Rare beers were readily available at the Second Annual Harbor Island International Beer Festival. That is, if you were fortunate enough to nab a Brewmaster Reserve ticket.
Such was my luck last Sunday at the festival. More than 200 brewers from around the globe poured samples for throngs of attendees at Harbor Island Park in Mamaroneck, New York. And the host — America’s largest craft beer store, Half Time Beverage — was kind enough to let me in with their premium package.
The two large main tents were packed with staple American craft beers, new or smaller breweries, and impressive imports. Underneath the VIP tent was a finger-food buffet, plus numerous premium brews. (The need for tents owed to the rainy, windy weather.) Among the VIP standouts were Clown Shoes, Dogfish Head, Bad Seed Cider and the Goose Island vintage series.
But in the Brewmaster Reserve tent was where craft geeks like myself really got rewarded. Here, there was an abundance of hard-to-find beers.
Getting you hands on anything from Hill Farmstead Brewery usually requires a trip to rural Vermont. On Sunday, the Brewmaster Reserve tent tapped two kegs from this widely celebrated, uber-micro brewery. The Double Citra was my favorite beer of the festival. Dry-hopped with Citra hops, it burst pleasantly upon the palate with sharp Citra flavor.
Brother Soigné was also quite tasty. This farmhouse ale had fresh flavors of hibiscus and blood orange and easily stood out among crowd.
Heady Topper was poured all day, along with Hitachino Nest Beer’s Anbai Ale. This Japanese gose (brewed heavily with wheat) tasted of plum, wheat, and sea salt. Hitachino continues to surprise and impress my palate with foreign flavors.
Other rare beers came out on a schedule. First up was Sip of Sunshine.
Like Heady Topper, this is pretty much a perfect IPA. (Okay, technically, the latter’s a DIPA.) Both are among America’s most-sought-after beers for good reason. They feature pronounced, crisp, refreshing hops that perk up your palate, open your eyes, and then go down smoothly.
Also on the schedule was a lineup of lambics. Normally, I’m not much for sours. Too tart, too funky. But these were the cream of the fruity crop, like the dry-hopped Cantillon Cuve Saint Gilloise. Or the Drie Fonteinen Oude Geuze, a blend of lambics aged for several years for maximum sourness.
The festival’s rarest beer was the Cantillon Vigneronne. Brewed with late-season muscat grapes, it’s dry and winelike, sour and fruity, and more balanced than your typical lambic. The limited supply of late-season grapes keeps Cantillon from producing a great deal of Vigneronne, despite international demand.
The Brewermaster Reserve tent was not without its darker entries. Both the Founders Kentucky Bourbon and Goose Island Bourbon Country stouts were on the schedule. And both brought their usual sweet, thick, malty, chocolaty goodness.
This tent also included a table additional premium imports. It was difficult to leave the Brewermaster Reserve and VIP areas, for obvious reasons. However, I did make time for exploration of the main tents. Among the tastier samples I had here were from Iceland’s Einstök Brewery; Applewood Winery, whose pumpkin cider was not hokey but delightful; and Southern Tier, who listened to consumer requests and upped the ABV of their seasonal imperial pumpkin stout Warlock to 10%.