On August 26, 2017, Mercer Museum and Fonthill Castle held their 4th Annual Fonthill Castle Beer Festival. The weather was warm, just perfect, the sun shining. We drove up a long regal driveway and were greeted by the concrete structure of Fonthill Castle.
Built at the beginning of the 20th century, Fonthill Castle was the home of Henry Chapman Mercer. A man of many hats, Mercer was an archaeologist, anthropologist, ceramist, scholar and antiquarian.
He built his concrete “Castle for the New World” as his home and as a place to display his tiles and prints. Upon his death in 1930, he left Fonthill and the grounds in trust as a museum of decorative tiles and prints.
Today, Fonthill Castle and Mercer museum attracts well over 30,000 visitors each year from around the world. It is an interesting piece of Americana left behind by a man with a truly unique vision.
Free tours were available to all festival goers, but we did opt to focus on the beer. That is, after all, why we were there. We’ll have to come back for a tour another day.
As we walked around the tented outdoor area live jazz filled the air, courtesy of Jazz with Friends. Everyone was having a great time, sampling beers, noshing on gourmet food, or dancing along with the wonderful music.
Beer Highlights from the Festival
There were the usual players that I love oh so much, like Evolution Craft Brewing Company, for example. I had the chance to try some of their best offerings recently at The Foodery, so I shouldn’t go into more detail with them or others that I’ve previously encountered.
I’ll be focusing on beers I’ve never seen before. From those, there were a few that really stood out to me. In no particular order:
Daylight Savings IPA brewed by Flying Fish Brewing Company in Somerdale, NJ is a refreshing session beer perfect for any outdoor party.
A wonderful and flavorful tropical variety featuring strong mango and grapefruit flavors with a low ABV, just under 5%. Very light bodied and easily quaffable.
Starr Hill Brewery Northern Lights IPA
The Northern Lights IPA from Starr Hill Brewery in Crozet, VA really stands out from the other IPAs here. Just hard blast of citrus aroma and a focus on the flavor of the hops blended well with barley to give a smooth transition from bitter to lightly sweet when you drink.
This is an interesting take on the IPA and one that most definitely stands out from the pack.
Happy Pils is a wonderfully refreshing German Pilsener style beer brewed by Ithaca Beer Company in Ithaca, NY.
The aroma is definitely hoppy, with the spicy noble hops over the grainy malt. The flavor is pleasant, with good malt presence and a spicy, floral bite with an earthy and dry finish. An excellent American take on the German Pilsner style. Right on point.
The VIP Treatment
VIPs really were treated well, there were two large sections devoted to just VIP members, with select beers unavailable to the rest of the attendees.
VIP members could chill out up on the top deck of Fonthill Castle as well, with unique and rare beers alongside gourmet snacks just steps away.
Standout VIP Beers
I think just about every single VIP beer was top notch. But these two I just can’t forget.
Brewed by Burlington Beer Company in Williston, VT, this is a hoppy beer with blasts of orange and grapefruit alongside a wonderful mellow malt backbone.
With a big burst of hoppy oranges and lemon with a moderately bitter and sweet grapefruit, this is a perfectly suited summer lawnmower beer.
The hoppiness definitely sets it apart from any other wheat ales that I have ever had.
The wildly popular Heady Topper is a American Double IPA (Imperial IPA) brewed by The Alchemist Brewery in Stowe, VT. You will have a heck of a time getting your hands on this one.
For many people, it takes a trip to Vermont. And even then, you may not be able to get one.
This incredibly hoppy beer was once the No. 1 rated beer in the world on BeerAdvocate. Sold only with limited production, it was famous for selling out within minutes of release.
Delicious Dishes and Snacks
T.H.E. Catering Company provided amazing refreshments for the event including Jerk chicken sausage, feta and zucchini fritters with tzaziki, beer braised chicken nachos with homemade chips, and steak tacos with slow roasted marinated beef and cilantro lime coleslaw.
Everything was amazing. Honestly. Not a single complaint with any of the food. And when I realized it was all free, I admit I went to town on those steak tacos and the beer braised chicken nachos.
