Blog by Nigel Walsh


NERAX 25th Anniversary – Racing the Reaper

The good folks at New England Real Ale eXhibition (NERAX) have been organizing and running this amazing cask ale festival since 1997, growing it from a handful of British casks and an equal handful of local US casks, to the 50/50 monster that it has become today on its 25th anniversary.

I was always aware of its existence, and had always planned on going, next year.

But things and stuff and yada yada …

Well, next year finally happened, last year.

And I made the most of it.

My wife and I both love Boston, and decided that we would spend a long 5-day weekend there, doing as many (free) Boston things as we could do on foot during the daylight hours, and giving me the opportunity to sample some English casks over four evening sessions, without having to get on a plane; we also had great hopes of walking off some of the beers by chalking up 8-10 miles walking each day.

We both enjoyed it so much last year that we decided to do it all again this year.

We were always going to travel by public transportation, bus or train, whichever was most convenient and least costly; who in their right mind brings a car into Boston if they don’t need to?

This year as last, our transportation needs were met by Greyhound; what happened to Bolt and Megabus?

Wednesday, April 10th


Even without the car, our trip to Boston was a bit of an adventure.

We left the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 10am on the dot, and the driver headed straight into the Lincoln Tunnel and into New Jersey, much to my wife’s alarm.

I had remembered that we had done the same thing last year and wasn’t too concerned.

I knew that we were going to loop back over the GW Bridge and pick up the Cross Bronx Expressway/NE Thruway; I guess that is all to avoid going through the city to get out to the East.

Sure enough, we headed north on the NJ Turnpike and straight into a 20-minute crawl at the GWB.

Pretty soon though we were rolling right along, rolling so well that the driver missed the exit for I-91 to Hartford, our first stop, realized within a couple of exits, and doubled back from Branford to New Haven again before correctly picking up I-91 North.

We were sitting just a couple of rows behind the driver and were able to hear her wrestling with the navigation system which kept telling her to turn around at each exit and go back south again; it was as if there was a big navigational black hole at New Haven waiting to swallow us all up.

The driver rightfully disobeyed the SatNav for several exits before pulling off I-91, stopping at the end of the exit ramp, and turning around to ask if anybody on the bus knew how to get to Hartford, as her app was acting up.

Dead silence for a good five seconds, but then the Bus Whisperer (more like the Bus Yeller) swung into action and instructed the driver to get right back on the northbound I-91; I had been there twice before and knew it was at the intersection of I-91 and I-84, but that was about all I knew.

She took my word for it, and off we went again.

After a short while we approached downtown Hartford and I could hear the SatNav giving her the correct exit for the bus station, which she completely ignored probably because she just didn’t trust the device any more.

So, we continued on our merry way on I-91 heading towards Springfield, until I chirped up again and suggested that she reverse course at the next exit and head back on I-91 South; I then basically took over as her SatNav and managed to guide her to the bus station gate, which if you have been to downtown Hartford, you will know is not an easy task.

We didn’t even bother with the GPS getting out of Hartford, I just pulled out my own Google Maps app on the phone and talked her out of downtown and on to I-84 East heading to Boston.

After that it was plain sailing (busing?) all the way to Boston South Station, arriving only fifteen minutes late … the Bus Whisperer was treated to a hero’s welcome.

It was just a 20-minute walk to our hotel (more drama, don’t ask), and we found ourselves with a good three hours before I had to leave to walk to the NERAX venue in South Boston; time enough to explore the Seaport area again (we stayed there last year as well), and to grab a late lunch/early supper at Yankee Lobster, our favorite feeding hole in the area.

Daytime stats: 6.69 miles walked including several miles dragging luggage.


We did a lot of research when choosing our hotel, putting ourselves right by the convention center, just a 20-minute walk in either direction, to the station and to the South Boston Lithuanian Club where the NERAX festival has been held over the last several years.

