THE CASK WHISPERER
Blog by Nigel Walsh
You Can Get There from Here, But…
This is part two of a two-part post, and this time we are heading to the northeast, into deepest Connecticut by both train and bus.
There are three current recurring cask ale festivals scattered throughout Connecticut that I have managed to get to repeatedly over the last two or three years. Two are easy to reach by the Metro-North New Haven line and the third by Peter Pan bus, with a bit of a walk afterwards; I would still consider each of these to be day trips.
An Afternoon of Casks
This event has been held inside the brewery building at Nod Hill Brewery in Ridgefield CT for the last two years, and was last held in March of this year.
To get there by public transportation, I take the Metro North New Haven line to Norwalk and then switch over to the Danbury ‘flyer’ connecting service, alighting at Branchville station. From there it is a couple of hundred yards walk up CT Route 7 to the brewery entrance.
Getting there in time for the start of the event is pretty easy, but I had to leave the event early (well, after three hours drinking… not so bad) in order to get a reasonable train back home; the Danbury train trundles back and forth between Norwalk and Danbury only four times a day, and to stay later would mean a two-hour wait for the last train heading back southbound.
The setting is beautiful; the brewery is located in a north-south steep-sided forested gulley, barely wide enough to accommodate the road and railway tracks.
As well as the taproom and another inside event space, the brewery also has a large seasonal beer garden outside, that was not open for the cask festivals due to the time of year, but is where they hold a lively Octoberfest each year, featuring several stichfast (German gravity kegs) with appropriate and delicious contents. There is live music most weekends of the year, both inside and out.
Cask beer is available year-round at the taproom, with a new cask tapped at least weekly; check Instagram. The beer served on their handpumps will always be a sessionable British style beer of good quality and presentation; they have recently acquired Cask Marque accreditation to testify to that fact.
The cask event itself features several of their own beers, both in cask and on the beer engines in the taproom, plus around twenty other casks from 10-12 regional Connecticut breweries, including the likes of OEC, Fox Farm and Kent Falls.
There is a wide variety of beer styles, ranging from milds and bitters to American IPAs, to lagers and kellerbiers, up to high-ABV stouts and barley wines. My favorite this past March was a 4.5% golden mild from Kent Falls Brewing, whereas the previous year it was a 14% brandy-barrel aged barley wine from Fox Farm Brewery.
They sell a limited number of tickets so that the event has a casual homey feel to it; book early to avoid disappointment.
Two Roads Cask Fest
Also, in March this year, Two Roads Brewing in Stratford CT celebrated their fourth annual cask festival. I discovered this one only last year but have been to both since then.
Metro North New Haven line to Stratford and an easy, flat, thirty-minute walk that takes you past the Stratford historic district.
The event is held in their Area Two Experimental Brewery, which is a spectacular space spread out over the brewing floor and barrel room, the mezzanine level taproom, outside deck, overhead gangway, and the roof deck.
The event is on a Friday evening, making a late day for those of us reverse commuting up from NYC, but well worth the trip… it is a lot of fun!
The beers are all brewed by Two Roads themselves and are mostly variants of their regular and seasonal beer ranges, and even their hard seltzer range!
Almost no beer is left untouched, all are given ridiculous combinations of additives and equally ridiculous names, all to go along with the theme of the event itself, which changes each year.
This is not an event for the beer purists, but it is great that the brewery does not take itself seriously with this, and even though all of the casks are of an ‘experimental’ nature, I have enjoyed each and every one that I sampled.
My favorites this past March were a raspberry kombucha/beer blend and Igor’s Dream, a 10.9% Imperial Russian Stout; unadorned but rebranded for the day as ‘dook dook dook’. Last year’s favorite went by the title ‘When Life Gives You Lemons, Paint This Cask Gold’ which was a lemon, mango, pineapple hard seltzer with Maui Waui hemp extract and edible glitter!
Silly but so much fun, and I am looking forward to seeing what they come up with next year.
Noah Webster Real Ale Harvest Fest
On September 9th this year the historic Noah Webster House in West Hartford CT will be holding their 7th Real Ale Harvest Festival, and like prior occurrences will be held in two sessions over the course of a Saturday afternoon and early evening.
I have always attended the early session that starts at 2pm, and intend to do so again this year.
I consider this to be a public transport day trip even though I was actually driven there and back by my long-suffering wife on several occasions. Last year I went solo, with a Peter Pan bus to Hartford Union station and a 4-mile walk each way to 227 South Main Street, West Hartford; there is a public bus that runs along my walking route, but I chose to ignore it and get some exercise.
There are typically 20-25 casks mostly from central and northern Connecticut breweries, and all brewed and/or finished with an ingredient grown in the gardens of the historic house, which is a museum that also serves as the West Hartford Historical Society.
So, expect herbs, vegetables, and fruit additions, but there are also wild hops grown in the hedges. It is the price of entry for the exhibiting brewers.
It is a lovely event, and it comes with a dose of history.
So, what about the destination events?
After this two-parter I have come to the conclusion that I cannot do the distance events any justice with just a link or two, so I will be dedicating a separate post to the weekenders.
Coming up… later.