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"Want to go to a place where they serve nearly-warm, almost flat beer with me?"

Not many people I know would answer this question with resounding affirmation if I posed it, but it's almost exactly what NERAX promised and delivered recently in Somerville. NERAX, short for New England Real Ale Exhibition, is the Northeastern U.S.' premier cask ale festival, and this year it took place at the new headquarters of Aeronaut Brewing, a craft brewery and "urban farmhouse" opening soon on Tyler Street near Union Square. "Cask" ale is a term for beer that is unfiltered, therefore undergoing secondary fermentation in the container it's housed in, and served at cellar temperatures (in between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit). This traditional style of serving beer has roots in British pub draught culture, and many enthusiasts find that there's simply no other way to properly enjoy a beer; after all, it's true that many beers we enjoy on tap are force-carbonated with carbon dioxide to provide the typically-vivacious texture in beer that most people are used to drinking, and that may not be the way the brewer intended the beer to be consumed.

With that history and definition out of the way, one of the most exciting aspects of NERAX 2014 would be that this event was the inaugural usage of the Aeronaut space. This was also my very first time attending the fest since initially hearing about it in 2012. Therefore, you can imagine that I was pretty pumped to head to this brand-spanking-new location on Saturday night to hang out with craft beer nerds and all those desiring a traditional "English style" experience with pub-style cask ale.


The fest this year boasted over 100 cask-conditioned ales and lagers for this four-day long exhibition, and I was determined to get in some good tastings during the night I attended. My friend Patrick was working the Barismo coffee booth, providing cold-brewed coffee roasted on new equipment being permanently housed inside the Aeronaut facility, so he spent some of the night offering keg-poured samples of that, but I was much more interested in the brews. We both got to have quite a few nice pours, including old favorites like Mayflower Spring Hop Ale and Baxter Stowaway IPA in all their aromatic glory, though we were also impressed by the selection of ales from the United Kingdom, including several from the Orkney Islands and Wales, such as the Celt Experience Dark Age Ale with its woody, roasty and earthy overtones, and Jarl by Fyne Ales, a highly-rated Citra-hopped blonde session ale brewed in Argyll, Scotland. Both were quite nice, and since pours were well-priced and modular ($2 for a quarter-pint, $3 for half-pint and $6 for royal pint for most sub-7 percent beers and ciders), one could get quite the mileage, trying out quite a few of the brews in the extensive, ever-rotating selection while enjoying appetizers from Somerville's own Redbones Barbecue!

The delightlyfully-oddball tradition of warm, unfiltered, naturally-carbonated beer is a delicious and surprisingly-well-backed tradition that continues primarily due to the dedication of folks like those behind non-profits and groups such as CASC, the Cask-Ale Support Campaign based out of Shirley, MA. The fact that so many people were happily drinking cask beer under one roof made me smile continuously throughout the night, and the atmosphere was bright, enjoyable and lively. Indeed, one of the most amusing aspects was a guy dressed in a Grim Reaper-esque costume who came by with a scythe complete with a dry-eraser to physically strike-out any finished keg's listing on the massive white boards above the serving counter. Stuff like this kept the crowd busy even as hundreds of people engaged in banter and discussion, causing most in the main room to "boo" loudly at each removed beer listing. After last call, the owner of Aeronaut Brewing thanked everyone for attending the exhibition in his new space, and soon afterward, several heartwarming and down-to-earth happenings took place, including the president of CASC presenting one of the volunteers with a scholarship to brewing school and said volunteer sharing some bottles of cellar-aged Smuttynose Barleywine with those still in attendance. Talk about a great finish to a fun night!

I hope to attend the NERAX North event this fall as well, as it's taking place at a very cool bar in Haverhill called The Barking Dog Nov. 13-15. I can only hope the crowd, volunteers, staff and hosts will be as gracious and dedicated as those that I witnessed this weekend, and that the tap will be similarly fantastic, varied and enjoyable. Cheers!