Friday, March 20, 2009

AC beer fest: meh

It’s Saturday and Sunday (with a VIP beer judging tonight), and we’re of two minds about this thing. We’ve been to the first three but we'll skip the fourth annual edition of the AC beer fest.

For our tastes, it’s just too big, and it if last year was a measure of the direction the festival is heading, it’s getting slovenly. A drunkfest. We’ll opt instead for lunch at the Tun Tavern and a pint or two of locally brewed, then hit Firewaters inside the Tropicana casino.

And if you’ll pardon a sort of drawn-out analogy, this festival has become like being in on the ground floor of a great band, watching 'em rise, win critical acclaim, release one or two commercially accessible albums and a few successful tunes, and BAM! ... they’re playing arenas, you can’t get tickets like you used to, and the lines to get in run longer than the Nile.

Except with the AC beer fest, the long lines at the turnstile have always been there, and there are sundry other issues the promoters have never quite bothered to solve.

We will say this, at 35 bucks for an advance ticket, AC is still an OK buy, comparatively speaking; tickets for day of event are 45 bucks, and the Saturday evening session has sold out. We should also give AC some props for drawing beers that the Philly Craft Beer Festival couldn’t this year (although there was some inside baseball going on with the Philly event, so for instance, Troeg's was missing). But honestly, a good liquor store has all of the beers at these fests anyway, making for few surprises for the taste buds.

Which leads to the next point: If you’re new to craft beer and better beer, you’re likely to have a good time in AC, despite the painfully long lines. It's not much of an event for discriminating tastes looking for something special or interesting. We’ve been to three of them, groused about the issues of the first, patted backs for good some changes in the second, but saw the third just get too sloppy. Ultimately that’s bad for good beer’s image, we say.

Then there’s this: With these big festivals coming year after year and few changes to distinguish them from one year to the next, you have to wonder if they’re starting to see their up and over on the evolutionary chart, in jeopardy of dying off in favor of something more refined, adapted to the market, times and discerning tastes.

Brewers (the ones who actually make the beer and are indispensable) are more than a year beyond being pissed off about being taken for granted and asked to give away the beer or swap it for booth space. Who could blame them? They pay too much in taxes, rent and raw materials to be enabling someone else’s vision of box office gold. And as a lot of brewers have been saying lately: The ice guy gets paid, so pay us.

Bottom line: AC beer fest, plenty of beer, a lot of it great, and some folks will like it. But for our tastes meh. We’re thinking these days, smaller, more intimate events – especially ones paired with foods chosen specifically to complement the beers – are the way to go.

Meanwhile, brewpub Pizzeria Uno (Metuchen/Woodbridge, located along Route 1) is holding its second cask ale event on Saturday, March 28.

Brewer Mike Sella is still putting the finishing touches on things, so we can’t tell you the lineup yet. However, the previous one in September featured casks from Climax, Chelsea Brewing, Captain Lawrence Brewing, Troeg’s, Weyerbacher, and, of course, your host, Uno,

There was no cover, and it was pay as you go, meaning you bought a full pint of beer. And if you can’t make it on the 28th, swing by on Sunday, because the casks will be there as long as there’s something in them to pour.

Recommendation: If you don’t already have a ticket to AC, save your money, wait a week and hit Uno’s. Why? Because it’s cask ale, a great way to enjoy beer, and you’ll get full pints. Plus, Uno has good bar food. It’s definitely the better deal. And if you think you still need to see all kinds of brands and spend some more cash, there’s a Joe Canal’s packaged goods store on Route 1 just a stone’s throw from Uno. Practically every brew on the AC lineup is in their cold box, and some great ones that aren’t.


m1k3k said...

i agree 100% with the AC Fest. It's not worth it... just goto some local bars with good beer like Andy's in Bogota, Blind Tiger (NYC) and of course Philly


Anonymous said...

Is the beer free at the AC beer fest with a ticket?