Blog by Nigel Walsh


The Cask Whisperer Tackles the Tough Subjects: Novelty Casks



Blog by Nigel Walsh


The Cask Whisperer Tackles the Tough Subjects: Novelty Casks

After last week’s Real Ale Harvest Festival in deepest Connecticut last week, I bet I know the question that is on everybody’s lips…

… no no no! Not, how is your car doing?

The important question is, what does the Cask Whisperer think about novelty casks?

You know, those perfectly good classic brews that are combined in the cask with all manner of found objects; not limited to actual foodstuffs.

You would think that as an old school (with the emphasis on old) real ale consumer and early adoptee of the CAMRA philosophy, you would excuse me for turning my nose up after finding an after-dinner mint in my robust porter.

But you wouldn’t have to; I would certainly get a kick out of it in the right circumstances, and would probably enjoy it in small measures, although I do not see myself sitting down to a session on Minty Boy Porter in my local.

So, what would I consider to be the right circumstances?

Certainly, an event like last week, where the cost of entry for the brewers was to include an ingredient from the historical garden, and the intrigue for me was how many would try to incorporate “compatible” products, and how many would just put on their crazy hats. I would say it was about 50-50 last week.

I loved the event, as did all of the attendees that I noticed; there were no loud grumblings about purity laws and we all got into the real spirit of the event, from both sides of the serving tables.

That is the key for me, cask beer is fun!

Whether it is a quiet four or five-pint session of a low-ABV English bitter at the bar in Jones Wood Foundry, or 20-25 tasters of all manner of potentially stomach-churning beer cocktails while hanging with like-minded souls.

And those like-minded souls would all seem to agree.

Although the official 2023 Cask Champion was the Saison Eloise (Rosemary, Sage, and Thyme) from Brewery Legitimus, the 2023 Tasters Choice from the punter ballots turned out to be the wonderfully bizarre Combo #5 from Alvarium – yes, there is room for Italian seasoning in the occasional cask!

Now having said all that, my personal favorite was the strait-laced festbier from New Park Brewing, but importantly, I enjoyed every drop of every brew that passed my lips.

I have also enjoyed adulterated casks on other occasions, such as when a brewery has a periodic pin on the bar for a Firkin-Friday type event and has decided to give it a special hop treatment (or something more exotic) to make it unique.

Both Big Alice and Strong Rope have done this in the past and hopefully will continue this practice in the future, and I have also stumbled over similar “events” on my travels around the NYC area, such as at Gentle Giant Brewing in Pearl River, NJ.

Depending on the degree of adulteration, I would usually end up having a pint or four.

When I lived in DC, Bluejacket brewery was always on my regular rounds, and they used to take their Essex ESB and tweak it with an offsetting dry hop on occasion, giving it a (mostly) subtle variation in taste and character; I have enjoyed it with EKG, Fuggle, Citra, Loral, Challenger and even Hersbrucker, none of which was shabby and all resulted in a productive session at the bar.

They did the same with their Coaltown dark mild, which also had variants with Azacca, Spalter and even cacao nibs once, all delicious. The cinnamon/fireball variant may have been going a little too far, but only because it would have been hellish to clean out the pipes afterwards.

So, brewers do your worst; just know that whatever you want to do with your cask, it is your cask after all, and if I get wind of its existence, I will turn up and drink it, and enjoy it, and I will not grumble about it afterwards.

Now about that car…

… it thoroughly enjoyed its weeklong rest and recuperation in Connecticut and is now back lurking on the mean streets of Manhattan, waiting to be called into action for its next foray into the wild northern lands.

Which is scheduled to be October 14th in Utica, New York, for the 8th Annual New York State Cask Ale Festival at Woodland Farm Brewery.

Scorecard w/e 09/19/23

In the past week, The Cask Whisperer has enjoyed the following casks:

  • Dutchess GB (?) @ Jones Wood Foundry

And remembered the following casks:

  • Brewery Legitimus Saison Eloise @ The Noah Webster House
  • Alvarium Combo #5 @ The Noah Webster House
  • New Park Brewing Marzen @ The Noah Webster House
  • Bluejacket Essex @ Bluejacket
  • Bluejacket Coaltown @ Bluejacket

Upcoming Cask Festivals

10/14/2023: 8th Annual New York State Cask Ale Festival at Woodland Farm Brewery

11/4/2023: 19th Annual Blue Point Cask Ales Festival


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