complain about such a smartly run and well focused beer event such as the Empire. At US$30 per ticket you get you money's worth just in the beer and music alone. Kudos to the wise sponsors of this event. If you missed it then make sure you don't miss it again in 2007 - or if you can't wait that long check out the Middle Age's Brewing Company's 11th Anniversary celebration on August 6...in Syracuse of course.
If you go, check out the Marx Hotel (also known as the beer can - you'll know why when you see it). It's about a 12-minute walk to the festival at Clinton Square. After the event wraps up I recommend 2 pints of the house pale ale and a plate of wings at the Syracuse Suds Factory - a good and tasty deal at $10.
...and it ain't that far from the Dino BBQ and a pulled pork sandwich like the one below: