Hop-Heads head out to NYC Craft Beer Festival

Beer. It's a rather simple concoction. Grains, water, hops and yeast. For the uninitiated, this elixir of the gods is considered the low-man beverage of choice. Forget the horrific taste of that warm can of Budweiser you stole a sip from all those years ago; I'm talking about craft beer. These beers are made with distinctive flavors and they are brewed in small batches ensuring you the proper amounts of love and care. I'm not new to the world of craft beer. I frequent my local craft beer shops and I've even dabbled in a little home-brew. I was lucky enough to attend the recent NYC Craft Beer Festival that occurred on June 21 2014. This was their Summer session, so many of the beers available were  lighter in fare than I preferred but many booths offered a familiar stout or brown ale to raise my spirits. Before I present my top 10, I would be amiss if I didn't discuss the event itself. I had a connoisseur pass which allowed me access to the exclusive connoisseur lounge. Aside from some free food and some beers that are a little harder to find, it wasn't the groundbreaking experience that I hoped it would be. Don't get me wrong, the food and beers were fantastic but it takes you away from the main event which is the booths upstairs. If you have the lockdown on a good beer dealer and if you arrive well fed; feel free to avoid the lounge and focus on the already immense selection upstairs.

The immense selection brings me to my final point. There were several breweries presenting at this event. You're going to want to try everything, and you should, but you should pace yourself. This isn't some rowdy frat party. You don't come here to chug beer and dance inappropriately. This is a tasting event. You are given small tiny glasses for each taste, you are welcome to spit or empty your glass if the beer isn't to your liking. The event took place on Friday and Saturday. I would advise you to purchase 2 tickets. One for Friday and one for Saturday, or do two sessions on Saturday. You'll need the extra time to truly enjoy and experience the beers available.

This list is based on my own opinions. I wasn’t able to try everything. If I missed something amazing, or if you disagree, feel free to leave a comment.

Some honorable mentions:The following didn’t make the top 10 because they didn’t fit the Summer vibe. They were however, delicious. Here they are in no particular order.

-I will always love this beer. Next to Three Philosophers it’s my favorite offering from Ommegang. Abbey Ale is a little sweet and has a great malt flavor. It pours a medium dark brown. It’s just the right beer for a cool Autumn evening and thus is a tad out of place at your next BBQ.

-A porter is similar to  stout, at least I think so. This was my first time ever having a beer from this brewery. Dark as night and drinks like smooth jazz. Definitely not for Summer, but the prevalent vanilla notes will surely earn this a beer  return sip come sweater season.

-Drink this beer slowly. This lovely gem was offered in the aforementioned Connoisseur lounge. It packs quite the punch. This beer is heavy and at 10.5% ABV it may catch you off guard. You get what you should expect from a stout, which is a almost chocolate coffee taste but the smooth alcohol burn helps develop those flavors and leaves them hanging a little bit longer.

-This beer will always be special to me. It was the first beer I had at the event. Again, it is dark and smooth. Smells of dark roasted coffee beans. This beer was also in the lounge so it may be hard to find in shops.

My Top 10

10. Agave Wheat:Breckenridge Brewery: Herbed / Spiced Beer |  4.20% ABV

-This was a delightfully sweet and refreshing beer.  I guess I can call this a decent brunch beer.

9. Lucky U IPA:Breckenridge Brewery: American IPA |  6.20% ABV

-Very low hop character. It tastes good but I feel it could have benefited from a stronger hop character.  I'd like to see a Double IPA of this beer but that does not exist.

8. O'Hara's Irish Pale Ale:Carlow Brewing Company: American Pale Ale (APA) |  5.20% ABV

This was my first time trying this brewery but I can see myself buying a case in the near future. This beer was heavy with the hops but kept the alcohol low.

7. La Chouffe:Brasserie d'Achouffe:Belgian Strong Pale Ale |  8.00% ABV

-Another surprise with the alcohol content. When I tasted it I noted that it was low  in hops and was very malty which led to a pleasant sweetness. I had no idea the alcohol was above 6%

6. Smuttynose Bouncy House IPA:Smuttynose Brewing Company: American Pale Ale (APA) |  4.30% ABV

-This is for those that want a hoppy beer but still want the ABV low. Light in color but still has that hop bite. These beers should go well with BBQ food.

5. Raging Bitch Belgian-Style IPA:Flying Dog Brewery: Belgian IPA |  8.30% ABV

-I've only discovered this brewery late last year but I have been thoroughly impressed with their offerings. This is another good IPA, it's not too bitter but it could use more citrus. If you crave a bolder taste; I advise you to look into the Double Dog.

4. Sah'tea:Dogfish Head Brewery: Sahti |  9.00% ABV

-CAUTION! This beer has 9% ABV, but it doesn't taste like it. I would say it's as easy a drink as the Wolaver's Wildflower Wheat but will knock you down if enjoyed in the same quantity. Think of chai tea, now think of beer, now think of chai tea beer. That's the flavor profile of this wonderful beer in a nutshell. Typically I would recommend this beer for the colder seasons but I feel that it could work year-round.

3. Wolaver's Wildflower Wheat:Otter Creek Brewing / Wolaver's:American Pale Wheat Ale |  4.25% ABV

-What's that? You don't like overly hoppy beers? You don't want a beer high in alcohol? You want something light, crisp and sweet? Look no further. Please understand, I've never been a fan of wheat beers or beers too low in alcohol, but this wildflower wheat ale is too good to ignore. I'd suggest buying a lot of this beer. It's light enough to delay inebriation which will give you more time to enjoy its wonderful taste. Great for a lay in the hammock

2. Double Simcoe IPA:Weyerbacher Brewing Co: American Double / Imperial IPA |  9.00% ABV

-Named after the Simcoe hops that make up 100% of its hop bill. The key word here is "double." This beer has great hop flavor. Some may have issues with the bitterness but I've always found hoppy beers to pair well with sweet and spicy food. This IPA will be a welcome addition to any BBQ.

1. Moa St Josephs:Moa Brewing Company: Tripel |  9.50% ABV

-Another pick from the connoisseur lounge. This golden tripel is sweet and has a medium level of hops. It's light in mouth feel but not in taste. You barely taste the 9.5% ABV. sill not BBQ fare, but consider this amazing brew as a possible champagne replacement during those long summer nights.

Proceeds from ticket sales went to support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Even if you are the epitome of sobriety, I encourage you to make a donation.

Be sure to like NYC Craft Beer festival on Facebook in order to stay alert regarding upcoming events. Be on the look out for news on the NYC Craft Beer Festival Winter Harvest in November.

Feel free to check out my Untappd profile to see what I’m drinking or to offer a recommendation.