Fine brews will flow at New Bedford Oktoberfest

JENALINA SANTIAGO/Standard-Times Special file He may be known as The Whiskey Poet, but on Oct. 4, Craig DeMelo will be performing at a beer festival, the ninth annual New Bedford Oktoberfest.

JENALINA SANTIAGO/Standard-Times Special file He may be known as The Whiskey Poet, but on Oct. 4, Craig DeMelo will be performing at a beer festival, the ninth annual New Bedford Oktoberfest.

Don’t be surprised if you see lederhosen-wearing, bratwurst-gnawing people downtown next Saturday, when the New Bedford waterfront does its best Munich impression at the ninth annual New Bedford Oktoberfest.

To be held from 3 to midnight Oct. 4 at New Bedford State Pier, it’s the closest of four excellent local brewfests between now and Oct. 17 (see the list at the bottom of the column), and will probably be the biggest party of the bunch.

Sponsored by the South Coast Business Alliance, Oktoberfest is massive, featuring local German-inspired food, live music, and lots and lots of fall beers. More than 17 breweries will pour their best malt-bomb Oktoberfest-inspired brews, pumpkin beers galore, and a variety of other fall offerings.

Music will be on tap, too: the Felix Brown Band, Craig DeMelo & Friends, and Four Legged Faithful.

Tickets to this 21-plus event are only $15, but bring more cash, as beers will be $5 per (with a nifty $10 sampler card that supplies five 5-ounce samples), and the variety of food options will leave your mouth watering. Proceeds from the event go to several local charities, so you can attend and know you’re doing good while feeling good.

The toughest decision attendees may have is which of the incredible beers to try. Not only will local favorites Buzzards Bay, Pretty Things, Mayflower, Berkley, Cisco, Naukabout, Foolproof, and Narragansett be there, but they’ll be joined by regional favorites Cambridge, Sam Adams, Wachusett, Smuttynose (and their much-loved Pumpkinhead), Magic Hat, Traveler, and Woodstock.

If that wasn’t enough choice, the fest will also feature national brewers Yuengling, Left Hand, Southern Tier, Firestone Walker, and Brooklyn. Finally, German brewer Spaten will serve up their famous Oktoberfest.

I used some of my industrial espionage skills* to get a partial list of beers that will be poured (the rest of the list was covered in sticky malt from some Oktoberfest brewer), and there are some definite “must try” brews.

Three of the beers on my must-drink list come from local brewers. First, Buzzards Bay’s Boo! is a fantastic beer that defies categorization. The only thing that should scare you about this bready, malty, toffee-ey, smoky dark brown ale is that it’s so delicious and goes down so easily, you could unintentionally drink way too much of it.

Next up, Berkley will be pouring their excellent Harvest Ale, a straightforward Oktoberfest that’s just ridiculously easy-drinking. Creamy, malty, smooth, and surprisingly crisp, this beer could easily be packaged as a German Oktoberfest import and fool everyone.

Finally, Cisco’s Pumple Drumkin is a fascinating pumpkin beer that ain’t for the faint of heart. The Nantucket brewers might have gone a bit crazy when adding spices to this beer, as it contains just about every flavor one can imagine that goes with pumpkin. I find it complex and quite good, but others have been turned off by its cornucopia of flavors.

Since Southern Tier will be there, I’m hoping they’ll bring their Pumking, which may very well be my favorite pumpkin ale. Incredibly rich, full of flavor, and weighing in at 8.6 percent alcohol by volume, this is a titan of the pumpkin beer world, and must be experienced by anyone who enjoys, or even tolerates, pumpkin beers.

Just remember that you’ll have to get home from this fest, so please drink in moderation and/or bring a designated driver. Nothing ruins a great night like drunk driving.

* Industrial espionage skills = emailing the folks in charge of the event.

Originally published on September 25, 2014

The benefits, and hazard, of canned beer

I write this column while enjoying the complex, yet easy-drinking Barstool American Golden Ale by the extremely promising Foolproof Brewing from Pawtucket. The beer is unusual not because they manage to squeeze so much flavor into a 4.5% sipper, but because the beer is poured from a can.

That’s right, the can is making a comeback. Long-vilified in craft brewing as the realm of 30-packs of light, flavorless brews, canned craft beers have become as popular as the guy that brought a keg to the party.

Suddenly, craft breweries across the country are selling their beers in cans, and some sell ONLY cans and kegs. Foolproof distributes their top-notch offerings in cans and kegs only, as does Maine’s Baxter Brewing, Vermont’s amazing Alchemist Cannery, Brooklyn’s Sixpoint and dozens of other breweries across the country.

Heck, Sam Adams now sells its flagship Boston Lager and its Summer Ale in cans. Fellow local brewers Harpoon, Cisco, Berkshire, Newport Storm, Narragansett, Gray Sail, and Wachusett all began offering some of their brews in cans in the last several years.

The advantages of cans are numerous: they’re cheaper, can be stacked and stored easily, block skunky-beer-inducing UV rays, are lighter, are easily recycled, and are simply more convenient for the user. And these aren’t your dad’s cans – the beer contained within don’t taste metallic thanks to advances in can technology, so they usually taste just as good as their bottled counterparts

Unfortunately, that same technology has a dark side: the cans contain BPA (bisphenol-A), an amazing bottle protector that also an endocrine disruptor (Google it). BPA keeps the beer from leeching metallic flavors into the beer. That’s good. It’s also a health risk. That’s not so good.

BPA has been loosely linked to a host of medical issues, including obesity, diabetes, neurological issues, and cancer (among other things). It’s been banned in baby bottles and sippy cups in the US, and studies have shown that it does leach into beer in very small amounts.

It’s obvious that BPA has come to the attention of the nation because most reusable water bottles now read “BPA-Free.”

Most brewers completely ignore the issue, and those that address it do so in a very general way. New Belgium, the country’s 4th biggest brewery and a leader in green brewing, basically says that it’s up to the consumer to decide their own risk. Most of the others completely ignore the issue.

In the end, the majority of BPA leeching risk comes from exposure to heat and long-term exposure to the BPA. Therefore, I definitely drink fresh local canned beer, but am slightly wary of canned brews that have been sitting on the shelves for months and shipped across the country.

Originally published on August 15, 2013