Blog by Nigel Walsh


The New York State British Real Ale Festival (NYSBRAF)

This week, we return to Seneca Lake, to The Beerocracy pub and Seneca Lake Brewing Company.

To the scene of the crime …

The Crime

It was just over one year ago this weekend, at the 2023 NYSBRAF, when the Cask Whisperer blog was conceptualized and by that, I mean it was when I finally caved to weeks of nudging and agreed to start pouring out the contents of my age-addled brain onto (ethereal) paper; it may possibly have been towards the end of the event, after I had sampled most of the casks, and we were all winding down on the patio and around the firepit … you know, a weak moment.

Writing was never a particularly pleasant activity for me, it took me four attempts to pass my required English O-level, and that was only after they dropped the composition requirement and replaced it with grammar and comprehension; it was something to suffer through.

That is not to say that any of my output was crap; I have spent much of my adult life writing up technical documentation, useful well-structured easy-reading easy-comprehending documentation, but the process for me was, and still is, grueling.

I dread it when asked to put together a user guide, or even to just review a user-guide written by somebody else.

So, it was a major leap of faith when I finally decided to go way outside my comfort zone, and agree to churn out a regular composition, for strangers, unknown strangers, in a public place.

It was made easier by Jason giving me the freedom to write about whatever I wanted, with no ground rules.

I set the only ground rule myself, it would have to be a weekly post, so that I could fit it into a fixed (shush … leave me alone … blogging) schedule, and also keep up the incentive for myself; I did not want to give myself the opportunity to slack off.

And I haven’t slacked off yet, this posting is my fiftieth to date, just two more after this to complete a full year of posts; yeah, I cannot believe that myself.

And all have been very enjoyable for me to write, and I hope that at least some have been enjoyable to read, as well as being informational.

I may keep this up.

The Prime Suspect

It is appropriate that the blog came to life here, as the Beerocracy was where the Cask Whisperer himself first appeared from out of the foam of a Baker Street Best Bitter.

My introduction to Seneca Lake Brewing Co. came during the 2018 instance of the Woodland Farm Cask Ale Festival in Marcy NY, when Bradley brought along a cask of his Merri Man English IPA, and I was immediately hooked.

I first attended his own festival, the 2019 instance of NYSBRAF, and have been back every year since (COVID excepting).

I also try to get up to the lake and the brewery for at least one other (usually extended) weekend each year.

It was during one of those extended weekends, June 2021 when I was up at Seneca Lake for a long Father’s Day weekend with my elder son, and had stopped by just to hang out and chill at the Beerocracy, when a crazy idea came into my head.

Jason had just started his Summer of Casks event at Jones Wood Foundry and still had a couple of spots available in September, so I asked if Seneca Lake were interested and took contact details.

When I got back to NYC and into JWF the following Tuesday, I passed the contact information on to the beer director at Jones Wood, a phone call was made, both available event slots were filled, and a long-term friendship and collaboration was begun.

And, the Cask Whisperer materialized.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, so tell us about this year’s NYSBRAF event.

Returning to the Scene

Warning! There may be goats!

My wife accompanied me to the festival again this year, this was actually her third visit to the Seneca Lake area, and as a non-drinker who loves the city, you just know that there must be other interesting activities up here to convince her to drive four and a half hours out to the boonies and stay two to three nights each time.

We rarely visit the wineries except to pick up a bottle or two of mead to take back home, same thing with the cideries and the distillery, although there is always a chance of encountering a dog or two in the various tasting rooms; last year it was Wolfhounds in Bellwether.

But the one must-visit place is Lively Run Dairy in Interlaken NY; we come for the cheese (tastings and take home), but more than that, we come to see the goats, and sheep and horses, but especially the goats.

This year we actually went out of our way to make sure that we could fit it into our weekend schedule; we deliberately took an alternate route through Ithaca, so that we could start our weekend with the goats, and stock up on cheese for the hotel room.

It is fortunate that the NYSBRAF event is in May, as that is when the farm is overrun with kids, the furry kind.

After our goat detour, we drove on through the village of Watkins Glen to our conveniently located motel, right across the street from the Beerocracy to check in, and then drove the five miles back to the village to kill a couple of hours, checking out the junk craft/antique stores on the main drag, and the waterfalls in Watkins Glen State Park.

