With the 2012 Analog-A-Go-Go officially in the books, I'm left wholly satisfied and duly impressed as it not only met but exceeded my expectations based upon last year's unbelievable event. The few things that could have been improved from last year were and, as a whole, the event seemed to go much more smoothly and didn't feel nearly as crowded or claustrophobic as the 2011 incarnation did (at times). Of course, this year also offered a few special surprises that elevated it above and beyond the already auspicious bar set by the 2011 AAGG.
Part of what I love most about Dogfish Head, both as a brewery and as a company, is its attention to detail, particularly when it comes to its customers/consumers. Case in point: the beer log. Last year's event didn't have one and I didn't even realize what a bummer that was until the Weekend of Compelling Ales And Whatnot earlier this year. Having that card for the WOCAAW made an already fun event that much more entertaining. While I'm sure for some it added a competitive element, for me and my buddy Carlos it was more of a collaborative pursuit--a scavenger hunt of sorts. Referring back to the aforementioned attention to detail though, the card for the 2012 AAGG wasn't simply a list of the beers on tap (not that the WOCAAW one was) but existed, instead, as an extension of the overall theme of the event (with a particular focus on the music). Pictured below, the log showed ten of the twelve beers available on one side (the left part of the picture) and a list of the various local vendors who filled out the festivities with their wares on the other (the right side of the picture). Each beer is represented as a record, the center of which would be punched with each sampled poured.
Now, one of the things that I enjoyed most about last year's event was the unlimited pours of any of the beers. It was my first opportunity to have 120 Minute IPA and so I made the most of it...but it definitely made for a rough ride home and an unpleasant evening thereafter. I was a little bummed when I read that the samples would be limited to one per customer for each of the beers available. In retrospect, I think this actually enhanced the quality of the event because it greatly reduced the number of sloppy drunks stumbling around, it gave everyone a chance to try all of the beers, and it set a cap for what would be available for consumption. Needless to say, the quantity (and quality!) of the beer was way more than worth the price of admission and, seeing the benefits of the one-per-customer sample approach, I definitely think it will be the way to go in the future for such events.
One thing that I loved in particular about this year's event versus last year's is the inclusion of "The Big Tent." Employed earlier in the year at the WOCAAW, the tent gave festival-goers a respite from the weather (in this case an extremely warm summer's sun; earlier in the year it was a slight chill in the March air). It also served as host to a fair portion of the beer (most of them at the WOCAAW and four of them at the AAGG), which, as I mentioned earlier, rendered the experience of being there that much less stuffy and confined. With all of the beers located inside of the gift shop at last year's event, it made for some uncomfortable line-waiting experiences; this time, however, there was rarely a crowd in the tent that made it feel closed in (the gift shop was a different story but at least there were only four brews awaiting us inside there).
Of course, the most important aspect of any beer event is, well, the beer. For this year's event, Dogfish Head teamed up with Victory Brewing to offer a small sampling of cask conditioned brews from both the former and the latter. Honestly, I wasn't impressed with last year's Yards Brewing offerings (though I absolutely LOVE their stuff, in general) and I was a little concerned about Victory being involved this year because I'm not a tremendous fan of the bulk of their beers (they're mostly lager-style brews) but I was truly floored by the deliciousness of both of Victory's offerings.
Moving on to the individual brews, I began my tasting adventure inside of The Big Tent after checking in just outside. With my beer log and tasting glass in hand, I headed over to the first table to catch my eye: the World Wide Stout. I'm a big fan of the formidable brew and when I saw that it was aged on Bourbon Oak...well, let's just say I could hardly contain my excitement. I've been spoiled lately by having a number of tremendous bourbon aged beers and I would put the cask conditioned World Wide Stout right up there with the best of what I've had (including Firestone Walker's Sucaba and Deschutes' The Abyss).
