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Unusual beers, but little fizz at cask fest

Three samples and program from cask beer fest at Alewife Queens

A hot summer afternoon, apparently, is not a good time to do an indoor cask ale festival, judging by the sparse attendance at the recent Get Real Presents Cask Ale Festival at Alewife Queens.

I estimated some 50 beer lovers stopped into the Long Island City bar on July 14, where some 30 cask ales were available.  You could say it was the price of admission, originally $90 for a VIP ticket that offered an extra hour of drinking.  But those tickets had been marked down to $36 on Groupon just days before the event. Perhaps, the evening sessions were better attended.

Amanda Jones pours a sample.

On a day with the mercury hovering in the 90’s, cold beer would’ve been more appropriate than cellar temperature cask ale. Some beers may have been even warmer. Perhaps, then, it was the lure of the beach or other cooler spots.

Don’t get me wrong. I love cask beer and welcomed the opportunity to sample numerous examples without having to elbow my way through a crowd.

Anyone who’s been to Britain and imbibed the creamy, flavorful real ales, however, might have found something amiss. It seems to me American brewers haven’t learned that you can’t serve every beer you produce on cask.

For the unitiated, cask ale or cask-conditioned beer is  a decription for beer that has been unfiltered, unpasteurized and conditioned in a cask, from whic it is then served without additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure.  It’s also called real ale.

It was a shame that only one beer from Britain, the  home of cask ale, was available to sample.  That beer, Kipling, was a citrusy, American-style IPA from England’s Thornbridge Brewery. One advertised beer that hooked my attendance, JW Lees Harvest Ale aged in Calvados cask, regrettably was not being poured. No explanation was offered, though a wooden firkin of the brew had beens seen on the bar’s floor.

To be sure, many of the ales  gathered by co-owner Patrick Donagher  were quite good. A few, though, were barely palatable.

Many of the offerings were extraordinarily sessionable beers. Among them: Black Racer, a black IPA from Bear Republic; the juicy Phin & Matt’s Extraordinary Ale from Southern Tier and Fluffer IPA from Kuhnhenn Brewing. A double-dry-hopped version of Stone Ruination IPA, came across as oddly sweet. Amazing what the lack of CO2 can do.

Imperial stouts and porters, aged in barrels, or with unusual flavorings also were available.  Noteworthy was Perennial Artisan Ales’ Imperial Coconut Milk Stout and the whiskyish Mendocino Imperial Stout, which was aged in Buffalo Trace barrels.

Keg of Flying Dog Raging Bitch is tapped on the sidewalk.

A couple of beers that I was previously unfamiliar truly took me by surprise. One, Breckenridge Agave Wheat, nearly set my mouth aflame with its jalapeno flavors. Another, chile-flavored brew, Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch, a Belgian-style IPA with mangos and Habanero peppers, however grew on me after my initial taste of capsaicin. River Horse’s Hop-A-Lot-Amus, an imperial IPA dry hopped with grapefruit zest, was less than pleasurable.

Another brew from Flying Dog, Atlantic Lager, should never have been among these brews. It was cloudy and watery. Lager beers, I believe, require carbonation to give them life.

For $36 for four hours of sampling , I think I got my money’s worth. I hope those who paid more felt the same way.



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