We were happy that the gorge trail was actually open this time, but neither of us were in the mood or had the energy (it was a long drive) to do the whole trail, so we bailed out after a handful of the falls, and then headed back to the Beerocracy to say hi to Bradley, grab a few pints and watch a couple of hours of comedy.

After the show was done, we stayed to chat with Bradley, and a couple of folks that we had met last year, and the crew from Torch & Crown who had also driven up from the city.

Yep, we closed the place, and strolled back to our room sometime after 11pm.

This was Friday.

We started Saturday, the day of the festival, by taking a drive out to Penn Yan in search of farmstands to try to get hold of some fresh fruit to go with all of the cheese.

That did not work out so well, as the only fresh produce available in May apparently, is rhubarb (not that there is anything wrong with that); but we had fun anyway, visiting the Windmill Farm/Craft Market where we saw dogs (woohoo!) and the nearby Amish Supermarket where we bought more cheese (apologies to my cardiologist).

Yeah, yeah, yeah, so tell us about this year’s NYSBRAF event.

I will, because we spent over eight hours at the festival, from VIP opening time at 2pm until we staggered back to our beds sometime around 12:30am.

We both had a great time, me for the beer and my wife for the live music; while I was wandering from beer tent to beer tent, my wife was hanging out in the patio/snug area listening to a solo performance by the Unoriginal Gravity trio (it’s a long story) and a three hour Beatles cover set by The Variables band, one of the other reasons why my wife agreed to come on this trip.

So with my darling wife safely settled by the snug, it is time to talk about the beer.

There was twenty five different casks from around twenty different breweries, mostly neighbors from the Finger Lakes area, but with some outliers from Syracuse, Schoharie, Hudson and NYC.

The one thing that jumped out at me again, was the relative lack of “special” additives to the casks; once again the brewers were quite restrained, and any adjuncts were subtle and fairly appropriate, or at least innocuous, for the style of beer being presented.

I was also surprised to find that the strength of the beers was also dialed back from what is usually encountered at cask festivals; no barley wines and the single imperial stout was only 8.9%.

It made it very easy to down eighteen 5oz samples with no adverse effects, and to even have the capacity and desire to return to some favorites after the event officially ended at 7pm, and the overnight campers and assorted hangers-on, such as myself, hung out and socialized on the patio and by the firepit … no weak moments this year, or at least I don’t remember signing up for anything.

As at past events, the definition of a British Real Ale was stretched a little; well, stretched enough to encompass Hefeweizens and Maibocks and Schwarzbiers and American IPAs and Blonde Ales, and you will not be hearing any complaints here.

There was no beer present that I didn’t enjoy, and none that I struggled to handle, but there were some real standouts for me.

I started with the Bloom, a Maibock from Torch & Crown, as I have really begun to enjoy the style lately, particularly on cask, and was eager to try T&Cs version.

It was brilliantly executed and held first place on my voting card until almost the very end of the event, when I relegated it to second place in my personal ranking.

It took second place in the entire event as well, and I had to suffer much ribbing from the T&C crew for the rest of the event; it remains to be seen if I have been permanently banned from their brewery and taprooms in NYC as a result of my traitorous deed.

The beer that knocked it off of the top spot on my card was the Dark Mild from Union Street Brewing of Hudson NY.

It was just 3.5% and perfect to style, defined by all of the things that it wasn’t, not bitter, not roasty, not strong, not harsh, not malty, just smooth and beautifully balanced; there was a subtle caramel note (from caramel malt not burnt sugar) to it but that is supposed to be there, it is a “dark” mild not a “light” mild.

Rounding out the top three for me, and the favorite of many of the folks that I ended up chatting with, was the Penny Whip ESB from Wayward Lane Brewing of Schoharie NY.

I had a couple of pints of this beer two weeks ago in NYC when it was not in perfect condition, the infamous floor pin, but here it was pristine.

The folks at Wayward Lane are really serious about their recipes and this was again perfect to style; I didn’t rate it my favorite because ESB is not my favorite bitter style, too many morning after-effects from the Fullers ESB of my youth …

A shout out and honorable mention to the Seneca Lake Lemon Tea Bitter, the perfect palate cleanser and head clearer in between the stronger and more intense beers.

