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Sunday, November 15, 2009

First New Hampshire Brewer’s Festival held in Manchester

W e always hear about the things we shouldn’t do during and after drinking beer, such as drive a car or operate machinery. But to Bert Bingle, it’s also quite important to know what you shouldn’t do before you open your first cold one.

For instance, don’t smoke a cigar. Or chomp down that jalapeno popper. Or brush your teeth. And if you really want to savor the body and taste of your beer, refrain from drinking in the kitchen – at least if there’s bacon sizzling on the stove.

Such was some of the advice that Bingle, a longtime professional brewer and certified national beer judge, offered about two dozen beer enthusiasts who attended his seminar, “Tasting For Appreciation,” one of several that were part of the New Hampshire Brewers Festival held Saturday at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester.

The festival, which began with a Friday night brewers’ dinner then featured two sessions Saturday, an afternoon “happy hour” and evening tasting, is the first of what organizer Jay Riley, of Durham, hopes will become an annual event.

Riley acquired the company known as Maine Brewers Festival last year and changed its name to Brewfest LLC, and decided to bring a similar version of the annual Maine festival to New Hampshire this year.

Surely, the 14 participating brewers and other vendors couldn’t have asked for better weather for a beer festival – an indoor festival, that is – as hundreds of beer buffs of varying tastes gathered under the hotel’s armory dome to sample a wide range of craft beers, listen to experts from Bingle to popular blogger The Beer Babe, and swap home-brewing stories and pointers with kindred spirits.

As with any other successful recipe, the best beer comes from the best ingredients, and to that end, Brewfest visitors and homebrewers Bob and Joy Leda carved out garden space behind their Bristol home to grow their own hops.

“It’s all about using the freshest stuff you can get,” Bob Leda said, as he and his wife sipped a darkish beer at a highboy table.

As do many small and medium brewpubs and microbreweries, the Ledas often follow the seasons in choosing what their next batch will be, Bob Leda said. They do their research whenever they travel.

“Wherever we go we hit the brew pubs, and try to find the local beers in stores,” he said.

Bingle, meanwhile, a member and former president of the New Hampshire-based trade group Brew Free or Die, has co-owned Bert’s Better Beers, a Hooksett microbrewery and retail shop, for 15 years.

He walked his seminar guests through the finer points of enjoying their beer, suggesting plain, not flavored, seltzer water to cleanse your palate, listening for a robust “pssssst” when popping the cap, and watching for a head that’s “nice and white, with tiny little bubbles.”

Flavorwise, Bingle said, look for the right balance of hops and malt – the bitters and sweets, respectively, in beer – depending on the beer you’re drinking. “If you get a plastic-like, or ‘old Band-Aid,’ taste, then something got into your beer that shouldn’t have,” he cautioned the group.

As for alcohol content, the more flavorful and fuller the beer, the higher the alcohol level, Bingle said. Many of his products get into the 6 percent to 7 percent range (by comparison, a typical lager like Budweiser is 3.2 percent), but there are high-end brewers who approach the 10 percent mark.

According to New Hampshire law, though, beer ceases to be beer in the legal sense when its alcohol content surpasses 12 percent. Then it’s liquor, and has to be sold as such.

The oft-debated topic of temperature came up next, prompting an emotional Bill Alleman to his feet. “It hurts my heart,” the middle-aged Weare man blurted, “when I hear a brewer tell you, as a marketing tool, that beer needs to be served ice cold. Like the can that turns blue when it’s cold,” he added, referring to Coors Brewing Co.’s recent gimmick – thermochromatic ink in the label that turns the mountains blue when the can or bottle is cold.

Bingle smiled, obviously agreeing. “Well, let’s just say something like that was created by some marketing guy who’s never had a good beer in his life,” Bingle said, to nodding heads and laughter.

Carla Companion, a 27-year-old soon-to-be Portland, Maine, resident who’s better known in craft beer circles as The Beer Babe, began blogging about her beer likes and dislikes 21⁄2 years ago.

“At first it was just a personal blog of what new beers I was trying, coming from an amateur perspective,” Companion said after one of her Saturday seminars, “I Wish My Girlfriend Liked Beer!”

“I was pretty much a novice beer taster chatting with other novice beer tasters, and (the blog) sort of grew from there,” she said.

As The Beer Babe, Companion, who by day runs professional development workshops for schoolteachers, says her mission is to introduce people to the rapidly growing breadth of craft beers.

“I want to get people over the myth that all beer tastes like it did in college,” she says. “I think it’s great that even a lot of non-crafters (large, corporate breweries) are experimenting with new and different tastes these days.

“I believe that there’s a craft beer out there for everyone.”

Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 31, or dshalhoup@nashua