Hundreds attended the third annual Noah Webster Real Ale Fest in West Hartford on Saturday, Sept. 9.
By Ronni Newton
Beer aficionados and amateurs alike, several hundred people split into two sessions, had a chance to sample beers of all different styles – hoppy, malty, sweet, sour, fruity, herby, lemony, chocolatey – at the third annual Noah Webster Real Ale Fest held Saturday night at the Noah Webster House in West Hartford that featured breweries from Connecticut and throughout the region.
Each cask in the competition was required to include as an ingredient at least one item harvested from Noah Webster’s garden – a plot planted with many of the same items that grew there in the 18th century, when Noah Webster himself lived in the South Main Street home on what was a 200-acre farm.
And when the votes were counted, the hometown favorite – West Hartford’s own New Park Brewing – once again took home first place in the Taster’s Choice competition, voted on by attendees, for its “Strawberry Smoothie Berliner Weisse” that used strawberries from Noah Webster’s garden combined with milk sugar and vanilla beans. The description reads: “Think of fresh strawberry sorbet with a pleasing cereal finish.”
For each of the three years the event has been held, a New Park Brewing creation has won the Taster’s Choice award.
It appears that this year’s strawberry crop must have been especially delicious.
In the Cask Challenge – with the winner determined by a panel of celebrity judges (Erika Arias, John Dankosky, Ryan Keating, and Randy Scott) and cicerones (true beer experts Paul Zocco and Adam Read) – Brewery Legitimus of New Hartford took home the prize for its “Strababerries Éloïse,” a saison featuring strawberries and lemon zest, with the strawberries harvested from Noah Webster’s garden.
Note that the spelling is intentional, and according to the brewery “honors the brewer’s 2-year-old daughter who has difficulty pronouncing a certain ingredient.”
First runner up in the Cask Challenge was Aspetuck Brew Lab (Bridgeport) for their “Symbiosis Saison” that used dill from Noah’s garden. Grey Sail Brewing (Westerly, RI) was second runner up for its “Flagship Ale” that incorporated lavender, sage, and yarrow harvested from Noah Webster’s garden.
Taster’s Choice runner-ups included the Brewery Legitimus “Strababerries Éloïse” and the Willimantic Brewing Company (aka “Willibrew, from Willimantic, CT) “Saison,” a farmhouse-style saison brewed with the help of Connecticut Girls Pint Out, and using hops and hyssop from Noah’s garden.
The casks that were included in the competition were real ale, and according to event organizer Ian Halpern, manager of the West Hartford-based Harvest family of stores, are intended to be served at “cellar temperature,” a bit warmer than many are accustomed to. The ale is naturally-fermented, unfiltered, and served directly from the barrel or cask in which it is fermented. And although it’s dispensed without gas, there’s plenty of natural pressure best evidenced by the cask of Strababerries Éloïse which spouted its contents high up the wall inside the Noah Webster House’s gallery room.
In addition to the cask beer, the 30 breweries brought a wide range of other offerings for attendees to sample. There was one room dedicated to tastings of sours and other “funky” brews.
The event was a fundraiser supporting the educational mission of the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, which co-hosted the event with Harvest family of stores that includes Harvest Country Store and Harvest Wine & Spirits.
Halpern thought the event was a great success, and said he’ll continue looking for ways to make it even better.
“We want to make sure that everyone had a good time. It’s a great event for the Noah Webster House, and there’s lots of positive support from the community,” Halpern said.
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