“Drinking is an emotional thing. It joggles you out of the standardism of everyday life, out of everything being the same.”
– Charles Bukowski
I hadn’t been to a beer festival in many years, unless you count the poorly-organized Taipei beer festival that was crammed into a small outdoor space and attracted thousands, making it nearly impossible to actually get a beer. So, I thought I’d get a last-minute ticket for the Jersey City Brew Fest at Harborside.
This was my first beer festival that wasn’t pay-for-what-you-drink in a long time. Come to think of it, I probably haven’t been to a beer festival like this since the year after I graduated college.
The attraction of the Jersey City Brew Fest was that it had a lot of New Jersey breweries. And as the state has hit the century mark on the number of breweries, there’s a lot more to try now.
The downside to this journey through beer was that I went alone. When going to a beer festival with friends, it’s easy for everyone to grab a beer, meet up, and pass the glass around. This ensures that everyone tries a lot of beer without getting ridiculously drunk.
Being on my own at the Jersey City Brew Fest meant that I was given more beer than I needed. The plastic glasses weren’t exactly big — they were supposed to be filled halfway, which is 2 oz. — but when you try more than 30 beers in three hours, it adds up. It’s especially difficult when a lot of those beers were high ABV.
The event itself started off on the wrong foot. While the location was easy to find, there were no signs indicating that this was where to go for the beer festival. It was also a long hallway to get in. I arrived early and had to wait at the entrance to the event after having my ID and ticket checked. When they let everyone in, I realized that the inattentive person checking my ticket never gave me a wristband and I had go all the way back to the door, get a wristband, walk back, and wait in line again to get in. I most certainly cursed at a few people about this.
Anyway, back to the beer.
I began with a plan to take a path around the outside of the event to see what brewers were in attendance. I skipped anyone with beer I had already drunk, which is why I didn’t stop at the Ballast Point table even though it’s one of my favorite breweries. As soon as I entered, there was a table of Japanese imports that I hadn’t tried before — I only went for the Kotobuki Brewing Kuninocho Kura Amber to start, but went back later to try Hokkaido Brewing Otaru Stout. Then for some reason, I tried an alcoholic seltzer because the table was right there — I’ll admit that it’s something I’d likely never buy but the lemongrass and lime version was refreshing.
As I wandered through the breweries, I found that most were serving IPAs and light wheat beers. I sought out the few darker brews available and was satisfied with the results. New Jersey Beer Co. Brewer’s Darkside chocolate oatmeal raisin imperial stout was one of the best (I wish I had found it earlier before wrecking my taste buds). Neshimany Imperial Chocolate Mudbank Milk Stout and Wet Ticket imperial oatmeal stout were the other two excellent dark brews of the day.
One of the surprising breweries was Ferrari Beer Co. out of Dobbs Ferry, NY. I first tried the black tequila ale, which was only made for the event. The brewer asked everyone who wanted it whether they liked tequila and refused to give it to anyone who said they didn’t. Honestly, I couldn’t taste much tequila in it, though it had a strong aroma of the spirit. Overall, it was a smooth beer. There were four beers available, but I only tried the ‘Cause I’m Hoppy after the tequila beer. This was a terrific session IPA — light and flavorful.
The more unusual beers that I tried were well worth finding. I ran into a friend who pointed me to one of them that I would have otherwise skipped. I’ve had mixed experiences with Sly Fox, and most of what I remember has not been good, but my friend insisted I try the Black Raspberry Reserve. This had a great flavor — it was a little sweet and tart. It was a change of pace along the way through all the beer.
The other more interesting beer was Flying Fish Hoppy Java. I haven’t had many coffee IPAs, but I have had one from Mikkeller that was amazing. This one from Flying Fish comes in a close second — it’s an interesting blend of hoppiness and good coffee.
There was also an interesting habanero pale ale from 2nd Act Beer in Dover, NJ (I had no idea there was a brewery so close to me). It was not as spicy as Ballast Point’s habanero sculpin, but it was a more even flavor with a nice kick.
Overall, it was a good event to learn about the newish breweries in New Jersey as well as some interesting new imports. And there was enough space to wander around the crowd — there was never much of a line at any one brewery. It would have been better if there had been more information beforehand though — I went out to an early (not-so-good) dinner because I didn’t know there would be a lot of food vendors at the event.
If I plan on attending any future beer festivals, I will definitely go with a group to minimize the damage. It’s much more fun to share the drinking.