The 2017 Extreme Beer Festival in Boston, Massachusetts, offered attendees access to some of the rarest and most sought-after beers in the country, from Kane Sunday Brunch to Lost Abbey Veritas 018 to Prairie Artisan Ales Pirate Paradise. But while some people spent upwards of 20 minutes in lines for the heavy hitters, we approached many of the smaller breweries and walked right up to the tables. Not only were the brewers more available to chat, but they often let us stick around and try their entire lineup. We’re not saying you should skip the line at Funky Buddha (we’d never say that!), but if you want to find the next Dogfish Head, you should focus on the underground and underrated. Here are some of the best beers to look for from this year’s fest.
Best of Fest
Burley Oak, Berry Cherry J.R.E.A.M.
Opened: 2011 in Berlin, MD
Ladies and gentlemen, we found our winner. “Best of Fest” goes to Burley Oak’s Berry Cherry J.R.E.A.M., part of the brewery’s fruited ale series. This incarnation blends raspberries and tart, sour cherries into a puree, which is then added to a kettle soured beer with lactose. The result is a creamy brew that tastes like an adult milkshake. Although we enjoyed every beer we tried at the festival, this was the only one we tried twice.
Magnify, Hype Train
Opened: 2015 in Fairfield, NJ
We’re all aboard with Hype Train, a triple IPA aged on mangoes and passionfruit from New Jersey’s Magnify Brewing. Unlike most triple IPAs, which taste bitter and boozy, Hype Train is a smooth ride all the way into the station.
Civil Society, Seventh Wonder
Opened: 2015 in Jupiter, FL
It’s not easy to pull off a well-balanced, juicy double IPA, which is why beers like The Alchemist’s Heady Topper and Lawson’s Finest Liquids Sip of Sunshine are surrounded by so much hype. It’s also why we love Seventh Wonder by Civil Society. Keep an eye on this Florida brewery–beer this good won’t stay underground for long.
Bent Water Brewing, Acid Courage
Opened: 2016 in Lynn, MA
For a brewery listed on Craft Beer Cellar’s controversial “do not sell” list, Bent Water showed up with a chip on their shoulder. Imagine sitting on a porch in western Massachusetts on a sunny summer day. Breathe the fresh air, smell the dandelions. Now imagine drinking that scene. Sure, it requires a little imagination, but the endlessly evocative Acid Courage from Bent Water in Lynn, Massachusetts, makes it easy.
Barreled Souls, Rum Barrel Aged Honey Pot
Opened: 2014 in Saco, ME
Before the festival, we’d never heard of Barreled Souls, a small brewery outside of Portland, Maine, that got started in 2014 by two grade school friends. But as February approached, all the beer connoisseurs we knew kept saying the same thing: find the Barreled Souls booth and try everything. We did, and we weren’t disappointed. From the unpronounceable Teotihuacan spicy Mexican chocolate stout to the perfumed Space Gose, every Barreled Souls beer delighted our tastebuds, but we have a special place in our hearts for their Rum Barrel Aged Honey Pot, a silky smooth 15 percent ABV seductress.
Trophy Brewing, Monkey Way
Opened: 2012 in Raleigh, NC
A salted caramel stout with bananas, Monkey Way tastes like a cold Bananas Foster. When I asked co-owner Chris Powers about the beer, he pulled out his cell phone and said, “You won’t need any quotes after you see this picture.” What was it of? A bunch of brewery employees sitting around a food-grade trash can, which contained over 750 peeled bananas. This is one southern brewery that we’re going to keep watching.
Kent Falls, Variant 4
Opened: 2015 in Kent, CT
If everybody was as nice as Kent Falls owner Barry Labendz, the world would be a much more pleasant place. The brewery, located on a farm in Connecticut, puts out funky beers like Variant 4, a dark strong ale fermented with Brettanomyces, aged on peaches, and matured in peach brandy barrels. If it’s complexity you’re after, skip the therapy session and pop the cap off a beer from Kent Falls.
Four Quarters, Tomato Basil Fleur De Lis
Opened: 2014 in Winooski, VT
Four Quarters comes to you straight outta Winooski, Vermont, and although they’re young, they’re not afraid to get a little weird. This spirit of experimentation pays off in beers like the Tomato Basil Fleur De Lis, a saison fermented in oak and conditioned on roasted tomatoes and fresh basil. It tastes exactly like it sounds: a little tomato, a little basil, with some spicy floral quality from the saison yeast. In other words, delicious.