THE CASK WHISPERER
Blog by Nigel Walsh
Fest Report: Noah Webster Real Ale Harvest Festival
My wife drove me to drink this past Saturday…
The occasion was the 8th Annual Noah Webster Real Ale Harvest Festival held at the historic Noah Webster House in West Hartford, Connecticut.
This was my fourth time attending, and even though I knew that I could get there by public transportation from NYC (bus to bus), I jumped at the chance when my wife volunteered to tag along as designated driver.
It was about a 2½ drive from the UES and the trip up was pretty uneventful with no real traffic issues once we got out of the city.
We arrived about 20 minutes before the 2pm opening time to find dozens of cars (both brewers and drinkers) already parked along both sides of South Main Street and a handful of eager punters hanging around the entrance waiting to be checked in.
There were two food trucks parked right outside the house, which I dutifully ignored for the three hours that I attended the event.
The check-in process was very quick and efficient when the allotted time came around, and soon I was wandering over to the beer tents looking for an obvious starter.
I was all set to start with an imperial stout as is my usual approach to these kinds of events, when I spotted that New England Brewing had brought along a tropical variant of their legendary Fuzzy Baby Ducks, a particular favorite of mine.
A quick sniff (mmmm) and a quick sip (mmmm) confirmed that it was the awesome brew that I know and love and that I already had one of my top-5 candidates chalked up.
With that out of the way we wandered over to a shady area at the back of the house where they had set up some tables and chairs, so that I could settle my wife in for the long haul and plan my next three hours.
Reading the brewery/beer list I discovered to my horror delight that there were about 35 beers on for the first session from the 18 local breweries and the one NYC interloper Singlecut; it was going to be a long haul for both of us.
Happily, for my wife, several other driver/drinker couples had the same idea as us, so she had company in her misery.
I had no plans on sampling every beer there but decided to split the session into five or six rounds of four to five beers per round, with a little socializing between each round.
Round 1 – Strong stuff and favorites.
It may have seemed to my wife as we headed for the shade that I was totally focused on that task, but no, I was quietly checking out all of the brewery offerings on our short walk and eyeing up those that I wanted to hit first.
And with that, I made a beeline for the Singlecut fest bier, followed closely by the New Park Brewing honey saison, the OEC black lager, and finally the Thomas Hooker mint chocolate imperial stout, which I brought back to the recovery area so that my wife could experience its minty chocolatey goodness. Just a sniff though; although my wife loves chocolate and mint, she is not a fan of beer and takes her designated driving very seriously.
Spotting that New Park had slipped in an extra unannounced gravity keg of fest bier, I penciled it into the beer list and made a mental note to try it out later.
Round 2 – The weird stuff.
During my first pass I couldn’t help but notice that several of the breweries had brought along some strange concoctions, and so decided to get some of those out of the way early on. My second pass then was to sample some of the more outrageous brews.
And the winner of the most “out there” category was the Combo #5 from Alvarium Brewing, a cross between an Italian pilsner and an Italian dressing (in a good way), it even came with a meat and cheese rollup on a stick if desired. I desired. It was the only solid food I consumed until we got home, much much later.
Next up was the Cool Ruler IPA from Watson Farmhouse, with a subtle fruity hint of blueberries and a very unsubtle hit of “ganja”. I loved it! The beer actually came together very well, brought a “happy” smile to my face, and made my top-5 list.
To round up my second round, I also sampled a blackberry maple oatmeal stout from Brewery Legitimus, a cherry dark wheat ale from Broken Symmetry, and an Elvis-inspired pale ale (banana, peanut, bacon), again from the wild and crazy folks at Alvarium.
Round 3 – The classics.
Time to dial back the silliness and go out in search of the often-overlooked gems; with that in mind, I started off the third round with a classic ESB from Nod Hill, tasty as ever, with just a hint of lemon verbena to satisfy the requirements for entry in the festival.
Next up was the Albus White Ale from OEC, which was by far the most complex beer of the entire event; a top-5 certainty that I ended up rating as my second favorite beer of the day.
My all-time favorite came next; that wooden gravity keg of märzen snuck in by New Park turned out to be the winner for me. It may not have made the official entry list, and it certainly bent the rules a little bit, but it was just perfect to style.
It was also very refreshing, which was getting to be much needed as the humidity was starting to ramp up.
With that in mind, I went back to Watson Farmhouse to sample their sour cherry Berliner Weiss, another wooden gravity keg and another super refreshing drop of beer.
Round 4 – Wait, did I miss a brewery?
By the fourth round, the completist in me started showing up, and I just had to try a beer from each brewery that I had not yet approached:
- A strawberry mango smoothie NEIPA from Aspetuck Brew Lab.
- The Berry Blush ale from Willimantic Brew.
- The honey fest bier from Counter Weight Brewing.
- The black walnut stout from Twelve Percent Beer Project.
- The pumpkin märzen from WeHa Brewing.
- The maple vanilla stout from East Hartford Brewing.
- Last, but not least the smoked pumpkin doppelbock from Hanging Hills, another top-5 beer for its lovely subtle smokiness.
Round 5 – Interesting stuff that I skipped earlier.
This was an attempt to go from tent to tent to make sure that any interesting beers did not slip through the cracks.
So, working my way alphabetically through the unchecked items on my scorecard, I found myself back at Alvarium, where they had a quite sensible peach, coconut, and vanilla IPA; indeed, very sensible and very tasty.
Back over to Brewery Legitimus for a peach mint blonde ale and a garden herb saison.
Next tent over for another blonde ale, this time dry hopped with coriander added, courtesy of Broken Symmetry.
A blueberry Oktoberfest from East Rock was the penultimate brew, before mopping up with another amazing Belgian style beer from OEC; this time a classic witbier with peaches added to the cask.
So, just like that, I had had my fill which was very convenient as it was fast approaching 5pm, the designated closing time for the first session of the festival.
It was another great cask festival, in which I managed to sample 29 very different brews of varying amounts of customization, all without any apparent ill effects on my part, thankfully.
Time to gas up and begin the drive home…
…or so we thought.
The timing was perfect, the humidity of the afternoon was starting to crystallize into threatening storm clouds that would end up bringing downpours to the evening session of the festival.
We were in the clear though, it was starting to rain, but we were rolling, until we got a little to the west of Waterbury where our trusty chariot started to misbehave; first the wipers took on a shaky life of their own, and then the interior and dashboard lights started shutting down one-by-one, and finally the car started slowly losing power until we were lucky enough to spot a small lay-by where it came to a halt.
A call to the insurance company, an hour-long wait for a tow into Waterbury where the car was unceremoniously deposited in front of a garage, hoping that they would be open for business on Sunday, unsuccessful attempts to secure a hotel room for the night, and finally an Uber to Waterbury Railroad Station where we waited for almost two more hours for the Waterbury Flyer to take us to the main line at Bridgeport, and then on to Grand Central and home… by 1am.
The car is still there, and at least it is being looked at, but if it does survive, we have to do the whole rail trip back in reverse to go fetch it.
Yep, my wife drove me to drink on Saturday, but we had to fall back on good old public transportation to get home again…
Scorecard w/e 09/12/23
In the past week, The Cask Whisperer has sampled and enjoyed all of the 29 casks checked on my ballot sheet @ The Noah Webster House
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