The Beer Nut: Get a taste of 'extreme' beer
By NORMAN MILLER - GateHouse News Service
The world of "extreme beer" has changed over the years.
"Extreme" used to mean a beer was usually had a high alcohol by volume (ABV), and was usually a very bitter double India pale ale or a thick, creamy Russian imperial stout.
Things have changed in the past few years, and all you need for proof is to look at the beer list for the Beer Advocate Extreme Beer Fest held this past weekend in Boston. Extreme is not what it used to be.
And that's a good thing, said Todd Alstrom, co-founder of Beer Advocate, prior to the 10th Extreme Beer Fest.
"It used to be heavily toward the big double IPAs and imperial stouts," said Alstrom. "You still get those, but now brewers are being more creative."
That creativity comes in the form of some ingredients not typically found in beer (peppercorns, mushrooms, tamarind). At past beer festivals, sometimes the ingredients added to beer (tobacco, baby formula, jelly beans) didn't work, but from the beers I tried this past weekend, all the so-called unusual ingredients seemed to be added to enhance the beers instead of being used as a focal point.
In the past few years, to help ensure there were a variety of beers, brewers were required to bring at least one beer of 5 percent ABV or less. That requirement is probably not necessary, as several brewers have started exploring the lower ABV range of "extreme beers."
This past weekend was my eighth Extreme Beer Fest, and each year the variety continues to impress. The festival always seem fresh, because each year there are always a few breweries in attendance that have never been to the festival.
Some of the highlights of the festival were from these new breweries, including the 4 Hands Brewing Company of St. Louis. They had two beers available - Chocolate Milk Stout, brewed with lactose sugar and chocolate, and the Cuvee Ange, a saison brewed with pear juice, peppercorns and orange zest. Both beers have a reasonable 5.5 percent ABV.
Another brewery new to the festival is the brand-new Trophy Brewing Company in Raleigh, N.C. First off, if there was an award for the most humble brewers, these guys might win. All three seemed to be shocked when someone complemented their beers.
There was a lot to complement. The Rose Gose and Trophinator were both excellent, but the highlight was the King, a Belgian-style dubbel brewed with peanuts. Many beers with peanuts are unpleasant to drink because they taste like runny peanut butter, but the King was fabulous.
Some of the old standbys also stood out. The Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, which has been part of the Extreme Beer Fest from the beginning and is a co-sponsor of the event, shined with the Crown-Breaker Artisan Ale, a 5 percent ABV smoked beer brewed with Todd and Jason Alstrom.
The Allagash Brewing Company made a change to one of its most popular beers to come up with a wonderful creation - James Bean, a bourbon-barreled aged version of its Tripel.
The Cambridge Brewing Company had my beer of the festival - the Nomi Sugi, which is a wood-aged version of their beer/sake hybrid Banryu Ichi. It was one of the strongest beers at the fest, at 15 percent ABV, but I found myself wishing I had a bottle after my 2-ounce sample.
A most welcome addition to the Extreme Beer Fest were the representatives of the New England Real Ale Exhibition, which brought several cask-conditioned beers for people to try. My favorite was Element Brewing Company's Red Giant, although I heard the most popular was the Thomas Hooker Brewing Company's Mexican Chocolate Truffle Stout, which is the their Chocolate Truffle Stout brewed with ancho and chipotle chilies.
The Extreme Beer Fest is my favorite beer festival of the year, and I hope to keep attending year after year. Alstrom said Beer Advocate is hoping to take the Extreme Beer Fest on the road in the future, which will allow even more people to enjoy it.
"Not every market has a festival like what we have," he said. "There's definitely a need for it."
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