1999 Great Northeast International Beer Festival


With the presidential entourage a few blocks away for the somber occasion of attending the funeral of Rhode Island's Senator Chaffee, the mood was much more upbeat inside the Rhode Island Convention Center in downtown Providence. At 1 PM the doors opened for the first round of tasting at the 6th Annual Great Northeast International Beer Festival on Saturday, October 30. The session lasted until 4:30 with the next three and a half-hour session beginning at 6:30. In spite of the great fall weather outside, a moderate-sized crowd converged on the upstairs Hall C where the beer was flowing and the music playing. The Pull Tabs entertained the crowd during the afternoon session with the Amazing Clowns following in the evening. As would be expected, the Saturday night crowd was larger and rowdier than its afternoon counterpart but both allowed for the relaxed enjoyment of beers from around the Northeast. The $26 admission price entitled patrons to their fill of beer samples poured into logo'd three ounce plastic "medicine" cups by the three dozen brewery representatives, about half of them craft brewers. One nice touch was the inclusion of food booths where samples of tasty pizza and deli snacks were well received. Co-sponsored by the Yankee Brew News and local media, the event offered about 80 booths with something to offer. Some attendees expressed surprise at the low turnout of breweries compared to earlier years, but with major festivals in Boston and New York being cancelled completely for a variety of reasons everyone should be thankful the organizers can build the financial support required to make this happen. This year's event saw a first-time homebrewers competition join the Brewer's Beer & Cider Competition, where quality is publicly recognized and rewarded.

Although draught beers were not as prevalent as distributor-supplied bottled products, the fact that the brewers were on hand to pour and talk about their beers made the brief wait in line time well spent. Although distribution of craft beer varies wildly by state, this event offers the opportunity to learn what new beers are emerging from the breweries and where there might be found in your locale. Of the canned products present, the Abbot Ale was interesting for its use of the now common "nitrogen widget" that blasts the outgoing liquid with just enough gas to make the pour smooth and creamy. The Saranac Lager is new to cans this year in the Saranac brand family from F.X. Matt in Utica, New York. Their forthcoming Saranac Mixed Holiday 12-pack contains a new "mix" over last year offerings and is expected to sell out quickly. Tempting people with their great IPA and Porter along with photos of their lakeside resort known as Castle in the Clouds was Castle Springs Brewery (Lukinow) at Lake Winnipesaukee, (Multonborough) New Hampshire. The three-year-old micro has direct access to the local spring water and now distributes throughout New Hampshire. The Martha's Vineyard Ales are currently brewed "off-island" when the brewer travels up to Shipyard Brewing in Portland, Maine. Their Pub Draught Ale presents a mellow hoppiness from its 40 IBUs while the Extra Stout offers a very dry but very drinkable full-flavored brew. Helping validate the "international" claim of the festival, Unibroue showed their "L'art de Brasser" (the art of brewing) by offering a great line-up of beer styles rarely found outside of Belgium. Their killer T-shirts, glasses and medallions didn't last very long either. From Great Adirondack in Lake Placid, New York comes their smooth Abbey Ale, so popular it is now a standard and joined by the seasonal Oktoberfest. Although customers were denied a tasting opportunity in Plattsburg due to bureaucratic obstructionists, look for the beers this January at the Hunter Mountain event. Also from the North Country were beers from Massachusetts' smallest micro, Old Saddleback. Their unfiltered IPA and Half Stock Ale were well received and are now available on the slopes at Jimney Peak. From the brewers' perspectives festivals such as the one in Northhampton are becoming expensive to attend and the extreme level of control present is destroying the enjoyment for the vast majority of participants.

One welcome distributor product was the Rebel, imported from the Czech Republic by Czech Beer Importers. This open-fermented 11-degree brew is pasteurized but offers the great, crisp, hoppy Pilsner flavor rarely found outside of the Czech environs. Festival such as this offer consumers a chance to contrast both the flavors and the attitudes of brewers competing for their business. While Allegash Brewing of Portland, Maine was pouring it great White and describing the forthcoming Dubbel and Tripel, the nearby Redhook booth could be heard near the end of the first session saying, "We're not opening another bottle of the 1999 Winterhook." Fortunately, Sierra Nevada didn't have this closing time attitude as they graciously shared their 1996 Bigfoot Barleywine with the appreciative crowd. Well represented by their distributor, The Shipyard featured numerous beers, the 5.9% Chester's Hard Cider, and the hearty seasonal Prelude Special Ale. A strong local supporter, Trinity Brewhouse, was sampling their Bernard's Barley Wine. This clear, dark amber elixir went down all too well. A great job with a complex brew! Bringing something for everyone in their custom kegs was Buzzards Bay Brewing of Westport, Massachusetts. On hand were their Pale Ale, West Porter, Golden Ale and Stock Ale. Tempting visitors with $150 Brewer's Weekends was Woodstock Inn Brewery in North Woodstock, New Hampshire. Their 7 barrel system cranks out Red Rack Ale and Pig's Ear Brown Ale for local distribution.

Festivals of America and the Yankee Brew News did good job putting together an enjoyable beer tasting event in the face of ever-present adversity. Although there were no "beer police" like at the GABF there were numerous uniformed Providence PD officers making the rounds to protect the more attractive patrons from threats both real and imagined; "To Serve and Protect?" These taxpayer-supplied services were augmented by truly worthwhile and appreciated efforts by numerous volunteers from the homebrew and craftbrew communities. Hopefully this appreciation was returned in the form of loyal business to the two downtown "locals" of Trinity Beer Company and Union Station Brewery.


Boston, MA

Ale Street News

Maywood, NJ

Allagash Brewing Co.

Portland ME

Basement Brew-Hah

Providence, RI

Becks North America

Stamford, CT

Blackstone Valley Brewing Supplies

Woonsocket, RI

Boston Beer Co.

Boston, MA

Brew Moon Restaurant & Brewery

Needham, MA

Brewer's Heaven

Warwick, RI

Buzzard's Bay Brewery

Westport, MA

C&C Distributors

West Warwick, RI

Capitol Billards

North Providence, RI

Castle Springs Brewery

Moultonborough, NH

Charles Fradin, Inc

West Greenwich, RI

Coastal Extreme Brewery

Middletown, RI

Coors Brewing

West Greenwich, RI

Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - October, 1999

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