THE CASK WHISPERER
Blog by Nigel Walsh
2023 – A Year in Cask
It took a lot of nudging to get the Cask Whisperer off of his butt and to get fingertips to the keyboard, but once that feat had been accomplished, I decided to set myself a weekly challenge, to churn out nonsensical drivel provide enriching and educational content, concerning current adventures and opportunities in the land of casks (cough!), and half-remembered misadventures from the recent and distant past in places far from here (NYC UES), all while keeping an eye on future cask-related beer events.
Well, the challenge continues; since the first post was published back in June 13th, 2023, I have somehow managed to keep up with the self-imposed weekly deadline for 29 straight weeks… you can probably tell from the somewhat variable quality of the output…
I was thinking this week of just summarizing or rehashing those posts as a sort of greatest hits package; look it is New Years Eve as I am typing this, and I am three whiskey-macs in the hole, with a champagne-like beer scheduled to be consumed in a couple of hours’ time.
It may yet turn out to be just a rehash or an exercise in hyperlinking, but those posts only cover the second half of 2023, so I will attempt to fill in the notable events from the first half of the year as well and try to teach myself some new tricks with the blogging software while I am at it.
So, without further ado…
February 4th, 2023: The 7th Annual Caskiversary at Strong Rope Brewery, Red Hook NYC
Originally held in their Gowanus tap room, this event moved to their Red Hook location in 2021.
This was the fourth Strong Rope Caskiversary that I have attended.
What I like about this event is that the focus is on New York City breweries (with the occasional out-of-town guest), and it gives many of the NYC breweries that do not have a dedicated cask program an opportunity to showcase what they can do.
It also gives me an opportunity to sample rare and obscure casks from those same NYC breweries.
Since moving to Red Hook, it has also become something of a social event for the brewery owners and brewers, and overall, it is a good mix between the industry insiders, the cask enthusiasts, the curious, and the bystanders who just happen to be in the taproom at the same time.
The highlights for me were:
March 3rd, 2023: Pinlocked Cask Mini-Fest at Fifth Hammer Brewery, Long Island City NYC
A bonus cask popup mini-fest from the good folks at Fifth Hammer, as part of the 2023 NYC Beer Week.
This was held in the brewery half of the LIC taproom and consisted of a handful of custom casks from Fifth Hammer, plus a guest cask from Wild East and an amazing one-off barrel-aged barley wine cask from Brooklyn Brewery’s cellar master Kevin Earley.
Hoping that this becomes an annual tradition at Fifth Hammer.
The 2024 NYC Beer Week Opening Bash is on February 24th so you can expect me to be monitoring the events list for casks around town.
March 4th, 2023: NYC Beer Week – Casks around town
And on that note …
To get to Greenpoint, I had to run the Fifth Hammer gauntlet, which is never an easy thing to do.
March 26th, 2023: An Afternoon of Casks at Nod Hill Brewing, Ridgefield CT
Nod Hill Brewing is a scenic place to visit, as long as you have a dedicated driver or enjoy commuter train travel.
I have taken to the rails four times over the last two years; two cask afternoons, an anniversary event and an Oktoberfest.
I do believe that I have already written extensively about this particular event …
March 26th, 2023: Cask.On at Cask and Vine / Daydreaming Brewing, Derry NH
This one is an overnighter, but certainly worth the trip for any self-respecting cask nutter.
I have attended the first two Cask.On events held at Cask & Vine but sadly missed out in 2023 as this date unfortunately conflicted with the Nod Hill cask festival.
I have every intention of attending the 2024 installment, which is scheduled for March 30th this year …
… note to self, get ticket soon.
March 31st, 2023: “Now Streaming” Cask Festival at Two Roads Brewing, Stratford CT
For the second year running, I attended the “themed” cask event at Two Roads Brewing which is held in their Area Two facility.
It was held on a Friday evening on both occasions that I attended, but I had no problems getting there and back by Metro North from Grand Central Station.
I wrote about it here …
April 19th, 2023 – April 22nd, 2023: 24th Annual NERAX Cask Festival at the South Boston Lithuanian Club, Boston MA
The granddaddy of all cask events in the USA, NERAX (New England Real Ale Exhibition) was held over four days in April 2023 with five separate sessions.
I attended the four evening sessions, only skipping the Saturday afternoon gig; I didn’t see much point as I was going to be back there in the evening.
As in recent years, the event was held at the South Boston Lithuanian Club, two flights up what was essentially a walk-up; a classic, with the restrooms on the floor above or the floor below, so lots of practice balancing the drinking with the stair-climbing.
My wife tagged along in what was a long overdue return to Boston for both of us and we were blessed with good walking weather for all four days, allowing us to get in some serious exercise and sightseeing during the daylight hours at least.
In all of the years that I have lived on this side of the pond, this was the first year that I actually managed to get to NERAX and I have no real excuse – laziness maybe?
I will not be making that mistake again, this was absolutely brilliant!
Over 100 casks of ales, ciders and lagers, of which almost half of them made the journey across the pond from the old country.
Admission charges were very reasonable and then it was pay as you go once inside, with a deposit paid for the glass which you could forfeit and then take the glass home with you.
