Friday, February 12, 2010

Session #36: Cask-Conditioned Beer [The Summary]

The Session #36: Cask-Conditioned Beer

The Session: Beer Bloggging Friday is a monthly event for the beer blogging community begun by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer, and co-moderated with Jay Brooks at the Brookston Beer Bulletin.

On the first Friday of each month, a predetermined blogger hosts The Session, chooses a specific, beer-related, topic, invites all bloggers to write on it,and posts a roundup of all the responses received.

For more information, and to host a Session, go to the archive page at
the Brookston Beer Bulletin

The topic for 5 February 2010 was Cask-Conditioned Beer:
beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide.

as defined by CAMRA (the Campaign For Real Ale)
beer consumer advocacy group in the UK

I was the host for February.  In my invitation to beer bloggers, I may have rhapsodized a bit (others might say, gone on and on). In my defense, selling wine and beer may be my profession, but cask ale is my passion. 

I thank all who contributed essays. In a substantive way,  I should also thank the breweries and pubs that continue to produce and serve cask ale (and lager), and the publicans who serve it properly, and those who demonstrate their appreciation by drinking cask-conditioned beer.

Last, but not least, I should acknowledge and thank Stan Hieronymus and Jay Brooks. They have organized, encouraged, and gently cajoled to get The Session on the web, every month, since March of 2007.

You have to understand that cask-conditioned beer is not warm, flat, cloudy beer. It is cool, gently carbonated, and bright. But, most of all, it is FRESH. The point is to serve it NOW, to drink it NOW: fresh, bursting with just-prepared flavor.

Here is the summary of contributions (in no particular order).
  • Mario at Brewed for Thought wrote that "The flavors leap from the glass to your palate in a way that is impossible to convey to the uninitiated. More than anything, the sense I take away from a proper pint of cask ale is satisfaction."
  • Sean Inman at the Beer Search Party proposes a challenge. Cask-Conditioned Ale will become less of a "niche' in the US if more bars would offer patrons side-by-side tastings of the same beer: one cask vs. one draft.
  • Jeff Wallace of the Lug Wrench Brewing Company (a 'virtual' brewery blog) praises cask-conditioned LAGERS and offers a recipe and procedure to brew them at home.
  • Alex Hall, of the Gotham Imbiber, posted a valuable how-to for running a cask beer festival in the US (or anywhere): "American cask beer festivals: my story - and your D.I.Y. guide." Bookmark this.
  • The Beer Nut (Enjoying beer and travel, preferably simultaneously. Based in Dublin) says: "I have a theory that this cask-is-always-best principle only holds up for beers which were designed for cask in the first place." He believes that "big hop flavours generally" don't show well in cask-conditioned form. He finds that "black beers" do better.
  • Jason at A Beer in Hand hadn't always liked cask-conditioned beer (and feels that some are hurt by the warmer serving temperature) but, using two senses, found that Lagunitas Hop Stoopid on cask "really opened my eyes. ... It was like an explosion of pine in my mouth."
  • Derrick Peterman at the Beer-Runner blog describes his one-night tryst with a cask of Stone Pale Ale: "One Lonely Night, Away from Home."
  • Erik Lars Myers at Top Fermented describes the inner workings of a "beer engine", the handpump used to pull beer from a cask to the bar.
  • Daniel Harper at his eponymous blog is succinct: "some of the whole point of cask: it's local." Cask ales are "meant to be served pretty much immediately and close by."
  • Anda at Legal Libations discusses the legalities of cask-conditioned beer as regulated in the US by the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, of the Department of Treasury).
  • Alan at A Good Beer Blog once drank a 25-liter cask of homebrewed ale with two other friends, and noted in his journal that he was feeling "not burdensome the next day."
  • Jimmy at HopWild can't find much cask-conditioned ale where he lives. So he brews it at home. Detailing his procedures, he promises: "It's Not Rocket Science."
  • Jon at The Brew Site praises The Brewers Union Local 180, a brewpub in a small Oregon town, that brews ONLY cask-conditioned beers.
  • Alexander D. Mitchell IV at Beer in Baltimore demurs at choosing a favorite cask ale. "The best line I've been able to come up with for this 'favorite' nonsense is 'the next one.' It's all about anticipation and discovery for me." Then he proves his point, looking for cask ale during the great blizzard of 2010 ... and finding it.
  • Zak Avery at The Brewboy (in Leeds, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom) believes that US-style big hoppy IPAs taste better NOT served from cask: "All too often, the big malty backbones and showy hop characters of these beers are lost through lack of carbonation."
  • Jay Brooks of the Brookston Beer Bulletin —a co-founder and organizer of The Session— took time from San Francisco Beer Week for his personal confession oh how he lost his “cask-conditioned ale virginity.” He concludes his post with an optimistic assessment of the state of cask ale in the US: "I think it’s safe to say that cask is here to stay and should continue to grow for the foreseeable future."
  • Stan Hieronymus of Appellation Beer —a co-founder and organizer of The Session— contributed two posts for this month: Here, Stan writes about The Marble Brewery in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which makes casks dry-hopped with single varietals to determine the aromatic changes to hops, if any, from harvest to harvest. Here,  he shares a recollection from the 1997 Great American Beer Festival, and asks "Have you kissed your cellarman today?"
  • Jim at Two Parts Rye —who hails from Columbus, Ohio— writes that "Cask Ales don't fall out of trees, especially in January." He wonders why "all of the cask ales that I have sampled are relatively flat."
  • Bill Madden —owner/brewer at soon-to-open Mad Fox Brewing Company brewpub in Falls Church, Virginia— discusses his plans for 6 handpumps serving at least 3 cask ales at any one time.