I did the walk by myself on the first evening as my wife was a little wiped out from the all the travelling, and elected to stay by the hotel and chill out.

I arrived, knowing exactly what the routine was going to be, totally hassle-free and very welcoming, with many of the staff and volunteers recognizing me from last year, and welcoming me back.

Pretty soon I was standing with my loaner glass behind the tape, waiting for Gary to ring the bell and get the event on its way; I had just enough time to stand at a posing table and mark up the comprehensive beer list/guidebook with my first session’s beer choices.

I was tentatively planning on tasting twelve quarter-pint samples during each session, figuring that I could handle three imperial pints each evening without spoiling my enjoyment.

I also knew that the British beers were not all available on day-one, and there would be a staggered release depending wholly at the whim of the Reaper.

So, I marked up around twenty candidates, including three US beer must-haves, and when the bell finally tolled, I joined the mad rush casual stroll to the bar, which I walked from end-to-end first to get the lay of the land.

First up, and one of my top-rated for the day, was the Stewart’s Edinburgh Gold (Golden Ale) because, well, Edinburgh.

I went straight for the Hill Farmstead Edward (American Pale Ale) for my next sample, primarily because the Reaper beat me to the Trillium Dark Mild last year, and I didn’t want to make the same mistake again; I knew he would be getting it quickly … and he did.

Third up was the Barnsley Bitter from Acorn for the same reason, I just knew that it would become an early casualty.

With those three out of the way I could relax a little, I had the jump on the Reaper, and I went for a Cavalier Perry from Cromwell Cider Company, as a palate cleanser.

At that point I recognized and was recognized by Sam, who I had bumped into just two weeks ago at the Cask.On event up in Derry NH and had met previously at one of the Nod Hill events in Connecticut; he introduced me to a couple of friends and for the next couple of days we be regrouping to swap notes and recommendations.

Top-rated beers from session one:

  1. Stewart Brewing Edinburgh Gold
  2. Acorn Brewery Barnsley Bitter
  3. Hill Farmstead Edward
  4. Cromwell Cider Oliver’s Session
  5. Digfield Ales Fool’s Nook

Evening stats: I sampled five English beers, two English ciders, three Scottish beers and two American beers, including Hanley’s Peerless Ale from Narragansett; I had to, it is ‘gansett.

Thursday, April 11th


We woke up to a scotch mist with occasional drizzle all day, a perfect day for getting in some serious walking and sightseeing.

But the first item on the agenda was to find a place for breakfast, so we went looking for a diner.

We knew that we would have little luck finding a diner in the seaport vicinity, so we wandered over to South Boston and found Mul’s at Amrheims; perfect choice, Irish breakfast, build your own omelet, and just enough coffee to make walking all day a hazardous prospect (you know, the age thing).

It was great, we vowed to return later in the week.

Feeling adventurous, we took a different route back to the seaport that took us through Fort Point, finally giving us an opportunity to scope out all of the shortcuts between our hotel and Trader Joes (very important to us), including the best steps to take us between the various levels in the area.

We went on to the Fan Pier which completed our explorations of the entire seaport, and then crossed the river and followed the Greenway to Quincy Market and on to the Boston Holocaust Memorial; it is a small site but very effective, we placed stones.

We then cut through the Government Center to Cambridge Street and circled Beacon Hill, doubling back along Charles Street to the common; my wife likes Charles Street for all of the odd independent stores, and I like it for the Sevens, my old darts and Guinness hangout from the early eighties.

At the common we noticed all of the tents set up for the Boston Marathon, and immediately checked that it wouldn’t impact on any of our plans; travel and otherwise.

We finished by following the Freedom Trail back through Quincy Market, and stopped off on the way home in our favorite Italian deli at the south end of the Seaport area, to grab some munchies for back in the hotel room.

Daytime stats: 11.24 miles walked.


Prior to heading out from the hotel, I marked up the beer list again.

