On Saturday I was lucky enough to attend the Village Voice’s Brooklyn Pour, which, in case you weren’t aware, is like the Super Bowl of beer tasting. And it really may as well have BEEN the Super Bowl, because (like football) I have no idea how beer tasting works; this is (partially) the product of being chronically impoverished, which really boosts the appeal of the $0.99, 24oz can of PBR at Food Bazaar, as opposed to the fancier, theoretically more delicious craft beer varieties.
To get ready for the event, I decided to Google “How to taste beer,” and one of the first things that came up in my search was a YouTube tutorial, which I decided to watch. Apart from rambling about taste receptors, the man starring in the video told me to smell the beer, taste the beer, drink the beer, and then decide whether or not I liked the beer. Obviously this was not helpful in terms of turning me into an overnight beer genius, but it WAS helpful in making me realize that I just kind of had to own my lack of expertise and go with the ol’ taste bud flow.
With my new-found confidence in being an amateur, I decided to start thinking strategically. Why? Because when you’re a one-woman freak show tasting beers and taking pictures all by your lonesome, it can be useful to decide how not to get really plastered and frightening. This was, after all, for SCIENCE and JOURNALISM and not for my own personal pleasure. Not directly, anyway. So, I decided that the rules would go as follows: 1) PACE YOURSELF, 2) assess the options before committing to anything, 3) DON’T GET DRUNK.
With the rules firmly in place, I headed off to Fort Greene, where about a million people were already waiting to get inside the festival. I didn’t mind waiting in line once I got there, because it allowed me to repeatedly tell people that I was standing in the much shorter VIP / Press queue; THEY, meanwhile would have to head to the end of the regular people line, which was gigantic. And while I should be able to tell you exactly how long it took to get into the event since I was staring at my phone pretending to do stuff (when in actuality I was just lonely and bored), I can only guess that it was between five and ten minutes. And that’s when the magic happened.
Now, I don’t know if you guys have ever been to One Hanson Place, but it’s awesome inside. (Not so awesome that I’d want to live there, because I bet it’s haunted, but you know what I mean!) I’d only ever been there for the Brooklyn Flea one time, and I hated that because it was super crowded; THIS, however, was fantastic. Still crowded? Sure. But NOW there were billions of beer stands waiting to be perused. Upon entry, I was handed a map, a tasting glass and one of those small pencils with no eraser that they use to keep score in putt-putt golf and/or regular golf. (Side-note: what is the point of a pencil if there is no eraser? Why couldn’t you give us small, fun pens?) I remembered my rule about not jumping into anything too quickly, so I checked out the map to see if I could narrow my tasting down to a certain type of beer for the sake of flavor comparison, as well as to maintain a state of semi-sobriety. I immediately chose the pumpkin and seasonal beers, because as a person who plans to cram as many Whole Foods pumpkin whoopie pies into her face before fall is through, that is TOTALLY MY JAM. So I went ahead and ticked off all the stops I’d need to make, and NONE of the ones I didn’t.
First on my list was Chelsea Brewing Co., where I tried the Chelsea Pumpkin Pie. I went ahead and smelled the beer since that’s what YouTube said to do. According to my expertly articulated notes, this one “smelled super pumpkiny.” (By the way, pumpkiny is a word I am pretty sure I semi-invented because I am really good at describing things.) This one really did smell heavily of pumpkin pie, though, which may be why I wasn’t able to pick up on much of that flavor in the beer itself. Would all of the beers smell like pumpkin pie but taste just like beer? WE WOULD FIND OUT, I GUESS.
My next stop was Heartland Brewery, where I sampled the Smiling Pumpkin. This one was not nearly as strong-smelling, but it tasted very sweet with definite hints of pumpkin flavor. I was into it. What I was NOT into, though, was the ever-increasing amount of people crammed upstairs. So, logically, I headed for the hills, which in this case were the stairs leading to the basement vault. It was MUCH less crowded down there, although there were barely any beers from my checklist. This meant I was going to have to stray from the pumpkin plan, but I went ahead and threw caution to the wind. Again, the words “FOR SCIENCE!” kept popping into my brain, and so I decided to test out the Lagunitas Sumpin’ Sumpin’ first. (I think this decision was partially based on the fact that the semi-word “sumpin'” is reminiscent (to me, at least) of the word “pumpkin,” and so I felt it was the next logical choice.) Being a beer n00b, I can’t tell you to try this one or not try it, but I was not a fan. My notes read, “tinny, metallic smell,” and “strong taste,” which apparently is not a good thing in the Megan Burns book. Fortunately this “BLECH” moment made me hop back on the plan bandwagon, at least for a little bit; the next thing I tried was McKenzie’s Seasonal Reserve Hard Cider, which I really enjoyed. This one had the spicy smell AND taste, which I described in my notes as “if apple pie and pumpkin pie had a baby.” Indeed.
To continue on my pumpkin beer talent search, I stopped off at Wolaver’s, whose Organic Pumpkin Ale had (according to my notes) a subtle pumpkin pie smell and a very clean taste. Next up was Shock Top to try the Pumpkin Wheat (read: pretend I hadn’t already tried the Pumpkin Wheat several weeks prior), which was very, very subtle in terms of pumpkin smell and flavor.