In the VIP area, succulent high-class treats were available as well. Crab stuffed mushrooms, bacon wrapped scallops, sweet and sour cocktail meatballs, Greek orzo salad, roasted red pepper hummus with pita bread, pineapple chicken satay, and bruschetta on garlic crostinis.
Just a perfect selection of food to pair with the various beers, all included with the reasonable ticket price. Amazing value here compared to a vast majority of beer festivals.
Beer truffles from Pierre’s Chocolates
Justin Zaslow from Pierre’s Chocolates of New Hope was on hand sharing some truly delectable small-batch chocolate offerings, made special for this event. Each chocolate he had available for tasting (for VIP attendees only) was made in partnership with American craft brewers.
Known for their unique lines of small batch truffles made with chocolate sourced from around the globe, Zaslow first started combining beer and chocolate in 2016 for the Fonthill Castle Beer Festival. He has been back every year since with new variations, to the delight of many.
From left to right: Sierra Nevada 2015 Barrel Aged Narwhal, Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA, Free Will Brewing Company Special Cookie
Sierra Nevada 2015 Barrel Aged Narwhal
Black as midnight, this big, bold chocolaty stout barrel aged Narwhal stout from Sierra Nevada is complex with notes of cocoa and espresso balanced with hints of vanilla and toaste coconut from the oak casks perfectly blended into a rich 56% dark chocolate ganache.
Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA
Combining the hop forward rare imperial 120 Minute IPA from Dogfish Head Brewing Company as well as organic Cascade hops from Cape May’s Bad Cat Hop Farm with a 38% Peruvian milk chocolate ganache.
Free Will Brewing Company Special Cookie
A 38% Peruvian milk chocolate and 71% Ecuadorian dark chocolate ganache infused with Free Will Brewing Company’s Special Cookie, a Belgian strong dark ale reminiscent of a traditional Belgian speculoos cookie as well as authentic speculoos cookie spices. Encased in a 70% dark shell.
Honestly, this event is in the top 3 for summer beer festivals in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. Well worth checking out next year. This event DOES sell out so be sure to get tickets quickly when they go on sale.
The location is perfect for this. One thing I would like to see is the addition of a period brewing demonstration to further tie the event to the festival, but even without that this is a 10 out of 10.
Food was all included, no high prices from some luxury food trucks. It was all gourmet food for no added cost. A large variety, and no limits. Eat your heart out, foodies.
A large number of brewers, distributors and wholesalers involved, meaning they get a very large number of beers available to try. We have the full lists below. I highlighted my favorites in bold.
Complete Beer Selection
- 10 Barrel Brewing Company
- Abbaye de Saint-Martin Beer
- Ballast Point Brewery
- Beach Haus Brewery
- Boardroom Spirits
- Boulevard Brewing
- Colony Meadery
- Conshohocken Brewing Company
- Copperz Brewing
- Devils Backbone Brewing Company
- Downeast Cider House
- Evolution Craft Brewing Company
- Fat Head’s Brewery
- Flying Fish Brewing Company
- Fordham and Dominion Brewing Company
- Golden Road Brewing
- Great Divide Brewing Company
- Great Lakes Brewing
- Harpoon Brewery
- Hoop Tea
- Ithaca Beer Company
- Kona Brewing Company
- Krombacher Brewing
- Lancaster Brewing Company
- Long Trail Brewing Company
- Mad Princes Brewing
- McKenzies Cider
- Nauti Seltzer
- New Belgium Brewing Company
- O’Hara Brewery
- Old Dominion Brewing Company
- Omission Beer
- Owl’s Brew
- Rogue Ales
- Spencer Brewery
- Starr Hill Brewery
- Stout Brewing Company
- Susquehanna Brewing Company
- Tower Hill Brewery
- Troegs Independent Brewing
- Uinta Brewing
- Vault Brewing Company
- Victory Brewing Company
- Wild Ginger Brewing
- Wyndridge Farm Brewing
Beers Available only with VIP Admission:
- Birra Menabrea
- Boulder Beer Company
- Burlington Beer Company
- Coronado Brewing
- Lakefront Brewery
- Leelenau Brewing Company
- Foley Brothers Brewing
- Frost Beer Works
- Hill Farmstead Brewery
- Lawson’s Finest
- Lost Nation Brewing
- The Alchemist
- The Brewers Art