My next beer was the 60 Minute IPA aged with Grain Cedar. Last year, the 60 Minute was delicious but underwhelming in comparison with the other tremendous brews available; this year, it was, hands down, my favorite beer of the festival. There was just something magical about the combination of the cask conditioning and the cedar. It added a complexity that I didn't know existed within the beer. It was almost like going through high school with a girl you never really took note of until you saw her all dressed up for prom or graduation. Yeah...the 2012 cask conditioned version of the 60 Minute IPA was definitely her!
From the 60 Minute I headed over to my sentimental favorite 75 Minute IPA. It's so bad because I love the bottled version of the beer so much that I think it's detracting from my enjoyment of the draft version. After downing my sample, I took on the last of the "tent beers" in the Theobroma. Of everything I tried that day, the Theo was the one I liked the least. For some reason, it just didn't do it for me. I can't say what it was in particular that I didn't like, just that I didn't like it.
After finishing up in the tent, I headed over to the special Victory Brewing set up. There was a monster line outside of it and I jumped right on it knowing that it had to be for the special poster signing by Dogfish Head Founder & President Sam Calagione and Victory Brewing's Founder & President Bill Covaleski. After my wife came to hold my spot, I decided to investigate what I thought of as the hidden corner of the event. When we were checking in, one of the volunteers mentioned that there were twelve beers in total and that it was up to us (the attendees) to track down the two special additions. Remembering the awesome beers that were tucked away behind the bocce ball courts at the WOCAAW, I made a bee-line for the same area. Sure enough, that's where the other two beers were located. Both were brewed in connection with Eataly's Bierreria NYC and each stood out as a unique beer--ones that certainly stood out as being different from the rest of the bunch. I tried the Pina first and found it quite palatable--more so than the Etrusca (pictured below), which was also quite good.
After finishing up in the hidden section, I grabbed Victory's Headwaters Pale Ale and was blown away by how delectable it was. I sipped at it while my wife and I awaited our audience with Sam and Bill. When we reached the front of the line, both men asked us who we wanted the poster made out to. I gave them our names and explained that we were attending the AAGG as a means of celebrating the purchase of our very first home. Later, when we returned from Delaware, I looked at the poster and saw that Sam mentioned it in his signature; again, the attention to detail is truly what separates Dogfish Head apart from the ever-growing family of craft brewers in the United States.
|My wife, my son, Bill, me, and Sam|
|Bitches Brew & Dogfish Head Birch Beer|
Finally, on the way out of the gift shop, I saw an off-beat (or perhaps off-centered) piece of artwork on the wall and asked my wife to take a picture. I felt like it embodied the spirit of the event (and of Dogfish Head, as a whole) and certainly rang true to me! Speaking of awesome things that are not low in calories...I have to admit that the star of the show this time wasn't just the beer but also the food. My God! The barbecue offered by Bethany Blues BBQ had me damn near tumescent. I initially ordered ribs for myself (five bucks for a serving--I would've paid twenty for them they were that good) and a pulled pork sandwich for Heather...but after having had both, I realized that I couldn't just have the ribs. And so I went back and ordered a sandwich for myself. The problem was, though, that after I finished the sandwich, I wanted the ribs again and so, later in the day when I had finished all of the beers, I grabbed one more set of ribs to go. I felt like a big fat fatty and didn't care in the least! In fact, I wound up eating only three of the ribs before falling asleep on the ride back to New York and, when I got to the remaining two, they were ice cold. And by ice cold I mean falling off the bone, finger-licking good at a lower temperature. Without a doubt, the next time I head down to Dogfish Head, I will have to go to Bethany Blues to try some more of their INSANE food!
In closing, I'd like to thank Dogfish Head for once again hosting an unforgettably awesome event and Victory Brewing for contributing two tremendous guest brews. It was the perfect way to celebrate one of the biggest moments/weekends of my life and I can't wait until next year's Analog-A-Go-Go!
(Tasting notes from the event to follow in a future entry.)