At this point, we were nearing the halfway mark. Mind you, at about 2pm I’d already jotted that I was feeling “buzzed” in my notes, so I decided to make a pit-stop outside to see what was going on with the food situation. I quickly realized that I’d have to pay for things like pretzels and chili-dogs, and while I was slightly hungry, I decided to pocket the dollars and power through. (Questionable life decision, but whatever.)
My NEW goal became finding out where everyone was obtaining these adorable little high-top koozies that I kept seeing everywhere. Turns out the Village Voice had some sort of Wheel of Fortune situation set up, so after giving my email address, I spun the wheel to try my luck. Guess what? I WON A KOOZIE! I’m not really sure if there was ever a possibility of me NOT winning a koozie, but I was feeling like the universe was smiling down on me in that moment. (Take THAT, KIND Bars that were the other available prizes!) With my new swag I was ready to take on the rest of the seasonal beers, which I’d expanded to include apple and pear flavored things as well. WHY NOT?! For instance, I tried Doc’s Hard Apple Cider, which immediately brought back memories of a trip to Ireland that my family took when I was five; my dad accidentally bought my sister and I hard cider to drink at a pub, because apparently apple juice only comes in alcoholic form there. In my notes for this one, I scrawled, “TASTES LIKE IRELAND.” FALSE . Ireland tastes like potatoes, buzzed-Megan, GET IT TOGETHER!
As evidenced by that last note, I was becoming increasingly creative and/or abrupt with my beer tasting descriptions. For example, I tried out the Captain Lawrence Pumpkin Ale, whose flavor and smell I then described as, “not subtle but not NOT subtle.” Pure poetry! The triple use of “not” apparently influenced my next comment on that one, which just says, “WEIRD.” Sorry, Captain Lawrence…
Next I tried out Fox Barrel Pacific Pear, which I wrote was “VERY FRUITY!” I don’t note whether this excess fruitiness is a good thing or a bad thing, but I would lean towards good judging by the use of that exclamation point.
My apologies go to Sixpoint, though, who received my harshest non-expert criticism of the day; regarding the Autumnation, I simply wrote, “NO.” I think it’s fairly clear how I felt. Innis and Gunn fared much better in my critique, though, because for their Original flavor, I wrote, “Vanilla. VERY GOOD.” High-five, guys! My final note is barely legible, but I can gather that it was for Dogfish Raison D’etre, of which I scribbled, “Very fall.” I’m not really sure what that means, but I like fall, so I feel like it gets a thumbs up from me.
PHEW! That was a lot of beer for one person! But don’t worry, because I still haven’t told you about the very best / worst part of the day, also known as the Sam Adams stein hoisting competition! I foolishly entered a drawing to try to win a trip to Germany, but all I “won” was the chance to hoist a damn stein full of beer to WIN a damn stein NOT full of beer.
Let’s rewind, though. The DJ began calling the names of the “lucky” contestants, and guess who was among the chosen girls? That’s right! Megan Burns! I joined my competition over by the Sam Adams booth, and all of us agreed we probably wouldn’t last more than two seconds due to a severe lack of upper body strength and/or self-confidence. We watched the men compete first, which was helpful to gain some perspective on what our strategies should be. Each man received a stein filled with beer (a liter, I think) and at the start of the challenge, each one had to hold the stein out with his arm perfectly straight; the first to spill the beer or bend his arm was out until only one was left standing. The judges (whose judging skills clearly rivaled my beer tasting skills) totally robbed a man with an amazing mustache, and I offered him my condolences upon exiting the event later on. LOSERS SOLIDARITY.
Anyways, the girls were up next, and it was massively awkward. We were given our steins of beer, which I was already having trouble holding despite the fact that the competition hadn’t even started. My goal was simple: don’t win, necessarily, but don’t lose, DON’T LOSE. Below, you’ll see photographic evidence of my beer fear! (I’m the awkward one in the middle…)
They told us to start, and it was hard. We all made it at least thirty seconds, which was better than I thought I’d do, to be honest. FORTUNATELY several people dropped out of the running before I semi-voluntarily gave up on the competition and returned my stein. Eventually it was down to two, and, as predicted, the one who insisted she lacked the strength to make it ten seconds was the one who was apparently all up in the gym workin’ on her fitness. So anyway, that was a weird time, but at least now I can cross “German Sports” off my bucket list!
Now that I’d finished my short-lived career as a beer stein hoister, and since I’d completed all the “necessary” stops, I decided to test out a few more sips here and there. For instance, I tried two varieties of Asahi beer, and while I like Asahi just fine, I really only went over to their booth as an excuse to snag a free tote bag. I also made a visit to the Bronx Brewery table, where I informed the guy that I’d already tried his stuff at Taste the West Village, as if this made us BFF’s or something. He was not into being BFF’s, so I left. Then I did a final sweep and decided I was ready to get gone, but not before giving a silent, semi-intoxicated beer cheer to One Hanson Place and pumpkins everywhere. THE END!