The Commons
Food and Drink

Short sips as summer wanes

News and notes from the local beer scene

Tom Bedell has more on beer (and golf) at his website.

Originally published in The Commons issue #168 (Wednesday, September 5, 2012).


WILLIAMSVILLE—I promised news of the Brattleboro Brewers Festival further on down the road, and the news is that the festival itself is now further on down the road — cancelled for this year but on schedule for next May.

The first two festivals in 2010 and 2011 were held quite successfully in the spring, but this year’s date was pushed back to Sept. 22 and then scuttled when a variety of conflicts arose with the new date.

Plus, said Brattleboro Bowl owner Burl Penton, who has been involved in the past planning, “It makes more sense to hold it in May anyway. Part of the idea of the festival is to get people to visit town at times they might not be coming here, and they’re already coming here in the fall. So this will be best for the festival and best for the town.”

The new date is Saturday, May 18, 2013, at a new site: the Famolare Fields on Old Guilford Road in Brattleboro.

There’s a new logo, a new website under construction and a Facebook page at “Brattleboro Brewers Festival” for those who would like to follow along.

* * *

Noted philosopher Yogi Berra was a maître d’ at Ruggeri’s restaurant in St. Louis in the 1940s. Joe Garagiola was a waiter at the same time. But in discussing the dining spot with fellow major leaguers Stan Musial and Garagiola in 1959, Berra said, “No one goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

One hopes the same pitfall of success doesn’t bedevil the new Whetstone Station in downtown Brattleboro. The place has been packed every time I’ve stopped by, though it seems there’s always room to squeeze in at the bar.

Since it’s currently open only for rooftop dining, business has been weather dependent, but all appears to be going well. According to co-owner Tim Brady, the three-barrel system brewing equipment that will be used to produce its own beers has been purchased (from the Aztec Brewing Company in San Diego, which is expanding), and should arrive on Oct. 15.

Meanwhile, Brady has been negotiating with some of Vermont’s more adventurous brewers, like Hill Farmstead of Greensboro and Lawson’s Finest Liquids of Warren.

Both breweries have limited amounts of beer to offer, but Brady figured that since they were scheduled to be at the Brattleboro Brewers Festival they already had a certain amount set aside to serve that day. So why not run it through the Whetstone Station taps?

* * *

Good thinking, but the partial flaw in the plan is that Hill Farmstead owner/brewer Shaun Hill had never intended to go to the Brattleboro festival in the first place; he’s having a Harvest Festival of his own up in Greensboro on Sept. 22, from noon to 5 p.m.

Well, here’s hoping he can make it next May, because his artisan brewery is turning out some wonderful beers, many named after his Greensboro forebears: Edward, Abner, Ephraim, Florence, Clara, and other family members.

But then there’s the Philosophical Series, too, including Twilight of the Idols, Fear & Trembling, Society & Solitude.

Beyond clever titles, Hill is creating distinctive brews seldom seen in southern Vermont. “I’m selling most of them within 50 miles of here,” he said recently, “and they’re the best-selling beers at every bar we service.”

He can’t short his regular accounts to spread his net further, so the only alternative is to expand beyond the 1,600 to 1,700 barrels a year he’s now already producing at capacity in a 15-barrel brewhouse setup.

But there’s always beer available at the brewery, and there might be some tickets left to the September festival.

* * *

For the beer festival fanatic, there’s no shortage of possibilities. I counted 115 from Sept. 1 to 15 on the worldwide Beer Festival Calendar.

I stopped there because I was getting bleary-eyed, and the late September schedule is heavy with Oktoberfest celebrations. That includes the original, from Sept. 22 to Oct. 7 in Munich.

* * *

Basic Beer Imbibing #1: Never drink beer out of the bottle. It might look Urban Cowboy cool, but you’re missing an awful lot of the beer-drinking experience by not pouring it into a glass.

Start with observing the color and foamy appearance of the brew and the way it comes alive when you pour it into a glass (a step that also releases some of the gases that will otherwise tumble and bloat in your stomach).

A glass will also give you the full aromatic experience of the beer, mostly lost if you try to sniff a bottleneck, which looks a little funky, besides.

Would you order a fine cabernet and swill it out of the bottle? Does a fine beer deserve any less respect and appreciation?

* * *

Basic Beer Imbibing #2: Make sure your glass isn’t frosted or frozen. Contrary to mass-market advertising, the coldest beer in town isn’t really a worthwhile goal. Beer that is too cold is masking its flavor. (Okay, with some mass market beers that might be a sensible achievement.)

Different beers are actually best drunk at different temperatures. And while the color of a beer can be misleading in other ways (darker beers are not necessarily stronger, for example), it’s a reasonable guide to serving temperatures.

Generally speaking, pilsners, wheat beers, or lighter ales should be cold, but only about 40 to 45 degrees, not at an arctic chill.

Pale ales, amber ales, and many darker beers should merely be cool, 45 to 54 degrees or so. India pale ales, Belgian strong ales, or Scotch ales could go as high as 57, while barleywines, Imperial stouts, doppelbocks can be served at up to 61 degrees.

I’ve taken to heading off having beer served in ice-encrusted glassware by requesting non-frosted ones to begin with. Yes, I get a few strange looks from the waitstaff. I can deal with it.

Ice cream sodas are good in a frosted glass. Not beer.


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