Vince Capano is a two time winner of the Quill and Tankard national writing award for humor from the North American Guild of Beer Writers.
Vince's column is now a regular feature of beernexus.com
The Seven Percent Solution
Who doesn’t like a beer festival? What more can any beer lover ask for in life but to roam amidst keg after keg with glass in hand knowing it will be filled whenever it’s held out? So it’s no wonder then that each of the 48 people on the bus heading toward the TAP festival in Hunter Mountain, NY had a smile on their face. Make that 47 of the 48. Seated next to me was my good friend Brian Lynch, a true beer connoisseur with a perplexing problem –what beers to sample of the over 125 that awaited us and just how to do it.
Clearly no one would be able to taste all 125 in the noon to 4 PM session so a plan was needed. But what plan? The more I thought about Brian’s dilemma the more my smile shrank too. After all, there are countless books and articles on how best to see Disney World or tour Manhattan or visit the Smithsonian. There is nary a one on how to handle a beer festival in a semi-responsible, efficient manner. We settled into thinking mode, which in this case meant getting another pint from the three sixtels of beer conveniently placed in the front, middle, and rear of our bus. Well, what did you expect on a trip that was sponsored by my beer club and The Gaslight Brewery?
After a few more miles and a few more beers I took out the program from last year’s festival. Yes, as a beyond the call of duty beer geek, I had it stuffed in my back pocket, just ready for a time like this. It did however prove a bit difficult to read since I had it had endured more than a few spins in the wash machine over the last 365 days. Thankfully Brian bested me when he reached into his pocket and pulled out the brochure for this year’s festival. I didn’t ask how he got it and really didn’t care especially since it was in pristine condition. And why not, it was carefully wrapped in plastic inside a protective silver case. If that’s not impressive enough, the case‘s cover was engraved with three connected rings reading “purity, body, and flavor”. Google that up and you’ll again marvel at my friend’s off the charts beer cool quotient.
The brochure’s shouted out in bold, stark black print – “BEER LIST AND MAP”. A map would surely help us devise a plan for efficient tasting. We figured wrong. The map was without a doubt drawn by a crazed labyrinth designer who also dabbled in making crop circles. There were drawings of little tables haphazardly placed in multiple random locations. Each table however was clearly numbered. Hey, so what if the numbers didn’t refer to anything else on the map, they were there. Several block figures of males and females were also prominently displayed. It was now clear there were bathrooms but we had no idea where. Quickly giving up on the map we turned it over to find the list of beer vendors. That discovery called for a toast so we had another round from the bus’ supply of liquid brain food.
The beer vendors were listed in alphabetical order beginning with Adirondack Pub & Brewery and ending with Warwick Valley. Maybe it’s that simple – we just start sampling at “a” and move on in orderly fashion through the letters (for the record there were no representatives of the letters n,q, t u,x,y,z.) According to the brochure Adirondack was pouring Dirty Blonde Ale, Bear Naked Ale, Adirondack IPA and Season Brown Ale. Next on the list was Bandwagon Brewpub which was pouring Commons Ale, North by North West and Raspberry Jalapeno. Oh, no, trouble ahead, and not because someone was actually pouring a Raspberry Jalapeno beer. If we simply went according to the alphabet we’d never reach Southampton, Southern Tier or Warwick. There were just too many beers in between. Even for us. The alphabet plan wasn’t going to work.
With a burst of creativity we called our next plan “number two”. We would start at the booth farthest away from the entrance and methodically work our way around the festival grounds moving in a clockwise direction. According to our logic this would mean shorter lines for us because people are notoriously lazy and therefore would start at the tables closest to where they came in. We picked a clockwise route since we would then be able to follow the setting sun to determine our course and direction if we ever got lost. Ok, that part is not true but I thought it would give this story, and us, more beer gravitas. No need to worry about direction however since we quickly discarded this plan too. Like our first one, plan two would mean tasting every beer at every station which in turn would mean we’d be lucky just to make it to Horseheads Brewing still standing.
We poured a quick pint from the now rapidly dwindling contents of the sixtel in the front of the bus and waited for inspiration. It quickly came. Our newest brainstorm, fittingly christened “plan three”, was to move from station to station drinking only the same style of beer at each one. All we had to do is have one beer per brewery and move on to the next table. Simplicity and symmetry, perfect together. Perfect that is until we discussed what style to have at each table. What if our agreed style wasn’t being offered? After all, just what style can we quickly order from Middle Ages Brewing that was pouring beers called Dinosaur Ape Hanger, Double Wench, and Druid Fluid? What would we get at the Ithaca table that had Treasure of Gold, Brute, 4th Horseman of the Apocalypse, or Twelve? Scratch plan three.
We weren’t getting any closer to an answer but the bus was doing just that to the festival. Soon we’d be up to Plan 9 and out of space (bad movie buffs please laugh at that one). Then we had it, or rather Brian did. In a moment of inspiration he suggested we hit the sixtel in the middle of the bus for another beer. Great plan. Sufficiently satiated, Brian then came up with a winner. All we have to do, he opined, is to drink every beer at every station that was under 6% ABV regardless of style. That would probably equate to only one. Then we could move on. Watch out Warwick, we’re on our way.
Now it was my turn to dampen his sunny enthusiasm. I gently reminded the now celebrating with another pint Brian that we are in the era of “big” beers. Our new plan would likely mean passing entirely on some breweries, maybe even most. The 5-6% ABV niche is the home of the macro’s and wimpy summer ales. Admit it, a so-called summer ale, even from a solid craft brewery, is just their version of a good Bud Light. Brian’s plan, to my mind, had fallen prey to the devil is in the details. I suggested we just change one detail - we only drink beers over 8%. Big festival, big fun, big beers.
Brian held his ground however pointing to his t-shirt that read “Give me a mild, Mildred” a long forgotten slogan of an unremembered English brewery. I countered by pointing to my shirt that said “Hey Mable, Black Label”. Yes, I know Carling’s Black Label isn’t a big beer but it’s the only beer slogan-woman’s name I could think of to counter Mildred.
We went back and forth on our views (and to the sixtel in the back of the bus) for the rest of the now short ride to the TAP festival. Brian pushed his 6 percent concept while I championed my 8 percent view. As the bus pulled into the entrance gate at Hunter Mountain, site of TAP, the loud cheering from the rest of the bus told us it was time to reach the inevitable compromise. We agreed to meet half way at 7 percent again proving that beer people, unlike many others, are reasonable, intelligent individuals, able to understand different viewpoints.
We each had a great time. Brian wandered the festival drinking beers 7 percent and less while I drank everything 7 percent and over.