Fall in New England means two things – leaves changing colors and fairs! Pick any weekend in September or October and you’re sure to find at least one town fair going on. Town fairs can be a nice time – quaint with animals, a few carnival rides, and some fried goodies. However, fellow New Englanders know that the fair of all fairs is The Big E in West Springfield, Mass.
Known as “New England’s Great State Fair,” The Big E serves as the state fair for Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Represented at the Avenue of States, each state has a replica of their statehouse where vendors promote the heritage, tourism, and foods of their state. For example, the Vermont building promotes Ben & Jerry’s Ice cream, cheese, and maple syrup while the Connecticut building promotes tobacco, Lego, and Pez. Over the last few years, more and more craft breweries have had a presence at The Big E making it a great destination for craft beer lovers. Our hope is that this post will help you map out what we’re calling “The Big E Beer Trail.”
Let’s start our tour by strolling through each state building before tackling the midway. At the rear of the Connecticut building, you will find the Connecticut Beer Garden (#CTBeerGarden), which features 12 different Connecticut breweries (cue the choir of angels). Thankfully you can order a beer at The Big E at 10:30 in the morning without judgment. We ordered an Ok2berfest from Two Roads Brewing Company and a Skinny Love White IPA from Overshores Brewing Company. Both good beers to kick off a day of drinking.
After you’ve finished sipping on your CT beers, make your way to the Vermont building where you can enjoy some offerings from Shed, Otter Creek Brewing Co., and Long Trail Brewing Company. You may have some difficulty making a decision since they have eight beers to choose from. No worries – you can ask for recommendations and samples from the bartenders. With the help of the lovely ladies at the taps, we ordered a Backseat Berner by Otter Creek Brewing Co. and Green Blaze IPA by Long Trail Brewing Company. Both IPAs were juicy with a refreshing citrus/tropical flavor.
Unfortunately, Connecticut and Vermont were the only states that were serving beers inside the state buildings. Admittedly, we were both pretty bummed that Maine and Rhode Island did not have a few of their breweries pouring at The Big E. Hopefully that will change in time.
Once you are outside of the state buildings, there are several places you can order your local craft beers. Directly across from the state buildings is the Samuel Adams Beer Garden, where you can order Cheers to 100 Years. This is a golden ale brewed by Sam Adams to commemorate the 100th year of The Big E. Pretty cool, huh?
Just a short walk away from the Sam Adams Beer Garden is the New England Craft Beer Pub. This pub has sixteen – yes, SIXTEEN – different New England beers on tap with every New England state represented. It is very hard to make a decision, but since the pub is located in an easily accessible area, you can keep going back when you need a refill. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can order a beer-a-misu from their pub menu. We settled on the Foolproof Peanut Butter Raincloud Porter and the Notch Infinite Jest Wheat Beer. The porter was very unique with a nice smoky peanut butter finish. The Notch was light and refreshing – it also pairs nicely with a corn dog.
There are several other buildings to explore at The Big E including the Mallory Gallery (OMG so many cute animals to pet), the Better Living Building (where you can buy anything you see on TV), and the International Building, which is where we were pleasantly surprised. As we walked into the International Building, we were immediately greeted by a display for Spencer Brewery. Located in Spencer, Mass., it is the only Trappist brewery outside of Europe and is not open to the public. For $10, you can sit with one of the Trappist monks who will educate you on the history of the Trappist method of brewing and the proper way to enjoy their beers. Your $10 also includes a glass, bottle opener, and a Spencer beer.
It did not take much to convince us to shell out $20, and while we waited for our 1:30 time slot, we enjoyed a $10 flight of five Spencer beers. This was very exciting since #1. we had only tried the Spencer Trappist Ale prior to this, and #2. Spencer just started distributing in Connecticut in the last few weeks, making it somewhat hard to find. Spencer beers have a higher carbonation, which gives them a different mouthfeel than you might expect. The five beers we tried were all very flavorful with distinct, but not overwhelming, tastes. The Trappist Festive Lager, which stood out for both of us, was an enjoyable Oktoberfest without being overly sweet. If the 30-minute class on Trappist brewing is not your thing, at least try a flight of their offerings. Sidebar – while you are in the International Building, be sure to check out the Guinness Irish Pub.
As you continue to walk around The Big E, you’ll find several places to purchase your craft beers. There’s an Oktoberfest beer garden in the food court area where the Hofbrauhaus of West Springfield is pouring Mai Bock, Spatan Octoberfest, and our personal fav – a grapefruit radler. So refreshing after walking 5 or 6 miles around the fair. Be sure to check out their beer-a-mid while you’re there. E.B.’s Food For Fun, also located in the food court, serves Berkshire Brewing Company beers with their fried delicacies.
Still haven’t found the beer you’re looking for? Don’t give up hope yet! There is the Craft Beers of America tent attached to the The Big E Martini Bar that serves brews from Harpoon, Shiner Beers, Sierra Nevada, Switchback, Magic Hat, Ithaca Beer Co., and Wormtown Brewery. The Big E also has at the Yuengling Pottsville, PA Brew Pub where you can choose from 7 different Yuengling beers on draft and in bottles. There’s also the Student Prince’s Wurst Haus where you can purchase your 28-ounce “beer boot” for just $15 that you can wear around your neck once you’ve finished. Admittedly, we are both disappointed in ourselves for not getting a “beer boot.”
Finally, there is the Opa Opa Craft Beer Saloon. A Big E tradition for us, walking into the Opa Opa tent feels like you’re walking into an old west saloon with hay bales, barrels, and kegs for seating with country music turned up to 11. Opa Opa is pouring several delicious beers including their Red Rock Amber, Blueberry Lager, Oktoberfest, Raspberry Wheat, Milk Stout, and Watermelon Ale just to name a few. A must for a beautiful fall day is their Pumpkin Pale Ale with the cinnamon and sugar rim. Watch out for a bit of stickiness though.
She says: “I’m biased, but The Big E is always a great time to enjoy some deep fried foods and delicious beers with your friends. Sure you’re paying $7 or $8 per beer, but it’s all about the experience.”
He says: “It’s an overstimulation of the tastebuds not to be missed.”
The Big E is running through Sunday, October 2. So plan your trip soon, or you’ll have to wait until September 2017! It’s only $15 for a day pass or $6 after 5 p.m. during the week. Who knows, we might be heading back up there this weekend to get our “beer boot.” Cheers!
The Big E
875 Memorial Avenue
West Springfield, MA 01089