Can't get into the New York City Wine and Food Festival this weekend? Be of good cheer, for there's another festival in Chelsea this weekend that's sure to lift your spirits: Chelsea Brewing Company's Cask Ale Festival. With 40 casks being poured, it's Manhattan's largest such event. On Friday morning along with several other members of the beer geek media, I sampled some of the brews.
First, a short lesson for all the non-beer geeks out there. A cask ale, or real ale, is "a name for a draught beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide," according to the U.K.-based Campaign for Real Ale. In other words, it's a beer that's still "alive" and is served at cellar temperature.
I only tried 13 of the brews on offer. It's not that I'm a lightweight, but I had no desire to pass out into my hand-pulled noodle soup later in the day. Here's a look at some of the brews I had.
Since 11 a.m. is pretty early in the morning to start tasting beer, I woke my palate up with some India Pale Ales (IPA). These beers were originally brewed for British troops in India. In order to preserve them on the voyage, plenty of hops were added. American brewers have tweaked the original version to come up with all sorts of variations, such as Chelsea Catskill Hop Harvest (6.9% ABV). It's a fresh hop ale made with wild hops grown in Delhi, New York. Most beers use dried hops, so this beer has a musky, earthier character than other IPAs. Fresh hops are used in the beginning of the boil as well as in the bittering and aromatic stages. Just to make sure there's enough hop flavor, the finished brew is infused by dunking a gigantic teabag of hops into the keg.
The second beer I tried, Chelsea Hop Angel (6.8% ABV), was a traditional American IPA, with some great floral and grapefruit notes and intense hoppy flavor. No doubt this comes from the use of four types of hops in five stages, including two dry hoppings. "I love hops; that's why we made Hop Angel," brewer Mark Szmaida said. No kidding.
By the time I finished my fifth IPA sample, Brooklyn Brewery's Brooklyn Blast (8% ABV), a double IPA, my palate was getting blown out by all the hops so I switched gears to something completely different: Clipper City's Heavy Seas Great Pumpkin Imperial Pumpkin Ale (8% ABV). This brew from Baltimore tasted intensely of pumpkin pie spices. Not my thing, but it did help to wash the taste of all those hops out of my mouth.
Bull Falls Nut Brown Ale (6.3% ABV) from Wausau, Wisconsin, was truly delicious. I agree with the tasting notes, which characterize it as "caramel-like and chocolate-like with a slight nut presence." But the most unusual and tastiest beer I tasted yesterday morning was Chelsea 1000 Gyle Imperial Mild. Chelsea's 1,000 brew is truly one strong and strange brew. Many other American barley wines like Anchor's Old Foghorn have a strong alcoholic character coupled with a malty sweetness. Even though it's 11% ABV, the Imperial Mild lives up to its name and has a mellow flavor. That mellow flavor includes notes of honeydew, as well vanilla thanks to the brew's being aged in bourbon barrels for several months.
There were plenty of other styles on offer including stouts, pale ales, porters, saisons, and Scotch ales, but I'm only one man, plus I had but a scant hour.
Chelsea's Cask Ale Festival runs from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. all weekend. Unlike many such events, it's being run with a "pay as you go" format. Who knows? Maybe you'll drink enough beer to embolden you to sneak into that other festival.
Chelsea Brewing Company
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