Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Public Drunkennesss or High Class Social Event? Does it Matter?

Recently my Brother-in-Law invited me to go to a pretty big beer festival at the Nassau Coliseum. Being no slouch when it comes to beer (only?) this was one opportunity I didn't want to pass up. I really had no idea what to expect. I've been to all kinds of trade shows before, some open to the public, some not. Some super awesome with mountains of SWAG, and some miniscule with cardboard signs and booth staff more akin to Huckleberry Hound than Jessica Rabbit. Here's the rundown:

The People

It seemed like there were three distinct types of people at this festival:
  • The "swillers" consisting of hardcore NFL fans, frat dudes, ex-frat dudes, and people who hopefully didn't drive themselves there. 
  • The "norms" who were just there to try a few new beers but probably didn't care about maximizing their ticket.
  • The KBS cult... more on this later.
I noticed (although I didn't go around interviewing people) that there weren't that many people talking to the venders about beer, or otherwise doing anything other than drinking beer in what amounts to the giant basement under the hockey rink at Nassau Stadium. It had a bit more of a basement feel than a typical tradeshow. I was a little disappointed that I didn't learn anything new about beer; most (but not all) of the brewery tours I have been on have been informative first and intoxicating second. This was clearly intended to be the latter, but in a not entirely unrelated phenomenon it did stop bothering me after a while.

The Beer

There was a pretty large selection of samples, but given their unlimited nature it mostly wasn't the top shelf kind of stuff (some of it seemed pretty stale.) A lot of the venders were area bars, liquor stores, brewpubs, etc. not well known craft brewers. I did however appreciate the diversity of local breweries and a lot of varieties were available. Since I wasn't there in an official capacity I didn't bring a notebook; some of the most memorable samples I tried were:

  • Beowulf and Grendel (2 beers) from a local brewpub (the name of which escapes me, but which I hope to visit with my Brother-in-Law.)
  • Innis & Gunn  Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer which really did taste like Rum and was (in my opinion) pretty gross, although very memorable! 
  • New Castle Founder's Ale which Gene recently reviewed. He was dead on.
  • KBS.... more on that below.

The Cult of KBS

Towards the end of the session, people started lining up in front of the KBS booth. I thought they must be giving out free "iPad 2S+4G (let S = -1 and G = 0.5)" or whatever they call it now, but no... they were unveiling this year's KBS or Kentucky Breakfast Stout. With the amount of buzz around this beer at the show, I really thought I should have heard of it before, but nope.

I've never had multiple people call something "the best beer in the world" before with such conviction. Lots of people were wearing KBS hats, shirts, etc. The line was from front to back in the basement which is approximately the same distance a hockey puck needs to travel from goal to goal. It looked like a big deal. I even looked up the rating on beeradvocate: it scored 100 out of 100 with 1,972 reviews. Was it up to the hype?

We waited about 15 minutes until the line went down to nothing. Talk about a flash in the pan. While KBS was definitely the best beer at the show (mainly because it was much higher quality and full bodied than the other offerings) I wouldn't call it the best beer in the world. It was pretty sweet with very strong coffee flavors, very high ABV, and a slightly oily mouthfeel (just like a newly retired prostitute.)  I enjoyed the sample enough to get another one, but I think I failed the indoctrination.

So what's really going on here? Founders must have some marketing genius to build up so many rabid fans. While it's certainly not my favorite, I could really see this causing a beer epiphany in the "swillers" crowd. You'll always remember your first love, and this newly retired prostitute really gets around.

How's that for a high class social event?

Have you tried KBS? Am I an idiot for not calling it the best beer in the world? Let us know in the comments below!

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