Hundreds attended the fifth annual Noah Webster Real Ale Fest in West Hartford on Saturday, Sept. 7.
By Ronni Newton
Several hundred beer fans, split into two separate sessions, had a chance to sample brews of all different styles and vote for their favorite casked ales at the fifth annual Noah Webster Real Ale Fest held Saturday at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society.
A panel of official ale tasters, aka judges, also voted for their favorites from among 31 casks prepared by 21 different brewers from throughout the region.
Real ale, prepared in a historically accurate manner, undergoes a second fermentation in the barrel or cask it will be served from. It’s unpasteurized, and good only for the Real Ale Fest.
One rule that all brewers had to follow was use of at least one ingredient from a predetermined list. Most of the ingredients are grown in the Noah Webster House 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. Selections included quince, thyme, lemon verbena, and lavender.
This year’s ingredient list also included pantry staples from Noah Webster’s era, including selections like cinnamon, chocolate, rose water, and horseradish.
The resulting unique brews were hoppy, malty, sweet, sour, fruity, herby, lemony, and chocolatey.
“The judges told us that this was some of the best beer ever,” Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society Executive Director Jennifer Dicola Matos said.
“The brewers here really upped their game and are getting better at using items from the garden and pantry,” she said. “The judges had a hard time and it was tough to dissect the beers.”
After much deliberation, the judges chose Stony Creek’s “Birds in Paradise” as the 2019 Cask Champion. The ale was described as a “watermelon gose brewed with fresh crushed watermelon and a dash of salt.”
Counter Weight Brewing Company’s “Workhorse Pilsner,” flavored with wiry green tea, lime, and honey, was the first runner-up, and Aspetuck Brew Lab’s “Bramble Blackberry Sour,” made with wheat, oats, barley, and “a whole lot of blackberries,” was second runner-up.
The judges also noted a few honorable mentions, including Willimantic Brewing Company’s “Double wet and dry-hopped Junk Mail IPA,” crafted with Noah Webster fresh-picked hops, lavender, thyme, and honey-roasted local carrots; Hog River Brewing Company’s “Oktoberfest and why not, it’s that time of year” which included apples and cinnamon; and West Hartford’s New Park Brewing’s “Day Tripper,” a barreled-aged sour ale with cherries and strawberries.
Based on votes by attendees, Hanging Hills Brewing Company won the “Tasters’ Choice Award” for their three entries: “Bloob Job,” a blueberry sour ale, aged on brettanomyces; “Well Isn’t That Peachy,” a peach sour ale, dry hopped with mosaic; and “Udderly Maple,” a milk stout brewed with lactose, maple syrup, and chocolate.
New Park Brewing’s “Day Tripper” was first runner-up in the Tasters’ Choice competition, Aspetuck Brew Labs’ “Bramble Blackberry Sour” was second runner-up, and Back East Brewing Company’s casks – “Blueberry Mint Berliner Weisse,” described as “light-bodied, crisp and refreshing, tart, but evened out by the addition of fruit; and “Pumpkin Spice Latte Octoberfest,” described as a traditional German beer with a hearty malt character – were third runners-up.
Matos said that tasters at the Real Ale Fest could also vote for their favorites on “untappd.com” this year, with the most votes going to Stony Creek’s “Birds of Paradise.”
Guests were also entertained by the music of Grateful Dead-style band Steal Your Funk and could “buy a poem” from Ellen Arnstein. Seasonings Catering provided a menu of bites and sandwiches.
Not only was the event fun, but it was also successful. Matos said that the Real Ale Fest grossed about $20,000.
“We’re really happy. It was a really successful fundraiser,” she said. “We are really grateful to our brewers, attendees, and partners.”
Judges included Paul Zocco of Zoks Homebrewing & Winemaking, Adam Read of Country Malt Group, Ian Halpern of Harvest Wine & Spirits Elmwood, Christa Bolen (The #beerselfiequeen), and Ryan Keating of Keating Agency Insurance.
The Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society partnered with Harvest Fine Wine & Spirits/Harvest Country Store to produce the event, with additional support from gold sponsor Fiduciary Investment Advisors and Silver Sponsors ClarkHirth CPAs, Keating Agency Insurance, and Private Capital Group.
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