The best part of Max Oswald’s Saturday afternoon was handing someone a beer and then following it up with the same beer, this one hand-pumped without any carbon dioxide.
“I’d tell them it’s the same beer and then watch their face,” he said, widening his eyes with delighted surprise. “They’re like, ‘No way, this is not the same beer.’ ”
The Olde Saratoga Brewing Co. teamed up with Adirondack Brewery in Lake George to create a cherry porter beer specifically for Beer Week, which kicked off Monday. Oswald, the sales and marketing representative for the Saratoga brewery, was pleased to see so much fanfare over the special blend at the week’s final event — the Saratoga Beer Summit.
About 3,000 people turned out Saturday afternoon for the summit, a two-part event held inside the City Center, where more than 150 different beers were served by 76 craft breweries across the nation — from Saratoga Springs all the way to Portland, Ore.
These events are par for the course for well-established breweries. Over the years, the Olde Saratoga Brewing Co. has served up beer at similar events and plenty of festivals, but it wanted to do something special for the weeklong event that launched just last year in its hometown.
So it sent its brewmaster up to Lake George with some old Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrels filled with Imperial Stout for a year, then blended the cherry porter into it and cask-conditioned the brew, before adding final touches of yeast and fruit flavors.
“A lot of times we’ll go with one or two beers,” Oswald said as people lined up in front of several taps behind him. “But this time, because it’s our hometown, we’ve got nine beers here, almost everything we make, and we’ve got the cask-conditioned beers. I’m dipping cups in chocolate and orange sugar and blending them in the beers so people get another sort of sensory experience. So this is especially great for us.”
In its second year, Saratoga Beer Week has already become a signature local event. Co-founders Garth Ellms and A.J. Bodden launched it last year as a three-day weekend event, but found that more people turned out than they could fit. And some of the restaurants and bars that hosted beer-related events had hoped for more intimate crowds rather than packed houses.
In addition to a successful first run, Ellms believes this year’s Beer Week is bigger and better because of all the new craft breweries popping up and the growing hype over the craft beer trend. The summit hosted 16 to 20 new breweries this year, half of which were new to the industry and the other half established but new to the event.
“We’ve got a lot of comments about how many new breweries we have here this year,” said Ellms. “Saratoga has really put itself on the map as a good craft beer city, and there’s so many new breweries, so people are always excited that there’s always going to be new beer and more beer.”
One of the new additions to this year’s Beer Week was Druther’s Brewing Co., a Saratoga Springs brewery that opened last August and is already a hit on weekends and at local events like Saratoga Chowderfest, last month’s Chili Bowl in Schuylerville and last week’s Mac-n-Cheese Bowl in Albany.
At Saturday’s summit, co-owner Brian Martell was shuffling his way between handing out chili samples and filling glasses with a cocoa brown or IPA blend. He was glad to finally be featured at an event that was all about beer.
“It seems to be going pretty well, but for the second half ,we might have to switch to our stout,” he said. “We brought an extra bag of that because the IPA’s our best seller. That’s just kind of how the beer world is right now. But our stout’s pretty good, too.”
The Beer Summit is held in two separate sessions. About 1,500 people filled the City Center for three hours Saturday, sampling beers and checking out koozies, bottle openers, funnels, cigars and other knickknacks. Around 4 p.m., the center cleared out to let another 1,500 people in for three hours.
Jasmine Tucker was visiting her boyfriend, Ted Loney, in Albany for the weekend, and the pair thought they would venture out to Saratoga Springs for Beer Week. Last summer, they attended the Portland BrewFest in Maine, and while still too young to consider themselves beer connoisseurs, they decided they would give another festival a try.
“In Portland, we had to wait in line for like 20 minutes, a half-hour,” said Loney, 29. “It seems much more organized here, and the lines are going smoothly.”
Loney’s favorite sample Saturday was the special cherry porter blend by Olde Saratoga Brewing Co. and Adirondack Brewery. Tucker, a wine enthusiast, was just glad to find a beer whose flavor was neither too hoppy nor too light.
“People seem more knowledgeable about the beer here,” said Loney. “You know, they’ll give you the beer and then give you a little knowledge behind it, where it comes from and how it tastes.”
Ellms estimated that about 6,000 people turned out for the weeklong event, with another 3,000 attending the Saturday summit. About 400 hotel rooms were booked specifically for attendees of Beer Week, as well.