Hey everyone. It’s been awhile since I’ve updated and I just wanted to write a quick blog to check in. These past two weeks have been a wonderful mixture of busy and relaxing, but I’m ready to get back to work.

Fourth of July weekend was an overall success. The Goose Rocks Beach 5K was held on Sunday, July 5th and I set a new Personal Best, coming in at 23:14. That was good for 100th overall, out of over 700 runners. I saw the Portland Sea Dogs get pounded (dog pun) and two long fireworks shows. One highlight was listening to an enthusiastic old man sing all four verses of the Star Spangled Banner (who knew). A lowlight was being forced to endure “Proud to Be an American,” perhaps the worst song ever made by a human.

Lobster was eaten twice. Once from the shell and once on a lobster roll. I almost braved the McDonald’s lobster roll for my third of the trip, but I elected to wait until later in the summer for that one.

The reliability of available Allagash and Shipyard beers is an appreciated feature of traveling to Maine. I was sad to return home, but everything has a beginning and end.

I’ve got a lot of ideas for upcoming blog posts. The final trip reports for St. Petersburg, Helsinki and Stockholm are forthcoming, complete with photos of all your favorite Russian palaces, Finnish kites and that sexy Swedish infrastructure. I’ll be writing an analysis of Westeros from A Song of Ice and Fire (that’s Game of Thrones for all you illiterates). A longer rant about the South may be on the way, too. Marathon training begins next week and periodic updates are in the works. Plenty of other thoughts in the nascent stage, too.

Stay tuned for your regular programming.

Traveling to a new city? Gone are the days when you could seek out a relatively unknown local haunt with killer food and great drinks.

Looking for a secluded beach? Sure you can find one, and the reason it’s secluded is because it sucks.

Want to attend a festival? If it’s worth a damn, you can be sure it will be packed with folks just like you.

The internet, social media and review sites like Yelp have ushered in the hidden gem’s death. Millennials will never again experience the risk of venturing to some remote corner and braving an untested meal. Online reviews have all but ensured the cream rises and the shit falls. I assume the worst places are kept afloat by an older generation unaccustomed to deliberate option weighing, but eventually that will fade.

I don’t judge this trend too harshly. My valuable dollars are better spent on one sure thing than wading into a dozen streams hoping for a catch. Take craft beer, for example. An overwhelming influx of new breweries makes keeping track a challenge. Beer Advocate allows people to rate each brew they drink and turn their courage into a safe filter for those looking to try something delicious on the spot. I reference the site when I’m making decisions so I can derive maximum enjoyment for each beer I drink.

On the other hand, diving in without a safety net is thrilling. Life experiences are not only the highlights, but the lowlights. And the spaces in between. When you remove any uncertainty, you’re left with a flawed decision making mechanism. Choices we make, bad and good, shape us. Like immune systems, we need a little bit of bad luck in order to keep us alert and healthy. The stories resulting from an exceptionally crappy incident are often infinitely better than those where everything went off without a hitch. We miss those when we’re tiptoeing along the paths traveled before us.

My gripe is simpler, though. Everything is so damn crowded. Savvy planning packs key spots and events unlike ever before.

Big cities always have two major scenes, those for the tourists and those for the residents. Review sites have broken that barrier now, too. While kitschy eateries and famous bars drew visitors in the past, people now hunt for the most authentic experience. The result is more outsiders at beloved locales and locals looking for a new location to relocate.

Events are even worse. Take Disney’s International Food & Wine Festival. My first trip to the annual celebration was back in Oct. 2011. Three days in Florida during an off peak time allowed us to hit most major attractions in all four theme parks and still had time to enjoy the multicultural fare from Epcot’s food kiosks. The stark contrast between the thinness of those crowds relative to the busy summer months was a dream. Any stereotypes about long lines vanished before my eyes. Flash forward to 2013. In two short years, the secret was out. Disney marketing convinced people to vacation in the offseason and crowds approached early summer levels. This kept me far away in October 2014.

Closer to home, there was the infamous Bacon Fest NY 2012. Capitalizing on the incessant  trend of fetshisizing bacon that’s plagued our culture over the past five to ten years, someone decided this event had to exist. Organizers expected 500-1,000 people and planned accordingly. The result was almost 3,000. Jesus Christ, people. Bacon is good, sure, but does it require the over the top obsession we’ve placed on it? Featuring bacon in ice cream or beer or any other dish screams, “Look how hip we are.” Same goes for the hordes that get giddy over it.

Sorry for the interlude. Tangents will kill you. Especially while driving.