As the official event ended and several of the casks were moved under cover to be enjoyed throughout the rest of the evening, we get to the real winners for me; those beers that I really wanted to get full pours of, returning to again and again as we all sat or stood around in front of the flames.

Funny thing though, other than the Seneca Lake Merri Man IPA, they all turned out to be from NYC, Shebeen from Strong Rope, Moderance from Wild East and Bloom from Torch & Crown, which appropriately enough, was my final drop of the evening …

… or was it early morning?

Escape to New York City

So, with the event bookended by the Maibock, so was the entire weekend appropriately bookended by more goats; Maibock/Goat, do you see what I did there?

On the way home we stopped off at Livingston Manor where our good friend and neighbor has been slowly but surely turning her property there into a personal farm, rescuing all kinds of domesticated animals from the knackers yard.

At the latest count she has four pot-belly pigs (one is just a boarder), six pigmy goats of which two are new kids, and her latest acquisition is the delightful Buttercup, a senior cow who gets to spend the rest of her days in the safety of our friend’s pens and pastures.

It was an awesome weekend, and the Finger Lakes in general and Seneca Lake in particular, are some of my favorite places, and happy places, anywhere.

I am already looking to carve out a long weekend later in the year for a return visit, fest or no fest.

Scorecard w/e 05/21/24

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

  • Gun Hill Spring Lager @ Jones Wood Foundry
  • Old Glenham Winders ESB @ Jones Wood Foundry
  • Seneca Lake Beerocracy Bitter @ The Beerocracy (Seneca Lake Brewery)
  • Seneca Lake Big Ben Porter @ The Beerocracy (Seneca Lake Brewery)
  • Seneca Lake Baker Street Best Bitter @ The Beerocracy (Seneca Lake Brewery)
  • Seneca Lake Steamship FES @ The Beerocracy (Seneca Lake Brewery)

And has sampled the following casks at New York State British Real Ale Festival @ Seneca Lake Brewing Company, Rock Stream NY:

  • Torch & Crown Bloom Maibock, Manhattan NY
  • Torch & Crown Share House Blonde Ale, Manhattan NY
  • Seneca Lodge Peach Blonde, Watkins Glen NY
  • Heritage Hill Mocha Imperial Stout, Pompey NY
  • Stout Beard Irish Stout, Liverpool NY
  • Seneca Lake Lemon Tea Bitter, Rock Stream NY
  • Seneca Lake Merri Man IPA, Rock Stream NY
  • WeBe Brewing The Golden Peel Banana/Strawberry Hefeweizen, Geneva NY
  • Prison City Linus Loves Juicy NEIPA w/Watermelon Herbal Tea, Auburn NY
  • Horseheads Brewing The Elvis Banana/Peanut Butter Hefeweizen, Horseheads NY
  • Lunkenheimer Peanut Butter Brown Ale, Weedsport NY
  • Lucky Hare Schwarzbier w/Madagascar Vanilla Bean, Hector NY
  • Buried Acorn Roxy ESB, Syracuse NY
  • Wayward Lane Penny Whip ESB, Schoharie NY
  • Two Goats Red Ale w/Galaxy Hops, Hector NY
  • Union Street Brewing I’ve Got Plenty of Time Cold IPA, Hudson NY
  • Union Street Brewing A Winter’s Moon Dark Mild, Hudson NY
  • Lyonsmith Manchester Bitter, Keuka Park NY
  • Lyonsmith Four Leaf Clover Export Stout, Keuka Park NY
  • Wild East Moderance ESB, Brooklyn NY
  • Strong Rope Brewing Shebeen Spring Ale, Brooklyn NY
  • Big Alice Berry Blonde Ale, Geneva NY

Upcoming Cask Festivals

9/7/2024: Noah Webster House Real Ale Harvest Festival, West Hartford CT

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 Random NYC Casks

  • Sadly, no erratics have been identified this week.

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

Occasional Pins (worth a follow on Instagram)

  • Strong Rope
  • KCBC
  • Tørst
  • Blind Tiger Ale House
  • Threes Brewing
  • Brouwerij Lane

Leave a Reply

Sign Up For News