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For the past decade, Extreme Beer Fest in Boston has been the spot to snag the strangest, rarest, and most innovative beers from around the world. Presented by Beer Advocate, the festival is a mecca for beer thrill-seekers. It's all about creativity: you might spot a French Toast brown ale next to a Carrot Cake IPA.
In a room packed with 3,500 fellow beer enthusiasts, I embarked on a 3-hour tasting session, accessorized with a string necklace adorned with miniature pretzels. (I was told by a festival veteran it was absolutely necessary to have snacks readily available. He was right.)
After sampling dozens of beers and nibbling my way through three pretzel necklaces, I couldn't stop thinking about these 10, the most interesting—and delicious—beers I discovered at the Extreme Beer Fest.
Funky Buddha French Toast Double Brown Ale
This Florida brewery's booth consistently had the longest line at at the festival, and everything they poured was insanely delicious. Their French Toast Double Brown Ale is a must-have. The beer smells amazingly similar to a stack of buttery, maple syrup-doused French toast. It's creamy and decadent, with a balanced blend of cinnamon, vanilla, and rich maple syrup flavor. Despite all that, the beer isn't overly sweet, but at 8% ABV, it would probably be wise to stick to the real deal first thing in the morning.
Dark Horse This Little Piggy Went to Dark Horse
Yep, there seemed to be a bit of a breakfast theme going on at this year's fest. This beer is worth trying for aroma alone: it smells just like bacon fat sizzling on the stove. And the flavor of smoked meat in this beer is undeniable. Despite the smoky edge, this beer is drinkable (and for the festival, downright light at 6.5% ABV.)
Carton Brewing Regular Coffee
This beer from New Jersey's Carton Brewing Company (in collaboration with Fair Mountain Coffee Roasters) was without question one of my favorites of the fest. Its light caramel color tricked me into thinking I'd be drinking a low alcohol pale ale, but its 12% ABV says otherwise. The flavor was unlike any Cream Ale I've tried, vividly recalling coffee with milk and two sugars, with full flavor that wasn't overwhelmed by coffee bitterness. This beer masked its alcohol well, and was remarkably easy-drinking
Cigar City Margarita Gose
This one was a straight-up brilliant idea: a unfiltered wheat-based session beer that's quite tart and a little sweet, with the salty character that gose is known for, taken one step further with a burst of lime flavor reminiscent of a classic margarita. They get the cocktail flavor by hand-zesting pounds of lime and orange. At just 4.5% ABV, Margarita Gose should be a poolside favorite, a vacation in a bottle.
Evil Twin Even More Jesus
The dark Imperial Stout from Denmark's Evil Twin Brewery smelled like everything you'd want in a dessert—toasted graham crackers, slightly bitter chocolate, dark fruits, molasses, and even a touch of smoke. The first sips were malty and full of sweet chocolate flavors, with hints of vanilla with a warm alcohol finish. This is a delicious beer that could convert people who don't love Imperial Stouts.
Jack's Abby Baby Maker
This Massachusetts-brewed Euro Strong Lager (clocking in at 14% ABV) was aged for nine months in bourbon barrels, and it's perhaps the most complex beer we sampled at EBF. It's a great example of how complex lagers can be in the right hands. It offers caramel and vanilla sweetness, dark fruit and bourbony flavors. The earthy undertones make this beer tricky to pin down...so you'll just have to have another glass.
Hardywood Park Bourbon Gingerbread Stout
Sweeter stouts made many appearances at this year's Extreme Beer Fest, and this beer from Richmond, Virginia's Hardywood Park Craft Brewery was a winning entry, tasting like Christmas in a bottle (with 10% ABV.) Rich ginger flavors intertwine with hints of vanilla, cinnamon and other spices with a rich, chocolatey finish. Aging the stout in bourbon barrels gives the beer balanced bourbon undertones that don't overpower any of the lighter flavors.
The Bruery Chocolate Rain
You would think that a beer with 19.5% ABV would be overwhelming and out of balance, but this boozy brew from Orange County impressed. Although the high alcohol content was obvious in both taste and smell, it actually doesn't overwhelm the experience. It's all about bitter chocolate and dark fruit flavors, with hints of bourbon and toffee finished off with a punch of alcohol. Sip slowly.
Brasserie Dunham The Second Coming of Broderus
Saisons didn't pop up that frequently at EBF, but this Quebeçois offering was a top-notch find. In collaboration with Kissmeyer Beers of Denmark, the Canadian brewery took a classic Saison style and winterized it with maple syrup, pomegranate, and spices to create a fantastic funky brew with a super-rich texture.
Funky Buddha No Crusts
We liked Funky Buddha's beers so much that we had to put two on this list. This mind-blowing brew explodes with peanut butter aromas with hints of grape jelly and even some bread, instantly taking drinkers back to childhood PB&J lunches. Everyone we saw sampling the beer had the same reaction—surprise, confusion, then an expression of amazement. It's incredible. Unfortunately Funky Buddha rarely bottles, so you'd have to make a trip down to Oakland Park, FL to experience this brewery's off-the-wall creations, but it'd be more than worth it.
About the Author: Cameron Simcik is a longtime food and beverage writer with a passion for heavy stouts and all things coffee. She lives in Philadelphia and loves traveling. You can reach her on Twitter at @cameronsimcik.