There are a lot of lessons that they teach you in high school which are proven to be unlikely ever to have any application to your life. I am not entirely sure that I will ever have any use for Fermat’s theorem or the ability to calculate gravitational acceleration, but these things lurk somewhere in the dark recesses of the grey matter. One lesson that they attempted to teach was simply this: There is frequently some benefit to performing community service. Volunteering for a cause or organization that you are interested in not only prevents you from sitting around like a useless lump, but also engages you with the public at large and might even make you some friends.
While the choice of volunteer activity is up to you, I have to suggest that free beer is an unlikely benefit of working for Habitat for Humanity even if the sense of moral edification is worthwhile. They just don’t want you operating a nail gun while hammered. If, however, you volunteer to put in about six hours at the TAPS magazine booth there are all sorts of great benefits.
They asked for volunteers at some point last week, suggesting that there might be a free t-shirt in it for anyone who cared to help out. I figured that it might be a good opportunity to see what it’s like for the exhibitors at a large beer festival from a sociological perspective. It was a great chance to find the answers to questions like: At what point in the afternoon does the behaviour of the crowd begin to change? At the beginning of the afternoon there’s a certain amount of politesse and sidestepping involved in navigating through the crowds. When does the barging and muttered profanity start, and is it the result of a critical mass of population in the venue or just too much time spent at the Molson booth?
What I didn’t bargain on was having as much fun as I did. Interacting with the public and trying to sell subscriptions was informative. The vast majority of the people who came to the booth were extraordinarily polite and well informed. Everyone involved with TAPS really enjoys working for the magazine. It’s always a pleasure to see fulfilled people working happily towards something that they believe in. I liked working with them so much that I ended up doing a second day, and not just for the exhibitor wristband that allows access to the complimentary beer fridge in the back of the venue.
Being involved even cursorily with a media outlet at a festival like this is a positive boon. For one thing, when the awards are handed out for best in show, you tend to be amongst the first group informed of the judges’ decision. It’s a dead certainty that whichever beers are chosen are going to have a significant run on them in the next couple of days, and the in short term you learn which things you need to try. With the T-shirt, the wristband and the steno pad I was taking notes on, people tended to assume that they should be giving me things for free. Who was I to dissuade these generous and recently lauded proprietors?
The platinum award, the be all and end all of the festival was awarded to a beer from A La Fut. It was a Belgian Triple brewed with “Brett”. After three days of trying various sour beers, I decided to give this one a miss for the simple reason that overdoing it on sour lambic style beers tends to cause heartburn that is beyond the reach of medical science. I had tried rather a large number of them and was becoming concerned about having to freebase Zantac later in the week. I heard fantastic things about this beer and I assume that it will survive until my next visit.
Aside from the winner, there are also awards given out to number of other beers. Assured of their quality, because of the rigorous judging process I chose the ones that sounded the most promising based on what I had heard during the day.
St. Bock Malediction – This is a lot of fun. St. Bock was noted until a couple of years ago for their extensive cellar of rare and desirable Belgian beers, but they have expanded to become a brewer of beers. In this case, they have created a Marshmallow Stout. It’s 4.5% and contains cocoa, vanilla and marshmallow notes. I suppose that it’s intended to be comparable to drinking a mug of hot chocolate, and it certainly evokes childhood memories of coming in from the cold after sledding. Were it just gimmicky, it might be worrying, but it’s actually a quality product. Plus, I think it’s a Gozer the Gozerian reference.
Benelux Cuda.and Congo – Benelux had two IPA’s that won awards, each of which are pretty unique. The Congo is a Belgian IPA, which is made using the regular grain bill for their belgian styles and fermented with the Benelux yeast. In order to make it an IPA style, they up the hop bitterness to about 40 IBUs. Many of the brewers at the festival were attempting to add hops to Belgian beers, but this version found a niche where the concept was accessible.
The Cuda is probably the more interesting of the two because it uses a wider variety of hops in an attempt to create an American style IPA. It clocks in at around 6.5% alcohol and remains fairly light in color at 8 SRM. I talked to the brewer and the hop combination is Amarillo, Centennial and Citra. I think that the Citra must be the aroma hop because of the tight lemon and citrus aroma. At 70 IBU, this is a very nicely balanced IPA.
Having tried a couple of the Benelux brews, I regret slightly the fact that I was unable to stay in Montreal for the Cask tasting they’re having tonight. In a couple of hours from now some very lucky people are going to get to try the dry hopped version of the Cuda. I, on the other hand, have supplied the family in Kingston with a six pack of Dieu Du Ciel Aphrodisiaque and some Charlevoix and Trois Mousquetaires products. I guess sometimes Quebec comes to you.