Monday, September 20, 2010

Brew Fest: More than great taste, less filling

The suds will be flowing next weekend in Carriagetown. Hundreds of brews, dozens of styles will be featured at the Amesbury Brew Fest on Sept. 25.  Which is a good thing. Because when you get hundreds of beer freaks together, the only thing you can count on is disagreements about what to order, about what's the best brew and, of course, what naturally flows from this, is why the other guy, even if he's your best friend, is completely wrong and obviously, unequivocally an idiot. You can't get anything approaching a semblance of a consensus — even when stating the obvious, the incontrovertible, like that all attempts at pilsner fall flat in comparison to Pilsner Urquell, the original and still the gold standard, other beer-drinkers being prone to making broad statements of fact and all. Hell, you can't even get an agreement among the musicians playing the festival, which is expected to bring upwards of 2,000 people to Amesbury Sports Park. The difference is style as much as taste. You've got guys like Seacoast regular Scott Barnett drawn to well-known, solid — if somewhat white-bread, performers like Newcastle or Sam Adams, especially seasonal varieties like Sammy Summer.  "Nothing like a long day at work and then going out thirsty as could be ... and showing up at a bar, noticing that they have Newcastle on tap," he says. Then you've got guys like Christoph Krey, frontman for McAlister Drive, the Boston-based rockers known for big-ass hooks and sweet harmonies. He's your classic beer nut, a near-fanatic. The kind of guy who, when you ask him about his favorite beer, will rattle off the top five — Abita Purple Haze, Tripel Karmeliet, Wachusett's Blueberry,  Mayflower Porter and Guinness — and for an encore, Shipyard Pumkinhead Ale. The top pick is a New Orleans brew, which, for those of us with any lingering memories of the '60s, is a name that probably over-promises what the experience will be. This choice, he admits, is probably a bit personal: When he was at Tulane and gigging around New Orleans, they always fed him free Abita products like Purple Haze. 
Even within bands, there can be brew battles, snobbery and reverse snobbery about what's good and what's swill. Again, back to McAlister Drive. Their drummer, Danny Berglund, likes Sierra Nevada and generally more hoppy type beers, while lead guitarist Stevo Mann likes the cheap brews like PBR or Narragansett. Emma Joy, the band's new bassist, is from Australia and, no, she does not think Foster's is Australian for bee-ya. She doesn't even like beer all that much, preferring to relax with a martini. Obviously a troublemaker. Same sort-of conflict can take place even within a duo. Take the Salem-based  ambient-pop-rock band, The Dejas. Aaron Katz is a big pilsner fan — Pilsner Urquell, Bavik, Rebel — and some light lagers like Becks, Brooklyn Lager and his new fave Elm City Lager (in the can). Bandmate Callie Lipton loves Leffe, the Belgian pale ale, not the Italian comune, and wheat beers generally,  as well as Guinness, Bass, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Natty Ice. But they're not above slumming it, sudswise, for a bit of fun, or an experience. Like a couple of days ago, when the duo took a trip to Gloucester and went into the Crow's Nest, where they filmed the "The Perfect Storm." Because they wanted the full fisherman  bar experience, they ordered round after round of Bud after Bud, played pool and rapped with the locals about the fishing industry and how Marky Mark kissed the owner's sister during the making of the film. Says Katz, "It was wicked good times, dude, and the Budweiser worked to perfectly complement the experience." 

For folks who have never been, the Amesbury Brew Fest is a big old end-of-the-summer party. Beer, of course, is a big part of of it. There will be about 100 brands represented, including crowd favorites like Lost Dog Red Ale, Lobster Ale and Napa Smith Crush. Six bands will perform — headliners Michael Bernier and The Uprising, the Scott Barnett Band, the Dejas, 7 Mile Drive, McAlister Drive and Beyond Reason. WXGR-FM will  broadcast from the site — and host an after-hours celebration in the Upstairs Lounge. Food? No worries. They'll be grilling. And then, for folks with solid constitutions, there is the OGO (Outdoor Gravity Orb), an 11-foot inflatable transparent sphere with another inflated sphere suspended inside it.  Riders enter the orb and strap themselves into a harness, or enter the H2OGO with up to 3 people and 5 gallons of water and are pushed over the edge of an 800-foot grassy slope. Yikes.

"It's a fun time," says Michael Bernier, the frontman for the headlining act and, for the record, "is an IPA kind of guy." someone who loves his suds with a big hoppy taste. "It's a great place to be. There's a good vibe. It's a lot of fun."

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Sponsored by Kennebeck River Brewery and WXGR-FM, the fourth annual Amesbury Brew Fest runs from noon to 8 p.m. Sept. 25 at Amesbury Sports Park, 12 South Hunt Road, Amesbury. Michael Bernier and The Uprising will headline the show. Also performing will be the Scott Barnett Band, the Dejas, 7 Mile Drive, McAlister Drive, and Beyond Reason.Tickets are $10. The festival will feature up to 100 beers, including crowd favorites like Lost Dog Red Ale, Lobster Ale and Napa Smith Crush.  Ten bucks will get you ten samples. Some of the craft brewers will be on hand to talk beer. Rides, including the Outdoor Gravity Orb, will be operating from noon to 5 p.m., weather permitting. WXGR-FM, which will be broadcasting from the event, will host an after-party celebration at 8 p.m. It's a 21-plus deal, unless you've accompanied by an adult. Under 21, you only get soft drinks, the rides, the music and barbecue. You can get tickets here. Pictured above, Michael Bernier and the Uprising, top; The Dejas, bottom, left; and Christoph Krey from McAlister Drive, bottom, right.

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