Three Cheers For The Beer Summit

Jason Campos

The following article should only be read by those over 21 years of age holding a valid I.D.

The Boston Beer Summit took place in the Back Bay at The Castle, the gorgeous stone building which acts as a function hall for the Park Plaza Hotel. Over 50 breweries from far and wide brought their wares (about 200 beers in all) for patrons to appraise. There were two sessions, the first from 1pm-5pm and the second from 6pm-10pm on May 11.

When Michael Rhys, editor-in-chief of the Mass Media, asked me if I wanted to attend this event, I jumped at the opportunity. The plan was to attend the latter half of the first session, grab a bite to eat, and then return for some of the second session.

Michael and I met at Copley Square and we strolled over to The Castle. Even from a block away, we could see the sidewalk swarmed with excited people. As we stepped through the entrance of the building, Jeremy, one of the event’s organizers, greeted us with a warm hello. After he gave us a quick run down of the setup and an offer of future assistance, Mike and I merged into the throng in eager anticipation of some good beer.

After a quick initial sampling of Wachusett’s Country Ale (which lacked its promise in malt taste), the first meaningful stop was at the Cambridge Brewing booth. Rob Robertson, knowledgeable volunteer of the beer summit who was manning the booth, inquired about my personal preferences. “A good India Pale Ale” was the reply.

Sure enough, Cambridge Brewing had an IPA called Falcon’s Flight. After a brief lecture on the process of brewing an IPA, Falcon’s Flight became the first sample of the day. The taste buds concluded that its bitter, hoppy taste was a little too forceful and acrid.

For those of you that enjoy a good Hefeweizen, Cambridge Brewing has an above average concoction. The taste is light and semi-flowery, an overall good summer beer. Mike indulged in a half glass of their Tall Tale Pale Ale, which he positively described as “earthy.”

We next ventured to one of the few booths selling merchandise. was offering T-shirts that had wistful quotes about beer from famous persons (for example, Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin).

After an unimpressive sample of an Italian beer named Birra Moretti (avoiding this beer altogether is best), we gravitated toward the Z Street Brewing booth. The two gentlemen at the booth, Doug Hancock and Matt Leblanc, recited some interesting tidbits about the company. Interestingly enough, the owner of Z Street Brewing, Joe Zadrozny, is a graduate of UMass Amherst.

The samples of Z Street beers were pleasing. Its IPA brew, cleverly named Z’IPA, is a bold and zingy beer. It’s inimitable taste is a result from unique step in the brewing process called “hopping the mash,” which involves introducing additional cascade hops during the mashing stage.

The next libation was one of the more surprising of the event, a recently concocted brew called Coconut Porter. I don’t care for too many “alternative” flavors in my beer, but this fruit flavored porter was rather tasty. It’s a drink that has a dark, smooth taste with a subtle flavor similar to a Mounds Bar, best on a limited basis such as the holidays.

The delightful success of this taste experiment made me a little bolder. However, this newfound sense of adventure did not lead to any more rewards. The next two stops were at Watch City Beer and J.W. Lees, where barley wines, a so-called after-dinner beer, were being offered. The beer is aged in oak casks that have been previously used for scotch, sherry, or port. Its sweet wine flavor and prominent malt taste conflict bitterly, making it an altogether regrettable experience. I’ll stick with a good sherry or port, thank you.

After a quick lunch at The Pour House on Boylston Street, Mike and I returned for the beginning of the second session of the summit. The evening promised to draw a different crowd than the afternoon. While the first session was filled with small groups of males, the second session had an atmosphere for romantically involved couples. A quartet of musicians played blues and jazz, just hip enough to invite a few people to dance.

The first samples upon returning were from Massachusetts breweries. The first taste was from Quincy Ships Brewing, a dark full porter called Furnace Brook Porter. However, it lacked a refined idiosyncrasy that made it unremarkable. The next beer was from Newport Storm and its sole beverage on display, Hurricane Amber Ale, looked to be promising. However, its advertised hurricane taste was flat and indistinguishable from any other run of the mill beer.

One of the more interesting conversations of the day took place at the adjacent Buzzard’s Bay booth. Tim Coleman, the regional sales manager of Buzzard’s Bay, gave us a thorough (but brief) account of the brewery’s history and an amusing anecdote. The logo for the beer came from the shape of the inlet of Buzzard’s Bay, which, believe it or not, looks like the outline of a crouching buzzard. A portion of the proceeds from the sales goes to the preservation of Massachusetts farmlands.

The two beers that Buzzard’s Bay brought were a pale ale and a lager. The company is especially proud of its lager, which won a gold medal in the Great American Beer Festival 2000 in Denver. Although its list of brew is not expansive (it currently makes only three styles of beer), the future looks bright for this small brewery from Horseneck’s Beach on the outer Cape. Watch out for this up and coming beer.

Switching gears to imbibe in some imports turned out to be an unrewarding experience for the most past. There was Sleeman, a Canadian lager that claims to “drink like water, but taste like beer.” It fell way short of its stated objective. Then there was Czech pilsner called Czechvar whose biggest claim to fame is a legal spat with Budweiser. Remarkably, the two beers taste eerily similar.

Next up were two English ales, Old Speckled Hen and Poddington. Old Speckled Hen, which is extremely popular in English pubs, had a mild flavor, but it failed to distinguish itself. Poddington stimulated the tastes buds a little more and proved to be the better of the two.

All in all, the Boston Beer Summit was an excellently organized event. Its volunteers were accommodating and pleasant, and the atmosphere had a bustling vibrancy. The only negative feature was the cigar smoking, which was permitted inside the hall. Other than that, anyone who enjoys hop and malt beverages and has a spirited sense of taste testing adventure should look out for the Boston Beer Summit when it returns next year.