One can see this trend most conspicuously in the expansion of “Con” culture. Comic Conventions used to be havens for a certain sort of enthusiast, removed from the mainstream. Now San Diego Comic-Con attracts more people than ever before. And they aren’t just from nerd culture. The move towards mass appeal has opened the floodgates. Other less famous conventions, like NYCC, have seen visitor numbers swell recently. The result is more famous guests and exponentially longer lines.

If a person or place does something well today, you can be sure it’ll be mobbed tomorrow. Word of mouth spreads like stage four cancer. We have two choices: join the masses in an abbreviated high quality experience or slog through a mediocre one. Some things are worth doing, no matter how crowded. People will always make the trip out to the beaches on July 4th. Or to visit family on Long Island for Thanksgiving. No amount of assured stress deters them. But maybe, just maybe, every once in a while it’s worth removing the training wheels, going against the grain, cutting away the safety net and any other cliche in favor of creating your own unique adventure. It may just end in utter failure, but at least you’ll have a story for your valor.

Extreme Beer Fest
Beer Advocate held its 12th Annual Extreme Beer Fest this past weekend, sponsored by Dogfish Head Brewery. The event gathered over seventy American and Canadian craft breweries at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston, MA. As its name suggests, the beers featured tend to the more unique and experimental, pushing the limits of flavors, styles and ABV. There were 3 sessions: the opening one on Friday evening, then a Saturday afternoon and Saturday evening. We chose the Saturday afternoon due to potential supply concerns with the more popular beers.

The day started cold and wet. Apropos of a record breaking winter, Boston got more snow on the first day of Spring. This carried over to the morning of the event. The session started at 1pm, so we aimed to arrive just after noon to ensure a good place in line. There was already a sizable outdoor queue by about 12:10. An assortment of twenty-somethings decked out in denim and spring jackets formed a border around the venue as the snow waned from thick flakes to scattered flurries by the time we were ready to enter. Event workers meticulously checked IDs and scanned tickets ahead of time, so once the hour turned over, there was nothing left to do but flash your wristband, grab a cup and begin.

People had obviously planned out routes ahead of time. Our first stop was the Dogfish Head both prominently situated just inside the entrance. The 120 Minute IPA was an aged variety from their 2011 batch, clocking in somewhere around 20% ABV. I’ve had fresh bottles of more recent versions of the same beer. Fresh, it is very sweet and resembles a barleywine as much as a Double IPA. After tasting what four years of aging can do for this exceptional brew, I’m even more excited for the two bottles I’ve got in my own cellar. Really delicious stuff and I even went back for seconds later in the afternoon.

The highest Beer Advocate rating at EBF was Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout. I purposely read up on nothing ahead of time so I could remain unbiased as possible about all the wonderful (or not so great) beers. This lengthy line spoke for itself, however. We jumped on it while we were drinking our 120s, so it wasn’t more than 2 or 3 minutes past 1 o’clock. The guy just behind us lamented his spot and pondered loudly if they’d be out by the time we reached the counter. Even moving efficiently, it still took almost ten minutes for the line to disappear in front of us. The situation was not quite so dire as the guy predicted and we successfully secured pours of the 8th highest rated beer in the world. I can say with confidence, it’s the best Stout I’ve ever had. The blend of coffee and chocolate flavors, finished with maple, really deserves a dedicated review. In short, if you’re lucky enough to find it, buy as much as they’ll allow.

There were several other notable beers throughout the day, but those first two made an impression and really set the tone for a quality event. It was nice to see Newburgh Brewing Company well represented and discover many other breweries I hadn’t heard of before. My biggest complaint would be a lack of diverse food offerings, but I realize that’s not the aim. They did have oysters, though, which actually was a nice deviation from the usual fried foods and pretzels.

Last call was promptly at 4:30. I had just reached the front of a line when the half hour struck and was cut off. They allow you an additional 30 minutes inside the venue before they start to move everyone towards the exits. The buffer was a nice touch and probably alleviated a lot of stress.

I’ve been to several beer fests over the past few years and can’t recommend the Beer Advocate events enough. Both the American Craft Beer Fest last May and this Extreme Beer Fest were impeccably managed events a step above the norm. Despite large, eager crowds and tons of alcohol, the venue remained easy to navigate and clean for the length of the afternoon. It’s nice to have actual representatives from the respective breweries ready to answer questions, as opposed to event volunteers who have no connection or knowledge. Everyone was very courteous to each other. Lines moved quickly. Aside from a few highly coveted beers, stocks remained readily available from start to finish. If you have the chance, I highly recommend attending EBF and ACBF in the future.