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The 2003 RAF was superb, featuring an impressive array of 230 cask- and bottle-conditioned beers, the vast majority of which were served in excellent condition.

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Real Ale Fest 2003

At Home with Success

by Don Scheidt

     CHICAGO -- Yep, I did it again. I went to Chicago, and I won't lie to ya, I was drinkin'. It wasn't hard to do, as the venue was Chicago's bigger and better-than-ever Real Ale Fest (RAF), held February 27 to March 1, 2003.

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     In 2002, the festival was held at the Goose Island-Wrigleyville brewpub, taking up the entirety of two back rooms, with bottle-conditioned ales served upstairs. The festival had clearly outgrown the space, and a change of venue was an obvious necessity. RAF organizers struck gold less than a mile from the original Goose Island-Clybourn brewpub, at the Finkl Foundry's Jarrow Building, in an old industrial area. The Jarrow Building offered a significantly larger space than Goose Island could, and between that and the generally excellent organization of the festival, the 2003 RAF was superb, featuring an impressive array of 230 cask- and bottle-conditioned beers, the vast majority of which were served in excellent condition.

     I spent most of Friday's session sampling ales from the British selection offered on the first floor. Beers included Oakham JHB, Supreme Champion Beer of Britain 2001; RCH Pitchfork, Champion Best Bitter of Britain 2001; Burton Bridge Old Expensive; Cameron's Strongarm; Cameron's Winter Knights Ale; Nimmo's XXXX; Wye Valley Butty Bach; and several Hop Back beers, including Summer Lightning, Winter Lightning and Entire Stout.

     Somewhere during the course of the evening, I also sampled Goose Island's excellent cask Naughty Goose, an assertive, flavorful American brown ale. Dogfish Head's 90-Minute IPA was superbly hoppy as usual and in great shape, as was Victory's HopDevil and Bell's brilliant, refreshing Two Hearted Ale. Boscos IPA proved to be a good, solid beer as well. The cask version of Deschutes Brewing's Double Bale Quail Imperial IPA was wonderful.

     Ellicott Mills, of Maryland, had two popular beers on, a Belgian Triple that was flavorful and true to style, if a smidge undercarbonated, and Decimator Doppelbock, strong and sweet. Todd Ashman's Flossmoor Station beers were designed to be distinctive, including the ultra-fruity Framboise de Flossmoor, the complex Train Wreck of Flavor and the Old Conundrum Barley Wine. Beers came from as close by as Chicago's new Piece brewpub and as far away as the Oregon coast, from which Pelican Brewery sent its India Pelican Ale, Doryman's Dark Ale and Tsunami Stout. I tried these and more, so many I lost track. The number of beers in good condition far exceeded those that were less than optimal.

     Being from Washington state, I did notice one thing missing. There were beers from California and Oregon, from all over the middle of the country, from the Northeast and Southeast, and from the U.K., but no Washington brewers sent kegs to the 2003 RAF. Knowing as I do that there are several brewers in my home state who are capable of making superb naturally conditioned ales, I hope this situation will be improved in the future.

     For the Real Ale Fest, though, I have nothing but praise, both for the event itself and the people who worked to make it a success. Kudos to Ray Daniels, the Chicago Beer Society, Goose Island Brewing, Crisp Malting and Banner Equipment for their invaluable and generous support.

Don Scheidt is the author of the Northwest BrewPage at www.nwbrewpage.com. He also edits BeerWeek. He can be reached via e-mail at dgs1300@hotmail.com.

Copyright 2003, Celebrator No material herein may be reprinted without permission of the Celebrator Distributed On the W3 For personal, non-commercial enjoyment and use only. Cheers!

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