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
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.  

It was the perfect solution.  

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