Blog by Nigel Walsh


An Exotic Sighting in Park Slope (or possibly Gowanus)

Back in the day, 2009-2017 maybe, it was not unusual to see casks from all over the country, and even foreign shores, in the handpump-enabled pubs and beer outlets around NYC.

If you were to attend a cask festival, you were just as likely (perhaps even more so) to stumble over cask offerings from Colorado, Michigan, Louisiana, and even Florida, as you were to find local offerings from Brooklyn, the Bronx, and the nearby suburbs.

Nowadays, you will be lucky to come across something from a location as exotic as Upstate New York.

And in my humble opinion, that is a good thing.

Looking even further back in the day, I grew up in Shepherd Neame/Fremlins country and if I wanted to sample (say) a Stones bitter, I would need to travel to Sheffield to get my hands on it; Chelmsford for a Ridleys, Oxford for a Morlands or a Morrells … you get the idea.

Once I got there, I would find other breweries local to the area and get to acclimatize myself to the local tastes … no, not just the sparkler thing.

The localization was the appeal; I got to visit some pretty cool places on my occasional beer expeditions, and I also got to sample the beers in their best condition, because I got to do the travelling, not the beer.

Hey, back then there was only one Shepherd Neame outlet in London, the Bishops Finger in West Smithfield (it is still there), just over fifty miles distant from its home in Faversham; Sheps did not travel.

I believe that localization is what we have been seeing in NYC in recent times, and I like to think that it has come about because of the rapid maturity of the local craft brewing scene over the past ten years; the homebrewing graduate class of 2013/2014 has shown a real enthusiasm for including more traditional beer styles in their repertoire and a willingness to dispense those beers by the traditional methods.

Alright, there may have been a financial element to it as well, particularly with the reduction of the number of cask outlets in NYC, distribution issues (both national and international), and just a general tightening of belts across the industry as a whole; folks, with a few exceptions, are not shipping individual casks over great distances anymore.

Oh no, is this going to be another one of the Cask Whisperer’s rants?

Nope, it is not.

What got me musing on the state of things, is that this week I was actually able to have a couple of delicious pints of one of those rare exotics, not from California or Clackmannanshire, but from Livingston NY about 110 miles up the Hudson Valley; very well cared for pints they were too.

Last Wednesday evening, Threes Brewing in Gowanus held a Belgian Tavern Night, with a fine selection of farmhouse/sour/mixed fermentation bottles from Suarez Family Brewery for purchase, together with a pin of their Amenable English Bitter for sharing.

Twas another miserable cold rainy day outside, but I made the effort and dragged my sopping wet self across town on the Q, only to get even more soggy walking the few short blocks from the Barclays Center to Douglass Street; it is amazing just how wet you can get in just ten minutes … when you refuse to carry an umbrella.

The event started promptly at 5pm with the cask already set up and ready to go on the far end of the main bar; my company for the session was John from Strong Rope who had seen the event listed on my blog scorecard for the past couple of weeks and decided to check it out.

With his industry connections we were soon joined by some of the Threes crew, and of course it didn’t take long for me to start advocating about all of the benefits of having a regular pin-on-the-bar cask night, if not a permanent beer engine; Threes makes an excellent range of English style beers, especially their 3.9% Tiny Montgomery seasonal offerings, that could be rotated nicely for a Firkin Friday type of event.

The Suarez bitter was excellent, and I was happy to see that we were not the only folks ordering and enjoying it; there was enough interest that we were content with two pints apiece and happy that the remainder was rationed out to the other punters at the bar and tables.

There was quite a turnout for a dreitch Wednesday evening, and it appeared that many had come to sample the cask as well as the bottles.

We moved on to a bottle of the Cocalis Black Country Beer, a two-year old mixed fermentation brew which was just amazing; fruity and funky goodness.

And then it was time to get wet again … it was work tomorrow and it was way past my bedtime.

It was when I got home, after I had tossed my outfit over the shower rail to drain again for the second time in a week, that I started to think about the rarity of out-of-town casks in the city.

So, once more I consulted my little black book database to see what was on offer back in 2015, and decided to focus on the Park Slope and Gowanus area of town; I knew that I had visited the Fourth Avenue Pub back then and that I had also once attended a cask and oyster festival at Bierkraft, long gone and sadly missed (by some).

And it was a bit of an eye opener.

Although many of the beers that I had back then were from New York State, there was only Kelso from NYC; the others were from (let’s play guess the brewery) Oceanside, Peekskill, Newburgh, Elmsford, Greenport, all NYS, with a single entry from Atlantic Highlands NJ, and two from Hood River OR.

You don’t see many of them about these days.

But again, I am not complaining; what we do see is brilliant and hopefully sustainable.

Would I object if we see the “foreign” trade return to beer engines in NYC?

Not at all.

I have essentially returned to the routine of those long past days by travelling across state lines to find me some regional delights, venturing into Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and way upstate New York to get my fix of the exotic domestics, knowing that I am also fortunate to have some wonderful cask choices closer to home in the five boroughs.

As for those imports, I have once again booked four sessions up in Boston for NERAX this year: highly recommended for a homesick Brit.

That should stop me ranting for a while …

Scorecard w/e 03/12/24

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

  • Old Glenham Weavers @ Jones Wood Foundry
  • Strong Rope Pub Ale @ Jones Wood Foundry
  • Suarez Family Amenable English Bitter @ Threes Brewing Gowanus

Upcoming Cask Festivals

3/24/24: An Afternoon of Casks at Nod Hill Brewing, Ridgefield CT

3/30/2024: Cask.On at Cask & Vine, Derry NH

3/30/2024 (dang): River Horse/Duclaw Cask Fest at River Horse Brewing Company, Ewing NJ

4/10/2024 – 4/13/2024 (5 sessions): 25th Annual New England Real Ale Exhibition (NERAX)

5/18/24: NYS British Real Ale Festival at Seneca Lake Brewing

11/8/2024: Two Roads Cask Fest

11/9/2024: 20th Annual Blue Point Cask Ale Festival

NYC Cask Venues

Known Operational/Active Beer Engines

  • Jones Wood Foundry (x2)
  • Fifth Hammer
  • Wild East
  • The Shakespeare (x3)
  • Cask Bar & Kitchen
  • Drop-off Service
  • Spuyten Duyvil

Occasional Pins (worth a follow on Instagram)

  • Strong Rope
  • KCBC
  • Torst

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