by B.J. Gamboa |
The day broke. Slate gray with a chill, the sun threatened to push through but never did. Eventually, it began to rain.
The weatherman or, as I like to call him, The Father of Lies, was wrong again.
The weather was the type to get into your bones, make you ache, maybe even give you a nice case of pneumonia.
But a full hour before the event was to begin, the line outside Blue Point Brewing Company’s 14th Annual Cask Fest already stretched down the block. (Symbolism to be revealed later.)
Once you cleared the gates, a giant tent sheltered most the brewers. Long Island locals Moustache, Barrage, Bellport Brewing and BrickHouse shared elbow space with more nationally recognized brands Sierra Nevada, Magic Hat and Elysian.
Host Blue Point Brewing Company, of course, had a strong presence and shared space in a smaller tent next to the main stage with Spider Bite Beer Company (a personal favorite), Brewer’s East End Revival and Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts (two local home brew clubs).
What is cask ale? In short, cask ale is beer that is naturally carbonated as a byproduct of the yeasty activity of fermentation. Consequently, the brew is often much less bubbly and not as cold as our American palates are accustomed to. But often, the brew is demurer, refined and subtle.
Blue Point’s Cask Ales Festival is the largest and best-known in the nation. Last year was huge. This year was the biggest one yet.
65+ brewers showed for the event over last year’s 55. It’s impossible to hit every single brewer, try every single offering and make it out on your own steam. A few beers are duds. Most are delicious. A select few are transformative.
Though the focus of this festival was on the care and craftsmanship involved in making a fine cask ale, the true significance lurked just below the sudsy surface.
It didn’t occur to me until shortly after the opening ceremony.
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The Northport Pipe and Drum Band, led by fervently flag waving cask master Jim Richards, trooped through the rain toward the giant cask as they had in prior years. As in prior Cask Fests, Blue Point co-founder Mark Burford delivered a few inspirational words. But in this case, it was slightly different.
Channeling equal parts circus ring master and WWE announcer, Burf spat into the chilly air.
“Don’t worry about the rain! Are ya with me?
We think about these rain drops and we harken back to the first cask festival all those years ago! Ah, how young were we? The first festival was in a snowstorm! The intrepid did not stop! This thirst for cask was greater than Nature’s mighty blizzard! They arrived by snow shoe! They arrived by ski! They arrived on foot! They arrived by… SUV!
So we think about the past and we think about the future… [this is] the last cask fest here at River Avenue…
Whut? I had not considered this. Of course, we all knew Blue Point was moving to a new location and taking over Briarcliff College’s massive building. And of course, we knew the next cask fest would be held there. But the significance of this being the last cask fest here, for some reason, escaped me.
For a moment, I felt that same wistful remorse I got on my last day at college.
I am never going to be here again.
A little rain? Remember the first cask festival with all the snow! Mark continued.
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He then led a countdown to the tapping of the giant cask.
And when Jim hit it, it began to snow.
I was unaware at the time, but the area had been rigged with snow machines. On cue, a foamy substitute approximated the precipitation that could not keep the faithful away so many years ago.
It was only fitting that I was standing next to Gary Rosen, one of the founding members of Blue Point’s men’s ice hockey team, The Blue Point Bastards. It was only fitting that he had skated with his old team the night before. It was only fitting that he had come back home for the last cask fest at River avenue. We had come full-circle.
The rain persisted and the grounds got very crowded. Somewhere around the last hour of the fest, of any festival really, is when things can go sideways quickly. We took our leave.
As we walked back to our car in the rain, it occurred to me that those people on line an hour early were the next generation. The weather was not nearly as severe as the blizzard of the first cask fest, but this rain was their baptism. Hipsters, Yo-Bros, new homebrewers and baby beer geeks, the torch is yours to carry now. Carry it high and proud. Even if it’s raining.
more photos below