THE CASK WHISPERER
Blog by Nigel Walsh
Fest Report: 8th Annual Woodland Farm NYS Cask Ale Festival
This one should have been a doddle.
I had already attended four prior NYS Cask Ale Festivals (2018, 2019, 2020 stupid covid, 2021 and 2022) at Woodland Farm in Marcy NY and had the routine down pat.
I would get into my trusty steed, drive four plus hours up to Utica, check into the Red Roof Inn, change into weather-appropriate clothing and then hike three miles up (really up … up all the way) the road to the farm, where I would see the big beer tent standing proudly in the mud, awaiting my custom.
My trusty (?) steed wasn’t having it this time, and once again I had to rely on mass transportation to get me to the beer and back.
So that is how I found myself in the depths of the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 1:30am this past Saturday, waiting for the red-eye to Syracuse with connection back to Utica.
And that is how I found myself at 9:15am this past Saturday, in desperate search for a bucket of coffee and some nibbles to line my stomach for the beery quest ahead of me.
Once those preliminaries were out of the way, it was time for the climb; the motel could wait till later, there was beer to enjoy.
Google always insists that it would take me an hour and twenty minutes to struggle up the hill, but I always beat it by half an hour, despite my less-than-optimal physical condition.
So, at 45 minutes in, as I came over the top of the hill (phew, finally) I saw the farm, but no tent! Where is the tent? Don’t tell me I got the date wrong after promoting it here for the last month.
Things looked much more promising as I arrived at the brewery and there were picnic tables and benches and a firepit all ready to go in the relatively non-muddy field outside.
The brewery was open, so I strolled right in even though I was a little early and was happy to see eleven (there would be two more late arrivals) casks of all sizes lined up on the bar, and good folks waiting to check me in… yep, I was first there, cheers Google.
I had no attack plan this time, other than finding the strongest most dangerous beer for my first pour, as is my custom.
And that beer was absolutely brilliant; LB Lives, a 10% English barleywine from Woodland Farm themselves. It tasted like it had spent some time hanging around in a barrel before being committed to cask, but apparently that wasn’t the case; it was very complex, malty and sweetish up front, with all kinds of dried fruit flavors in the middle, some lurking smoky oakiness, and a nice lingering bitterness at the finish. And it really was a dangerous beer to start off the session, as it was a full pour… the first of many… the taps kept getting stuck… yeah.
I planted myself on a high seat at the nearest high table to the bar and settled in for the duration. This was going to be a comfortable session, no muddy quagmire, no damp shoes and socks afterwards, plenty of room and time to sip my beer, socialize with my neighbors and listen to the awesome band.
It was just as well that I hiked in, as I wasn’t going to get much exercise for the next four hours, except for alternating between the casks from either end of the bar when possible.
I am not going to describe all of the beers, they are listed below for those interested, but will mention some themes and highlights.
The beer list was very well curated with many different styles of beer, from hoppy to roasty to fruity to funky to downright beery … yay, two brown ales!
What they did have in common was their place of origin; with just two outliers (NYC and Vermont), the majority of the breweries represented all came from the Mohawk Valley/I-90 corridor between Cooperstown in the East to Syracuse in the West.
For every out-there Szechuan peppercorn stout (delicious from Willow Rock) there was an antidote, in the form of a traditional English bitter/pub ale or German festbier.
There was only one IPA, a juicy fruity hazy from Prison City that had a real distinct funk that I initially thought was brett but was just the hop combination (Vic Secret and El Dorado) and the brewer’s magic.
Woodland Farm’s blonde ale had similar juicy-fruity-funky characteristics but was brewed with a completely different hop combination (Sabro and Triumph) and Citra dry-hopping.
Significantly, these last two were the beers that I went back for at the end of the session. I wanted to taste them again side-by-side and wanted that fruity funkiness to be the taste that I went home with.
Buried Acorn brought along a wonderfully complex mixed-fermentation farmhouse ale, that turned out to be my second favorite.
The overall winner for me was the marshmallow brown ale from Woodland Farm, that managed to taste like hazelnut coffee without any hazelnuts or coffee being used in its production. It had a beautiful, tasty balance to it, much more than the sum of its parts.
I thought that I had paced myself quite well, considering the generous “small pours” and “half pours”, but then the two “lost” casks from Heritage Hill turned up and were immediately tapped, and they tipped the balance away from the traditional towards the “interesting”.
There was a coconut pastry stout that was sweet and creamy and boozy (my wife would have loved it if she liked beer), and a pre-prohibition lager with a very robust addition of fiery habaneros; I immediately had both but went searching for antidotes after each one.
It took two to reset my palette after the habaneros, but the cherry stout from Stout Beard finally did the job.
Well look at that, it appears that I have mentioned all of the beers after all.
The event was terrific!
My pacing was perfect; I had just finished my two double-ups as my self-imposed four-hour limit expired.
And so, I gave thanks to my hosts and said my farewells, and staggered strolled outside to begin my three-mile roll downhill in search of takeout and my bed for the night.
The trip home was uneventful, the Greyhounds were on time, the connection at Albany allowed me enough time to do my ten-minute tourist thing; boy, that is some hill going up to the State House…
… and once again my car has miraculously recovered, until…
Scorecard w/e 10/17/23
In the past week, The Cask Whisperer has enjoyed the following casks:
- Threes Tiny Montgomery Autumn @ Jones Wood Foundry
- Strong Rope A Mild Journey @ Jones Wood Foundry
And sampled (ha!) the following casks at the 8th Annual NYS Cask Ale Festival:
- Woodland Farm Brewery: LB Lives
- Woodland Farm Brewery: Simplicity of Light (w/ Citra)
- Woodland Farm: Black Hole in my Mind (w/ Marshmallow)
- Willow Rock: Hot Assassin Stout
- Prison City: Linus Loves Juicy (w/ Fruit Tea)
- Buried Acorn: Intergumentary Funk
- Heritage Hill: Coconut Cluster
- Heritage Hill: Pompey Born Lager (w/ Habaneros)
- Red Shed: Shepherd’s Hollow
- Red Shed: Geordie Boy (w/ Pumpkin Spice)
- Stout Beard: Mason Cherry Stout
- Von Trapp: Oktoberfest (w/ Tettnanger)
- Threes: Tiny Montgomery Autumn
Upcoming Cask Festivals
11/4/2023: 19th Annual Blue Point Cask Ales Festival