The imperial pint glass was marked up at 5oz, 10oz and 20oz and you could get a pour at any of the sizes; I pretty much stuck to the 5oz pours as I was attempting to sample as many UK beers as I could, to make up for lost time.
I ended up with a final score of 52 samples with 43 of those from England, Scotland and Wales, and the remaining nine from New England.
My favorite UK beer was the Redemption Pale Ale from Redemption Brewing in North London, and my favorite US beer was the Allagash Sour Blond Ale with Golden Raspberries, although I just missed out on the Trillium Dark Mild, taken too soon by the grim reaper.
May 5th, 2023 – May 6th, 2023: Caskalot at Fifth Hammer Brewing, Long Island City NY
You can’t keep a good brewery down.
Fifth Hammer returned with a second cask event in early May 2023, this being the latest installment of Caskalot.
Twelve casks, evenly split between their own beers and six guest beers from other NYC breweries.
Like Pinlocked earlier in the year, the event was set up in the brewery half of the taproom with the regular bar area humming along as if nothing was any different than usual; you could order tap beers at the bar and/or grab beer-tickets for however many casks you wanted to sample.
This was either my third or fourth Caskalot that I have attended (fuzzy memories) and all have been excellent fun.
I tried eight of the casks on offer and washed them down with a couple of pints of Fugget Nuggle from the handpump on the taproom bar … as you have to do.
May 12th, 2023: 5th Annual NYS British Real Ale Festival at Seneca Lake Brewing, Rock Stream NY
One of my favorite cask ale festivals, held at my all-time favorite US brewery, located in a beautiful part of the country; this is one of my happy places.
Since stumbling over Seneca Lake Brewing Company at a Woodland Farm cask festival in 2018, I have tried to get up to their home in the Finger Lakes at least twice a year, once for the annual NYSBRAF cask ale fest and another time just for the sheer joy of it.
They only brew real ales, with twelve handpumps on the bar of their English pub The Beerocracy, and many of the same beers available in bottle-conditioned format.
I usually combine a trip to Seneca Lake with side trips to various cideries and meaderies, a visit to Lively Run Dairy to grab some cheese and pet the goats, and a hike up the Watkins Glen waterfall trails or along the Finger Lakes National Forest ridgeline trails.
But most of visits end up with me just sitting on the Beerocracy deck, watching the lava lamp patterns that the cloud shadows make on the hillside, on the opposite side of the lake.
This year was the third time that I attended the British Real Ale festival, and once again the weather cooperated, and we had a beautiful day for hanging around outside and sampling real ales; I sipped on 23 different casks from 17 different breweries.
As in prior years, most of the breweries were local to the Seneca Lake and Keuka Lake area, but as in recent years there were also several breweries from NYC that made the trip out west to attend, with Torch & Crown joining recent regulars from Fifth Hammer, Strong Rope and Wild East, and Big Alice providing a cask from their Finger Lakes facility just up the road in Geneva.
Now that my car situation is starting to settle down, I am looking forward to multiple visits again this year.
June 20th, 2023 – August 29th, 2023: Summer of Casks at Jones Wood Foundry
Aah, the wonderful slow-motion cask festival held daily between June and August, turning what would usually be a slack time for cask fests (with good reason) into a chill celebration.
Eleven different beers from ten different breweries, with the casks refreshed every Tuesday.
Coincidently, every Tuesday was when you would find the Cask Whisperer lurking at the back of the bar, funny how that happened …
Details of the event can be found at the bottom of the JWF cask ale page, here.
September 9th, 2023: 8th Annual Noah Webster Real Ale Harvest Fest, West Hartford CT
Finally, we reach the point in the 2023 calendar where all the subsequent cask events have already been documented in a Cask Whisperer post.
You can find a report on the Noah Webster Real Ale Harvest Festival in this posting.
October 14th, 2023: 8th Annual Woodland Farm NYS Cask Ale Festival, Marcy NY
Can be found here.
November 4th, 2023: 19th Annual Blue Point Cask Ales Festival, Patchogue NY
Can be found right here.
December 2nd, 2023: 5th Annual TBC Long Island Indie Cask Fest, Bay Shore NY
Is over here.
December 31st, 2023: Others?
Oh dear, we seem to have fallen off the end of the 2023 calendar.
If there were any other cask festivals in the north east region of the country, I didn’t know about them
Scorecard w/e 1/2/24
In the past week, The Cask Whisperer has enjoyed the following casks:
- OEC Hidalgo Best Bitter @ The Grand Delancey
- Lawson’s Mad River Maple @ The Grand Delancey
- Dutchess Auger Porter @ Jones Wood Foundry
- Strong Rope Tavern Ale @ Jones Wood Foundry
Upcoming Cask Festivals
2/3/2024: Strong Rope Caskiversary (I am out of town and will be missing it this year)
3/30/2024: Cask.On at Cask & Vine, Derry NH
4/10/2024 – 4/13/2024 (5 sessions): 25th Annual New England Real Ale Exhibition (NERAX)
11/8/2024: Two Roads Cask Fest
11/9/2024: 20th Annual Blue Point Cask Ale Festival