I had a great time this past weekend, starting with the Grand Tasting on Friday night:
Imagine ~60 of us at a small hotel conference room opening bottles upon bottles of beer, most of it fantastic (or supposed to be), though some of it is disappointing. Of the 60 people, 58 are men, about 8 people are over 40, 15 between 30 and 40, and the remainder under 30. You've got people from Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Vancouver, Colorado, Idaho, Oklahoma, Vermont, Wisconsin, DC, Michigan, Texas, Tennessee, West Virginia, California, Pennsylvania, and one hardy soul from Copenhagen. (and I'm sure I'm forgetting where a few people are from).
People arrive and either there's a finger-pointing asking who that guy is, or there's a "Norm"-like shout. In most cases you have people who take their beer as seriously as Miles from the movie Sideways took his wine (Kathy started cracking up watching the movie because it looked so familiar) -- though there's some milling, we sit at tables so we can take notes and rate the beers we are trying. Fortunately, it isn't gloominess - there's joy at sharing such wonderful treats with other beer geeks, especially when it's with people you've been conversing with on line for years. And of course the free-flowing beer, much of it with alcohol content high above standard beers, helps elevate the mood, as well as the volume. Rare bottles are opened, and people come forth from all over the room for their opportunity to try the nectar within. There are too many beers worth trying, and oftentimes not enough quantity of each for everyone who's interested to try, so it's impossible to try even half of them. There's often a twinge over a beer that you don't get to try, but it's easily assuaged by the next great beer you fill your glass with.
A couple of guys in their early 20s (known for years as having the most ratings while they were underage) show up with a 1/6 keg of a beer that's one of the Top 50 on the site. Later in the night one of the most esteemed members of the site (for both his palate and the sheer number of ratings he has) is encouraged to do a "keg stand" with it (in case you're wondering (and I didn't know what it was either), a couple of people pick him up and hold him upside down over the keg, while running the tap directly in his mouth) -- the member acquiesces and goes at it until it starts getting in his nose.
Bad beer is brought out for a laugh -- a "highlight" of the evening occurs when someone produced a can of the famous "Billy Beer," made in honor of then President Carter's ne'er-do-well brother. I feel fortunate to have taken a sip of this nearly 30-year-old beer that was bad then and disgusting now -- it is, after all, a testament to U.S. history.
Palate fatigue is inevitable, despite lots of water and bread/crackers/cheese. I begin passing on beers that I'd otherwise want because I know my tastebuds aren't fit to appreciate their subtle qualities. I'm one of the early birds, turning in just past 1am (7.5 hours after the festivities began), but not before grabbing a couple of bottles to take home. I took very little -- those who stayed up until the end (around 3:30) got some real treasures.
That was the first night. Saturday we went to one of the best brewpubs in the world as a group, Dieu du Ciel. Then we broke off into smaller groups to hit other brewpubs, drink more beers back at the hotel, or take in some of the city on a rainy day. I mostly did #1 and #2 on the post-DDC menu.
Sunday many people left, but 14 of us went into the countryside to hit three cideries, then a beer dinner at a nice restaurant, then a brewpub. It was a very warm sunny day, a great one to be out in the country. And though I would've been happy with fewer cideries, it was a nice change of pace to learn about something I know nothing about. In this case, Quebec is home to the a unique style of cider, the Ice Cider, which is made either by freezing the cider and taking the more concentrated product; or by using certain varieties of apples that don't fall from the trees and instead freeze on them (I'm sure someone will correct me if I don't quite have that right). The first place we went to had a tremendously tasty version of each type of ice cider.
And now I'm back in DC, after catching a morning flight and working most of the day. I've got lots of ratings to enter, but I'll have to get to them another time -- I'm pretty worn out.