Yes, it has been a few weeks since the Night of the Barrels and the Extreme Beer Festival, but I’m not the world’s fastest writer (or thinker for that matter)—hey, I’m still trying to run a magazine and a few festivals. But regardless, I need to get up to speed. (Thank you Stan, Steve, Jay, Maureen, and all the others for politely reminding me about the “post” bit about blogging.)

After hearing about the Brothers Alstrom’s work for a couple of years, I had no idea what to expect on arriving at Cyclorama in Boston. The place is beautiful. As the name suggests, the interior of the building is in fact circular and was built in 1884 to house a massive circular painting of the Battle of Gettysburg. (Visit our Flikr account.) The original dome had been replaced with a skylight, adding wonderful highlights to Jason, Todd and Candace’s event.

I had arrived early enough to witness the set up, finding the Alstroms armed with wrenches and whatnot working on recalcitrant draft equipment. After being part of a zillion festivals, I couldn’t help notice the silence. Here were the Alstroms Three putting the finishing touches on some equipment, a few dozen volunteers moving ice around, rinse water, etc. And it was quiet, very quiet.

Night of the Barrels is a brewers event. Volunteers take over the booths and brewers get to mingle with the paying masses, to sample from the hand-selected barrel-aged beers, about 50 plus of them.

My first stop was at Pizza Port, where I got to hang with Tomme Arthur who ran me through his beers. Tomme is a sour beer wizard. Each of his offerings had different takes on fruit, wood, sour balancing. The Veritas 004 punched the fruit a bit more and the Phunky Duck used some oak to tone down the acidic vinegar profile. (It was brewed as the “backbone” for Duck Duck Gooze, a blended sour ale with one-, two- and three-year old beer.) My fav was the Red Poppy, a classic Flanders red ale, barrel-aged with cherries, which had some surprising caramel notes from the darker malts.

Tomme showed me the Cuvee Jeune from The Bruery, with its light, almost sweet candy tartness, followed by a sugary finish. It poured almost still, leading me to think of some meads I’ve had.

I met up with Jim Koch of Boston Beer. He loves this event when he actually gets to wander around trying different beers. Unfortunately, his face as been on too many television screens and he ends up posing for too many photos and signing autographs. Between these bouts of celebrity status, Jim had some fascinating things to say about the beers. He pointed out how wood can send a flavor profile in the wrong direction or enhance a creative recipe.

Here are some of the remaining notes:

Haverhill Brewery: Snowbound. Fermented very dry with a lot of black malts.

Full Sail Brewing Co: Black Gold Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout. Woody to the point of smoky, very short finish with lingering burnt caramel.

Harpoon Brewery: Barleywine. Very hot alcohol, with a lot of pepper in the finish.

Flatbred: Reunion Saison. Made with green and pink peppercorns, very dry without any bite or heat.

Great Divide: Oak Aged Espresso Yeti. Coffee, alcohol, mocha latte, slight hop spice, a lot of bitter chocolate.

That’s about as far as the writing went, or I can read. (I did get some validation when I questioned the absence of a middle in a beer and the brewer told me the owner asked him to pull some malts to save money!) The hit with Night of the Barrels was having all these examples of brewers’ art in one room. Frankly, I thought a few missed their mark. As with all things beer, it is a question of balance. 

It’s easy to do the “more some” with this end of the industry. Add more of this, stick in some of that; but making a way-out beer that is enjoyable to drink takes art. Being able to dissect the sensory profile, that also is an art—my mission for the upcoming year.