As we sit down to type this little article snow is once again falling across Long Island. A blanket of white has covered all of the tress and roads in our quiet neighborhood. It seems to us a perfect time to reflect on the similarly snowy day of January 25th, 2014. That was the day of the Rocky Point Artisan Brewers held their fourth annual Nano Cask Festival & Farmer’s Market.
The boys of Rocky Point Artisan Brewers should be familiar to the readership of Beer Loves Company. We have mentioned them in the past in high regard. Mike Voigt and Donovan Hall (two thirds of RPAB) are fixtures of the Long Island beer scene. As longtime members of Brewer’s East End Revival (the oldest homebrewing club here on LI) Donavon and Mike became known as producers of fine ales and lagers. These two gentleman are firmly connected with BEER in our memory as well.
During one of the first BEER meetings we attended the boys became impromptu guest speakers. That night as the meeting was winding down, when our illustrious president Steve Wynhurst asked if “there was anything else”, from the back of the room came a loud shout of “YES”. Mike and Donavon sat proudly and confidently in the last seats of John Harvard’s Brewery event room. They had something to let the club in on.
Around that same time the boys had received all of their necessary paperwork and licensing needed for RPAB to begin legal production and sales. They had their brewery and were riding high on the excitement. You could taste it in their beer. Chilled growlers were shared by the duo of RPAB after the meeting came to a close. We distinctly recall tasting their Doppel Schwarz, a style they lay a claim on having invented. This is a strong memory for us and it connects with how RPAB conduct their business to this day.
Innovation seem to be a theme that carries through all things Mike, Donovan and Yuri Janssen (the third piece to the RPAB puzzle) attempt with RPAB. They push boundaries of style in search of craft, honesty and flavor. Exploration of this sort is something to behold and to taste.
Such audacity can succeed greatly, birthing something new and enthralling into the world. When it fails it can be a total disaster. Still within that poor tasting mistake there is always something to be learned; a lesson to take away. Experimentation is a good thing. RPAB seems to be more willing than most to take the styles of beer which they love and try to bend, twist and pull them to their will. This core concept of RPAB and their work runs deeply through their Nano Cask festival.
So now we finally arrive back at our point, with some illustrative background in tow. January 25th 2014 was a day seeing light snow falling in Rocky Point. As we arrived at the NSBOA Club House (the site of the event this year and last) these flurries had only just begun. Pulling into the clubhouse parking lot we met with Kevin’s sister, Katie.
Unlike other events we were the sole representatives of our homebrewing club who would be pouring beer and giving out information on the club. Katie was invited to help us out, becoming an honorary member of BEER that day. Together we set up what we thought was a pretty good looking table. The BEER banner and information sheets were set out along with the signs we made for the three beers we would be serving. BLC buttons and shirts were also for sale at the event. We brought two beers to pour under the BEER banner.
One was A+K (our saison/stout) and the other was our sour/saison/cider-thing Fizzy Lifting Drink. These two brews fit in well with the spirit of the festival and went over nicely with the crowd. We were proud to be pouring these beers as representatives of BEER. The reaction we received was very humbling, especially for Fizzy Lifting drink. Since we had such a limited amount of FLD it was necessary to pour it as a timed release. This generated a lot of traffic at the table and interest in the hybrid brew which the crowd seemed to really enjoy.
Aside from A+K and FLD we also were serving something brewed with our friend Andrew Luberto, a member of Long Island Beer and Malt Enthusiasts (a club which was in part started by Mike and Donavon). This LIBME and BEER collaboration brew was known as Saider. This crazy experimental concoction was one of the most popular beers/things at the entire event. It’s popularity could be due to it’s very nature. Loyal fans of BLC will already have read about about this brew and know it is an amalgamation of different beverages within one drink.
Saider was served from a cask though it was not truly cask conditioned. Because of it’s odd creation process this would have been an overly difficult task. We brewed Saider as a saison with a twist, instead of using water for our liquor we used locally produced apple cider from Richter’s Orchards. This finished with a big Original Gravity (OG) and our blended yeast (Wyeast 2:1 French to Belgian) tore through fermentation in four days at sixty-four degrees.
