Fermentation Friday: Inspiration from the American Craft Beer Fest

ACBF mosaic
1. Mystic Brewing, 2. Notch Session Ale, 3. Night Shift Brewing’s table, 4. slumbrew

I’ve found inspiration for some of my favorite homebrews at beer festivals. I first fell in love with the Smuttynose Chai Porter at the Extreme Beer Festival in Boston, learned about lichtenhainers at a fest in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and tasted my first gratzer, Blind Bat’s Vlad the Inhaler, at the Bellport Charity Fest. I have no doubt that I’ll be able to say the same thing about several beers that I tried at last weekend’s American Craft Beer Fest in Boston. I have not kept up with the Massachusetts craft brewing scene lately and was very pleasantly surprised to find that eight new breweries opened in the state in 2011. I was pouring for one of them, Wandering Star, which I am fortunate to be able to drink in NYC but the others were completely new to me. I’d like to share some of my favorites with you and some of the ideas they are inspiring. Perhaps you will find inspiration along the way as well.

  • Notch Brewing from Ipswich brew delicious session beers. I had heard of Notch but didn’t know anything about them other than the fact that they brewed session beers. And session ales are my obsession at the moment. I drink the Carton Boat Beer every chance I get and am planning a fall meeting on Session Ales for the New York City Homebrews Guild. This is where I headed on my first break from the Wandering Star booth.  They were pouring 4 beers: the 3.8% Saison, the 4% Session Pils, the 2.8% Tafelbier and the 3.7% Coffee Milk Stout, the latter two on cask. I tried every one. My favorite was the Coffee Milk Stout – flavorful and ridiculously easy to drink. I’d like to keep at least one session ale on tap at home at all times (that is, after we finally get around to building the kegerator this summer) and this would be a lovely one to have. I’d start with a basic milk stout recipe, likely from  and decrease the malt bill to work out to somewhere between 3.5 and 4%. How to get the coffee flavor? I’d like to try adding coarsely ground coffee beans in secondary. Adding cold-ground coffee at kegging would be another option. I’d probably choose an English Ale yeast and carbonate on the lower side. All of the Notch beers were good, a Tafelbier-inspired beer would be next on my list. Notch is kind enough to list their basic ingredients on their website which is always a nice reference when formulating a homebrew recipe.
  • Night Shift Brewing in Everett is brewing some very creative beers. They were pouring Viva Habanera (habanera rye), Bee Tea (wheat ale brewed with sweet orange peel and orange blossom honey and aged on loose green tea), Taza Stout (brewed with chicory root and ginger and aged on cacao nibs from Taza) and Trifecta (brewed with 3 Trappist ale strains and aged on vanilla beans). The Viva Habanera and Taza Stout were my favorite. I picked up some delicious smelling cacao nibs at Keystone Homebrew last month and really need to use them. The chicory-ginger was an interesting combo and makes me wonder what other creative combinations are out there. I really enjoyed Peter Kennedy’s homebrewed Pistachio Stout earlier this year and would love to make a pistachio stout with cacao nibs. Or perhaps a coconut stout with cacao nibs. Peanut butter & cacao nibs. Vosges Chocolate is a fantastic place for more inspiration – how about a sea salt, almond & cacao nib stout? A white milk/cream ale with lemon zest and pink peppercorn? I’ll have to think on that one for a while. I see a series of experimental one gallon batches in my future. I’d like to start with a larger batch of a basic stout, though one that was lighter on the roastiness, split the batch up in secondary and play. Cacao nibs in all, toasted shredded coconut in one, roasted pistachios in the second and sea salt & toasted almonds in the third. I’d also like to play with tea more. I made an Earl Grey Ale last year that was definitely drinkable but not the beer that I had envisioned. I’d like to work on that recipe a bit and also experiment with smoky Lapsang souchong (a session souchong?) and jasmine (a wheat beer base might work here). A green tea short mead might be tasty…
  • Mystic Brewery in Chelsea brewed my favorite beer of the festival, the Flor Ventus, a truly lovely sour. This just reminds me that I need to bottle my 2-year old sours and think about brewing some more to drink a year or two from now. Their saisons were also excellent.
  • slumbrew in Somerville brewed a style I’ve never come across before, a Dampfbier. Their Rising Sun Ale is an all-barley beer fermented with wheat yeast. Traditionally, these beers were fermented above 70°. A very drinkable beer and something to experiment with at some point in the future. Perhaps the NYC Homebrewers Guild needs to have a historical styles meeting at some point. I tasted a lot of other fantastic beers during the festival but these were the most inspirational in relation to homebrewing. I’m looking forward to drinking more beers from each of these breweries on a future Massachusetts trip as well as the adventures in homebrewing that they have inspired. Cheers!

What recent inspirations have you found? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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