My focus for the second session was the British beers that were on tap the prior session, that I had not yet sampled (fearing the Reaper); I then marked up enough additional British ales to get to twenty candidates again.

Upon arrival, I found that no British casks had been reaped yet and none swapped in, so I set about finishing off the older stock first.

I specifically targeted the bitters first, making sure that I got to taste Maris the Otter from Brew York and Harrogate Best Bitter, both top-rated.

And then I noticed the Five Points Best Bitter, I didn’t remember that from yesterday; absolutely brilliant, we had a new overall favorite.

Top-rated beers from session two:

  1. Five Points Brewing Best Bitter
  2. Brew York Maris the Otter
  3. Harrogate Best
  4. Loch Lomond Brewery Black Grouse
  5. Sambrook Brewery Block Party

Evening stats: I sampled nine English beers, two Scottish beers and one American beer, an impressive dark mild from local Boston brewery Democracy Brewing.

Overall Top-five:

  1. Five Points Brewing Best Bitter
  2. Stewart Brewing Edinburgh Gold
  3. Acorn Brewery Barnsley Bitter
  4. Brew York Maris the Otter
  5. Harrogate Best

Friday, April 12th


They promised us rain and wind all day.

They delivered!

Did it stop us?

Not a chance.

Did it slow us down?

Only at first, and only because the wind was blowing in our faces until we managed to escape the seaport.

The plan for the day was to get to the Union Oyster House for an early lunch, and then to complete a walk through the North End that we abandoned last year at the Old North Church.

We succeeded, and when the rain ceased briefly, we also managed to cross the Charles River and tour the USS Constitution.

Sure, we got soaked to the skin twice despite bringing umbrellas along for the walk; I hate umbrellas, and fat lot of good they did with the gusting winds.

We also stumbled over the greenmarket by the Oyster House and made plans to return when the weather was better.

Overall, a good day, even if we spent much of it out on the streets by ourselves.

Daytime stats: 9.45 miles walked.


Similar plan as prior session, with the beer list marked up to twenty candidates, realizing that I would probably finish off the available British beers unless they put more on overnight, so I also marked up a handful of interesting American brews.

First up was the strangest beer that I had at the event, but I knew that going into it; the Strawberry Xtreme was billed as a fruit stout with chocolate and sweet strawberries and cream, and it looked like a stout but tasted like a boozy strawberry milkshake.

And no, it wasn’t from the colonies.

Going in the other direction, the only two West Coast IPAs that I got to sample were both from Leigh on Sea Brewing from Southend in Essex of all places, both were pretty good too.

Best of the session for me though was the Apple Honey Wine (Cyser) from Urban Farm Fermentory of Portland ME; dangerous at 10%, the strongest in the event, sweet and sour and funky (think apple cider vinegar), but quite delicious.

As expected, I completed the British selection to-date and sampled five American brews to complete thirteen for the day, including two more ciders, a pale ale from the Suarez Family Brewery in NY (I was going to miss a cask of the same at Torst while I was away), and a bramble dark wheat ale that appeared to have been brewed in a laboratory at the University of New Hampshire (I was intrigued. It was good).

Top-rated beers from session three:

  1. Urban Farm Fermentory Apple Honey Wine (Cyser)
  2. Cairngorm Brewery Wildcat Scottish Heavy
  3. Suarez Family Brewery Our Finest Pale Ale
  4. Papworth Brewery Fen Skater
  5. Leigh on Sea Brewery Thirteen Stones

Evening stats: I sampled seven English beers, one Scottish beer, three American ciders and two American beers.

Overall Top-five:

  1. Five Points Brewing Best Bitter
  2. Stewart Brewing Edinburgh Gold
  3. Acorn Brewery Barnsley Bitter
  4. Brew York Maris the Otter
  5. Urban Farm Fermentory Apple Honey Wine (Cyser)

Saturday, April 13th


There had been threats that the rain was going to drag into the weekend, but we opened the blinds and found a glorious clear and sunny sky outside.