The result of using apple cider in place of water was a very acetic (aka tart) brew. Using a saison yeast brought a spicy character to the beer. We could have happily sipped on this spicy, sharp brew all day but thought perhaps the people to whom we’d be serving it would like something more in balance. Andrew suggested using a pyment (mead made with grape juice) he had on hand for our purposes. Our reaction was “sounds great” and it was decided we’d blend the cider/saison in a 5:1 ratio with the black currant and pinot noir pyment. All of that going on made for a cloudy product which Andrew wasn’t the biggest fan of, so he hit it with a few finings agents. These products, while providing some clarity, would make carbonating Saider within a cask very difficult. We bit our lip and did what we had to, force carbonating the brew which we then moved into our pin (five gallon cask) using a beer gun.
Kevin was given the honor of tapping the cask at the event and we all had a chance to taste the final product together. For us Saider hit the mark. Serving this collaboration between two of Long Island’s greatest homebrewing clubs was something we won’t forget soon. We were honored to be able to brew it with Andrew and to serve it at the RPAB festival.
Besides our off the wall offerings attendees were also welcome to try pours from local breweries like Barrage Brewing Company, Port Jeff Brewing Company, Blind Bat Brewery and of course RPAB. A welcome new addition to the scene was Big Alice Brewing. This super nano-brewery makes ten gallon (10!) batches at their brewery in Long Island City. Their product is sold to the public directly through a CSA (community supported agriculture) like system. This leaves limited bottles of each batch left for sale to non-members. Keeping in line with the hyper limited nature every batch they brew is different beer.
Beers they have produced range from sours to pales ales and use ingredients like orange peel and dandelion bulbs coming exclusively in 750ml bottles. Big A brought two intriguing casks to the event with them. One was a Belgian pilsner with grapes and beets and the other was a sour golden ale with bitter orange peel and eucalyptus. Their sour was one of the stand outs of the event for us even though it was not all that sour. This LIC brewery truly got the spirit of the festival by taking styles and turning them on their ear.
The event guests were also able to sample food from local vendors. We saw cheese plates and pickles flying around the our table throughout the afternoon. Apparently sausages or some type of tube meat was being grilled as well. It’s not hard to imagine patrons finding a chair at one of the many tables scattered around the event so they could sit down and relax after sucking down a pickle/sausage/whatever and filling their (awesome looking) tasting glass with some local beer. While taking a load off (or should it be getting a load on?) attendees were treated to music which came in two forms. One was a background volume level mix. The other was multiple live sets of solo acoustic Led Zeppelin. You could say there was even too much Zeppelin and many people did both this year and last year. When the finger picking fury took a break from shredding out Jimmy Page licks we were all treated to A) a break from the Zep and B) a performance by the Beer Amigos who called up Paul Dlugokencky of Blind Bat Brewery for a song. The entertainment was indeed entertaining at times.
The boys of RPAB make sure that their Nano Cask Festival and Farmer’s Market is not to be missed. They truly care about the enjoyment of the attendees and the spirit of this event. We felt that last year’s iteration was one of the best festivals we had attended in a while and this year’s edition lived up to that hype. Each brewery made an effort to bring something truly unique and delicious along with them and took the time to talk with patrons.
The attendees of this event are also always some of the best you could ask for (ever). They are respectful and have a genuine interest in what is being served to them sometimes asking very detailed questions about the brewing process. We are truly thankful to have met some fine people while pouring our brews. If you were there and stopped by our table, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
The RPAB Cask festival is one we would encourage you to attend next year. It’s packed with small breweries pouring beer they have worked hard on for an appreciative public. This is a chance to taste and experience an essential part of RPAB and brewing, fun.
(A special thank you to Jim & Jean Thoms for use of their photographs and to Katie for all of her help that day. You guys are the best!)