The New England Real Ale Exhibition

Posted on April 5th, 2011

Today’s post comes from Justin K. Thanks Justin!

The New England Real Ale Exhibition (NERAX) runs from March 30th through April 2nd in Somerville, MA. This festival showcases cask ale from British and American breweries. (For a detailed explanation of what cask ale is read Beeriety’s article here.) Because  cask ale has a relatively short shelf life once it’s tapped the show focused on having new beers go up each day. If you were to attend Wednesday night and again Saturday you would see two very different beer lists.

The focus on the British ales was really the biggest draw for me. Living in New England we are blessed with some of the best craft breweries in the country. This is a blessing and a curse. I can tell you the joys found in Allagash White or how the Peoples Pint make the best brown I’ve ever had but when it comes to breweries from the UK I’m completely lost. My goal was to try as many of the beers and ciders from the UK as I could. Some American beers snuck in but they were the exception to the rule, such as Avery’s Ellie brown ale. I ended up trying about 35 different British beers over the course of three days. Dark Star from Brighton, England brought Dark Moore which was amazingly dark and fruity at the same time, never have I drank a beer with notes of black currant. (Take that wine!) Another stand out was Fyne Ales who brought Jarl, a delightfully fruity hoppy beer that tasted of grapefruit without tasting too young.

In contrast with the Extreme Beer Festival I previously discussed, this festival really toned down the ABV, featuring mostly session ales. (Jarl clocked in at around 3.8% abv.) This made spending three or four hours as an attendee or eight as a volunteer entirely doable. NERAX definitely helped me learn about enjoying more subtle tones in beer and helped me look at cask in a new light. Digging in and learning about beers from the UK was an amazing experience as well.

Working in a beer festival sounds like the beer lovers dream. You get to hang around with fellow beer geeks, talking about malts, hops, eccentric brewers, home brewing techniques all while drinking delicious free beer. That’s the dream. In reality, however, working a festival involves a lot of work and an almost superhuman tolerance for beer.

Most of the festivals I’ve worked at have loose/ generous standards for staff drinking, which is great until you realize that you are working, representing some kind of organization and you can’t talk. Also note that while working you could have very possibly be lifting kegs or heavy barrels full of water. You are either moving at a fast pace for five or six hours while drinking or watching for attendees who have had too much, either way you have to maintain your composure.

There are benefits to working a fest though; you do get to try a much wider variety of beers than most attendees do. You also tend to get more information about the beers on hand, either from the event organizers or people much geekier than you. There are typically after parties at the fest as well where taps are open for volunteers, that’s the real fun. You get to sit and drink full pints of extremely rare beer at the price of your blood.

I’ve also attended festivals  but when you work as a volunteer the experience is much different than when you pay to get in. It’s a tight community (At least in Boston) so you tend to run into a few familiar beer geek faces who can point you to what to try and avoid and if you’re lucky enough you’ll know the pourer and they’ll hook you up too.

Working these festivals is always a blast and I get to sample an amount of beer that is nothing short of spectacular but as we speak I’m icing my ankle, have blisters on both of my feet and a nasty hangover. I guess there is a price of admission there.