We took advantage of our good fortune.

As usual our first thoughts turned to breakfast, and we strolled over to Mul’s in South Boston again, primarily for me to try the home-made corned beef hash which had been recommended by the waitress on Thursday.

It didn’t disappoint.

As we had spent much of the time so far in the Waterfront area, we decided to explore the Back Bay for a change of scenery while the weather conditions were still favorable; with that plan, we skipped the entire Downtown/Chinatown maze and headed due west, skirting Shawmut and aiming for the Prudential Center, which was ever visible in the near distance, before diverting towards the John Hancock tower once it came into view.

We arrived at Copley Square to find the marathon; or rather, we found the finish line a block west, a large police presence, barricades and lots of folks milling around just soaking up the vibes.

We paid homage for a few minutes and then drifted over to the Commonwealth Ave. Mall for some peace and quiet.

We took a long slow stroll along the mall, admiring the memorials and the blossoming magnolias, and introducing ourselves to any dogs that showed any interest in us; we walked away from the Common, up to Mass. Ave. and then followed the dog walkers over the highway to the Charles River Esplanade, which we walked in its entirety back to Beacon Hill and Charles Street again.

Then we remembered the greenmarket from our prior day’s walk, so we clambered up over Beacon Hill, coming down the other side via Temple Street where I lived for a few months way back in the very early eighties, and finding a quiet little park to stop and rest our legs for a while.

The greenmarket was heaving, and my wife picked up some crunchies and munchies to eat back in the hotel room, together with two of the largest thickest carrots that I have ever seen (as big as yer arm), which also turned out to be the heaviest and bulkiest objects that we have ever stuffed into our rolling suitcase, to be lugged back to NYC; they are still sitting in our fridge, daring us to sculpt them.

Needless to say, I got some upper body workout (he means lower back) on our trek back to the hotel to go with the lower body exercise from all of the walking.

Daytime stats: 10.85 miles walked, 1.5 miles with carrots.


The final session was all about outrunning the Reaper.

When booking my sessions, I had deliberately skipped over the Saturday afternoon gig which I knew would be a bit of a bro-fest, in favor of the more sedate Saturday evening closing session.

I fully expected the Reaper to be very busy in the afternoon, culling the strong, and also expected to see many replacement casks on for the evening, some in a much-weakened state, so no need for any markups in the beer list.

I just headed straight to the bar, identified all the new British casks, picked out my potential favorites to determine the drinking order, and got stuck in; with one eye on the Reaper hovering over my shoulder.

There were nine new British beers on for the final session, including one that I had been anticipating for the entire event, the Cambridge Bitter from Elgood & Sons of Wisbech, a traditional English bitter from a small regional family brewery; it went straight to the top of my favorites list, earthy and perfumed, the whole tea and biscuits thing.

Once I had my sample, I was recommending it to anybody who would listen to me.

There were also fine pale ales from Roosters (Yorkshire Pale Ale) and Bateman (5G) and Cairngorm (Tradewinds), and a classic brown ale from Wheatsheaf (Prognosis).

After beating out the Reaper to the British casks, I decided to finish off with one last cider and three American lagers, from Aeronaut, Backbeat and Zero Gravity, all excellent.

Being the final session, it was much more laidback than all prior sessions, with almost as many staff and volunteers present as the punters, so I got to do a lot more socializing, especially as it was quiet enough for me to actually engage in conversations (the age thing again).

Top-rated beers from session four:

  1. Elgood & Sons Cambridge Bitter
  2. Cairngorm Brewery Tradewinds Scottish Pale Ale
  3. Aeronaut Brewing Tmavé Pivo
  4. Backbeat Brewing Carl (a Jarl tribute)
  5. Rooster’s Brewing Yorkshire Pale Ale (YPA)

Evening stats: I sampled seven English beers, two Scottish beers, one American cider and three American beers.

