After a two year hiatus, I was finally able to make my way back to the annual New England Real Ale eXhibition (NERAX) festival in South Boston. Scheduled to feature over 100 different cask ales and ciders from a wide variety of US and UK breweries, this is a can’t miss event for aficionados of the format and any beer drinkers interested in trying something a bit different. It opened last night and has sessions running through Saturday, April 6 so definitely consider checking this out if you’re in the area. You can pre-order tickets here on the event website at a nice discount from the price at the door.
I am a huge fan of this event and find it a lot more approachable than any other beer festival that I have been to. The pay as you go format and ability to order quarter, half, or full pints effectively put less emphasis on rapid consumption and chasing sample pours and more on actually tasting and appreciating the beer in your hand. It also makes for a much more laid back and relaxed atmosphere than your typical fest and I found myself really appreciating the difference. As an added bonus, the catering is provided by the long time NERAX supporters Redbones BBQ in Somerville, MA!
The beer, of course, is pretty exceptional as well. While the available offerings can, and often do, change throughout the course of a session, there is never a shortage of beer to be had and the selection is like none other. With offerings from local favorites across the New England region and stuff from overseas you won’t find anywhere else in the area there are plenty of intriguing options to explore in a wide range of styles. Everything from light Pilsners and ESBs to big Double IPAs and Imperial Stouts are on the list so one can go as heavy or as light as they want and still have plenty of options. As for myself, I focused a little bit more towards the UK breweries to take advantage of the opportunity and paced myself by making sure I tried out some of the more sessionable brews despite all the heavy hitters that kept catching my eye. Upon entry you are handed a booklet with short notes about every beer being poured, so don’t be afraid to take a step back and look up beers you don’t know about. More often than not, being adventurous is rewarded here! With that in mind, my winners of the evening from each side of the pond were:
From the US: Beer’d Brewing Company (Stonington, CT) – Dogs & Boats: A 9.1% Double IPA hopped with Citra and Mosaic with an addition of pomegranate juice to the cask. It started out with a subtle, mildly bitter juicy sweetness before the pomegranate addition brought on a slightly sour, smooth haze over the beer. It finished dry with just a hint of hops and tasted every bit as good as it smelled.
From the UK: Brass Castle Brewery (North Yorkshire, England) – Annexation: An 8.3%, gluten-free Russian Imperial Stout the brewers call “as smooth as the Volga and as bonkers as Putin.” This was crazy smooth for the style and was amazing on cask. A little bit sweet, a little bit creamy, a little bit boozy it also had some great chocolate and molasses tastes going on that I would love to get some more of. The fact that it also happens to be gluten-free is simply mind-blowing. This was a superlative brew in its own right, but for a GF beer it is completely unequaled in my experience.
Honorable Mention: Fyne Ales (Cairndow, Scotland) – Highlander: A super drinkable 4.8% Amber Ale that perfectly balanced a lightly sweet malt backbone and a mild blend of ctirusy and earthy hops. It was one of my last beers of the evening and an excellent brew to unwind with.
Once again I had a really great time at NERAX celebrating the joys of cask and drinking some amazing beer. Definitely check this event out if you can!