Got Real Ale?


Several non-bloggers contributed to The Session. I've re-printed their essays.
  • Joe Gold is a founding member of the Chesapeake Branch of the Society for the Preservation of Beer from the Wood (SPBW), one of the few branches outside of the UK. In 2009, he and others organized that city's very successful Baltimore Beer Week. He wrote about his favorite cask ale memory at Youngs.
  • Casey Hard is the General Manager and cellarman for Maxs Tap House —in Baltimore, Maryland. He is the founder and organizer of the 72 Hours of Belgium, a three day Belgian beer festival in Baltimore. He writes that "Cask ale is a wonderful way to taste beer in its true form."
  • Paul Pendyck opened UK Brewing Supplies 13 years ago. He "imports everything you need for the dispense of cask ale, firkins, pins, Angram beer engines, bungs, taps etc." He is the co-organizer of the Lititz Cask Beer Festival. He asks that pub owners be conscientious to "put that perfect pint on the bar. <...> Remember that our goal should be to present the product as it is meant to be: clear, conditioned correctly, and at the right temperature."
  • Ken Krucenski was the owner of Sean Bolan's Historic Irish Pub in the Federal Hill district of Baltimore, Maryland. In operation from March of 2006 until October of 2006, Sean Bolan's developed a reputation for good beer much greater than its intimate size, and became renowned for its beer breakfasts. Ken writes about his on-the-job education as a cellarman: It's Alive: "Learn how to 'read' the beer."
  • Already a degreed UK brewmaster when he arrived in the United States in 1988, Steve Parkes opened Maryland's first post-Prohibition microbrewery. He has since consulted and brewed for several award-winning US breweries. He is the owner of and lead instructor for the American Brewers Guild brewing school. He describes what is 'authentic' about English-style cask ale: "delicate, nuanced, subtle, and drinkable," but not extreme.
  • Stephen Marsh is the Cellarmaster for the Clipper City Brewing Company of Baltimore, Maryland. He recounts "How I became a firkin man." He says, "Creating and producing real ale is just a part of the attraction for me. It is also being part of something grand."
  • Originally from the UK, Steve Jones has been the brewer and the Cellarmaster for the Pratt Street Alehouse of Baltimore, Maryland (formerly known as the Wharf Rat Brewpub), since 2000. In a biographical sketch, he tells us of "The Education of a Cask Ale Brewer."
  • Wendell Ose is an award-winning homebrewer, and an avid supporter of local breweries in northern Virginia. he discusses his (successful) attempts at home-brewing real ale, and tells us why he is an advocate for cask-conditioned 'Ordinary Bitter.'
  • Steve Hamburg is an award-winning homebrewer, an author of articles on brewing, and a long-time member of the renowned Chicago Beer Society. As he has written above, he had been the Cellarmaster for the former US Real Ale Festival. Now, he is an organizer of another annual real ale event, Day & Night of the Living Ales (now in its 6th year), scheduled this year for March 6 at Goose Island Wrigleyville. In "Still crazy about cask ale after all these years" he recounts his time at the US Real Ale Festival, and pleads for the proper handling of cask ale.
  • Ron Fischer is the Division Manager of the Cask Ale Collection for B. United International. Reprinted with permission, his "Field Guide to Cellarmanship."
  • Among his many accomplishments, Ray Daniels is the author of Designing Great Beers, the past director of the Brewers Association Craft Beer Marketing Program, and the creator and director of the beer sommelier school- Cicerone Certification Program. In his contribution to The Session, Daniels offers a look back at the history of the US Real Ale Festival from 1996 to 2003: the successes, and the difficulties of presenting cask-conditioned ale in a large venue.
  • Local Hops for Local Beer: my contribution, about a Maryland farm supplying hops for a Maryland brewery, and a nascent hop industry along the US East Coast.

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ADDENDA:



Doing double-duty, this post is also one in a series on Cask Ale: Fobbing at the Tut.

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