Overall Top-five:

  1. Elgood & Sons Cambridge Bitter
  2. Five Points Brewing Best Bitter
  3. Stewart Brewing Edinburgh Gold
  4. Acorn Brewery Barnsley Bitter
  5. Brew York Maris the Otter

So, a final thanks to Gary and Mark and Pete and Braden and Richard, and all the volunteers who put together this most amazing event, year after year.

Finally, cheers to the Cask Reaper, you made me work real hard this year!

I missed the first twenty-three of these NERAX events, I have no intention of ever missing another one.

Scorecard w/e 04/16/24

In the past week, The Cask Whisperer has sampled (5oz pours) the following casks, over four evening sessions at the 25th Annual New England Real Ale Exhibition (NERAX) at the South Boston Lithuanian Club (Lithuanian Citizens Association).

Session 1 – Wednesday April 10:

Session 2 – Thursday April 11:

Session 3 – Friday April 12:

  • Wildcat Scottish Heavy from Cairngorm Brewery, Aviemore, Highland, Scotland
  • Double Midnight Oregon Trail from Elusive Brewing, Finchampstead, Berkshire, England
  • Boatyard IPA from Leigh On Sea Brewery, Southend On Sea, Essex, England
  • Thirteen Stones from Leigh On Sea Brewery, Southend On Sea, Essex, England
  • Crystal Ship from Papworth Brewery, Earith, Cambridgeshire, England
  • Fen Skater from Papworth Brewery, Earith, Cambridgeshire, England
  • Isolation Smoky IPA from Wheatsheaf Brewery, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, England
  • Strawberry Xtreme from Xtreme Ales, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, England
  • Strawberry Cider from Pony Shack Cider, Boxborough MA
  • Boston Heirloom Cider from Stormalong Cider, Sherborn MA
  • Our Finest Pale Ale from Suarez Family Brewery, Livingston NY
  • Night Bramble from University of New Hampshire Brewery, Durham NH
  • Apple Honey Wine Cyser from Urban Farm Fermentory, Portland ME

Session 4 – Saturday April 13:

  • 5G Five Generations from George Bateman & Son, Wainfleet All Saints, Lincolnshire, England
  • Tradewinds Scottish Pale Ale from Cairngorm Brewery, Aviemore, Highland, Scotland
  • Shacklebush from Digfield Ales, Peterborough, Northamptonshire, England
  • Cambridge Bitter from Elgood & Sons, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, England
  • Safe Surfer from Loch Lomond Brewery, Dumbarton, Dunbartonshire, Scotland
  • YPA (Yorkshire Pale Ale) from Rooster’s Brewing, Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England
  • Skull & Hammers from Salem Brew Company, Wainfleet All Saints, Lincolnshire, England
  • Prognosis Brown Ale from Wheatsheaf Brewery, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, England
  • Guardsman from Windsor & Eton Brewery, Windsor, Berkshire, England
  • Tmavé Pivo from Aeronaut Brewing, Somerville MA
  • Pub Cider from Artifact/Stormalong, Fitchburg MA
  • Carl from Backbeat Brewing, Beverly MA
  • Jaws from Zero Gravity, Burlington VT

Upcoming Cask Festivals

5/18/2024: NYS British Real Ale Festival at Seneca Lake Brewing

5/19/2024 (double-dang): Yards Real Ale Invitational at Yards Brewery, Philadelphia PA

11/8/2024: Two Roads Cask Fest at Area 2, Stratford CT

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

Upcoming Casks in NYC

4/18/24: OEC something something (Cheers John) at Lovollopalooza @ Blind Tiger Ale House

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 (after 20 years they will be closing on 4/21/24, but will be hosting Zwanze Day for one last time, the day before)

Occasional Pins (worth a follow on Instagram)

  • Strong Rope
  • KCBC
  • Torst
  • Blind Tiger Ale House

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