Drink Less, Drink the Best, that's the motto of the 2004 State College MicroBrewers and Importers Exposition. Although written up by USA Today in 2004 as one of the top 10 beer festivals in the US, insiders still regard this as one of the best kept secrets in beer festival circles. Weather is no threat since this event is held indoors at the President's Hall of Penn Stater Convention Center at Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania. The location in the middle of the state limits long-distance visitors but the locals and the summer university crowd appreciate the opportunity for the one-stop shopping beer tasting of the best local and regional craft beers. Upwards of 54 breweries and importers brought nearly 150 beers representing the best examples of beer styles across the flavor spectrum. Tasting sessions ran from noon to 4pm and 6 to 10pm, with a large an impressive food buffet included in an adjacent room for people with time for that sort of thing during a beer festival. Each session also included three Brew Forum seminars, interactive, informative and insightful. From Unibroue, brewmaster Paul Arnott spoke of the intricacies of producing Belgian style specialty beers. Brewmaster John Trogner spoke of pushing the lupulin limits at Troegs Brewing, while Larry Bell shared insider insights behind the beers of Bell's.
The exhibition hall filled up quickly with eager customers quickly processed by the friendly staff. The first hour surge made maneuvering difficult but once the special seminars and buffet drew some attention the crowd became more tolerable. Tasting and merchandise booths lined the four walls of the carpeted hall, with a dull roar competing with the CD sounds beneath the 30-foot ceiling. Centrally located rinse buckets and water dispensers were evidence that the organizers had attention to detail and the the skills to make it come off smoothly. The easygoing crowd showed a healthy even mix of men and women, mostly in their twenties. Unlike the GABF, there were no signs of Beer Police or even uniformed security, and the overall enjoyment factor rose accordingly. The facility is wheelchair accessible and once the location of the nearby hotel restrooms is revealed, the long main bathroom lines become irrelevant. Some impressionable brews from the evening included The Marzoni Amber (Pale) - unfiltered, with a very big hop-dominated flavor. Another standout pale ale came from Bethlehem Brew Works - very nice. Anchor Wheat is no more but Anchor Summer features 50% wheat and is targeted at the light-bodied seasonal market.
The nonsmoking environment combined with the well organized operation makes this festival worth the trip into the hinterlands of Pennsylvania.Penn Stater Conference Hotel
Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - July
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