At a beer festival with dozens of kiosks, strategy is key: First, mark down those you want to hit, because trying all the beer is not an option. Then rejig your plans to join the occasional line, usually a sign of something cool or different.
At OctFest, a confluence of 70-plus breweries in early September on Governors Island in New York Harbor, one of the longest queues stretched in front of Taihu Brewing from Taiwan. Once you made it to the front, a wiry guy manning the taps held out a cup of what appeared to be prunes. “Smell this,” he said.
They were prunes, sort of -- smoked plums used to flavor a tart smoked plum gose that he then decanted into waiting glasses.
At the two-day OctFest last weekend, beer, music and food were brought together in almost equal measures. Despite an eclectic musical lineup (Vince Staples, Jeff Tweedy and Chic all shared the bill), the quiet stars of the drizzly weekend were brewers from lesser-known regions such as Mexico, South America, Asia and Africa, that are rare to find on taps in this country.
There was dunkel, or dark lager, brewed in Monterrey, Mexico by Cerveza Mexicana Bocanegra; hoppy extra pale ale from Shanghai’s Boxing Cat Brewery; a pilsner named Panga Drops from Nicaragua Craft Beer Co.; and weissbier from South Africa’s Cape Brewing Company. As on these shores, IPA and sours proliferated — a kiwi sour from New Zealand’s Good George Brewing and Sour Violet Rouge, from Brazil’s Cervejaria Wäls, had snaking lines of their own.
“We wanted to curate beer from every continent,” said Megan Lagesse, head of communications for craft at Anheuser-Busch, who organized OctFest via its culture and beer arm, October, along with Pitchfork magazine. “We have 35 craft partners globally, and each of them invited a friend.”
“Partners” in this case means the craft breweries that AB InBev owns. (Long Island's Blue Point Brewing Company, which also poured at OctFest, is one.) Lagesse is aware of the David and Goliath dynamic that has long existed between devotees of independent craft breweries and industry giants such as AB InBev. At OctFest — intentionally, or not — those lines were blurred.