On February ninth six guys loaded into two cars and sped to Boston for the BeerAdvocate.com's Night of the Barrels, the "VIP" session the evening before the Exteme Beer Fest. Long Island to Boston can be done in about four hours, including the ferry ride from Orient Point to New London. We were six thirsty guys in two cars and the hour long ferry ride gave us ample time to pour over the list of barrel-aged beers that we anticipated drinking in only a few hours.
We studied the beer lists like they were stock tables or sports lineups. Someone would say, "Hey, look at this Bourbon barrel-aged saison blended with cherry lambic. I'm going straight for that one." And another person, "Forget that, here's a barleywine aged in burgundy barrels and dry hopped with Cascade. That's mine!"
This trip up to Boston was looking like it would be an attempt to reenact the plot to one of those road trip or buddy films -- fast cars and lots of drinking, except we did the right thing and parked the cars and put away the keys before doing any drinking.
We arrived at our hotel in downtown Boston at approximately 4:30 pm. By 5:30 pm we were outside the front doors of the Cyclorama in sub-freezing cold waiting for the event to begin. The guy behind us in line started yelling that he couldn't feel his feet. I felt like I was queuing up for a rock concert. The event was late to open (dock some points there), and the line of five hundred ticket holders took about half and hour to file in through the ID checks and wrist banding and tasting glass collection.
If you recall my previous post on recalibrating my understanding of what people really mean when they say the words "extreme beer" then you'll know what I was expecting -- overly sweet, syrupy, alcohol bombs. Sure, on the boat I saw a few beers (lambics and Flemish reds) that I was certain I would enjoy, but I expected the majority of the beers to be barleywines. Boy was I wrong. The first beer I spotted was one of the Flemish reds. I went straight for that. Then while I was sipping that I started counting. There were something like twenty Belgian-style beers. I was expecting an evening in Purgatory, but instead found that I'd stumbled through the gates of Heaven. And there was St Peter with the Holy Grail filled with Flemish red.
I did my rounds of the sour and acidic beer and tried to interest my buddies in these beers, but my compatriots were there for Bourbon barrel-aged stouts and the Burgundy barrel barelywines. Of course, I respect them.
As the evening progressed the lines to get beer got longer and longer. By 8:30 only five or six of the sixty some-odd beers were still pouring. And the queues to get these beers were thirty or forty people deep. Word to the wise -- don't show up late to one of these festivals. There won't be any beer during the last hour and a half of a four hour session.
On the plus side, there was abundant food -- and it was good food too. Even though the beer ran out early (a disappointment given the $45 entry fee) I had sampled all but two or three of the ones I wanted to taste. So I was satisfied, even if I didn't have a buzz. My only suggestion to the organizers and brewers who come to next year's Night of the Barrels is to bring more beer, especially those Belgian-styles.