Extreme Beer Fest is no ordinary beer festival, but I guess that’s kind of obvious from the name. Hosted by the crew at BeerAdvocate.com, it’s held every year in mid to late winter in Boston. Breweries are handpicked, specially invited, and urged to bring something special to the fest – their strongest, weirdest beer, a variation on one of their existing beers, something rare from their cellar, or even (hopefully) a beer brewed specifically for the fest. And yet, even among the unique offerings, there are always some discernible beer trends.
This kind of festival isn’t just about “getting your money’s worth” (read: getting smashed). Don’t get me wrong – that happens, but the focus is on the unique flavors of each beer. The line that formed to get into the fest (even though it’s never oversold or too crowded, and lines move quickly) along the cold Boston waterfront was replete with geeks and beer enthusiasts. We arrived about an hour early and were still about a block away from the entrance, with some 100 people ahead of us—all (myself included) wearing shirts from our favorite breweries and giddy about the opportunity to taste weirdly delicious beers.
I found the behavior of the attendees fascinating as we entered the venue and everyone flocked to the various brewery tables. Though I was busy enjoying myself, I was also noticing patterns, which I outline below. I also noticed trends in terms of which beers were brought and which flavors, adjuncts, and aging techniques were employed. Every year is a bit different, leading me to think about how the changes in what brewers bring to this festival are related to the trends we see in the craft beer industry in general every year. I feel like, in some ways, we can use EBF as a predictor of what we can expect to see in the beer world. Of course, I was drinking when I noticed these things, so take them with a grain of salt.