Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pic(k) of the Week: Sam Adams fenced-in

In 1986, Cincinnati brewer Schoenling purchased the brands of fellow, larger, city brewer Hudepohl. It closed the plant the following year and moved all operations to its Schoenling plant. The consolidation wasn't enough to save the renamed Hudepohl-Schoenling. Competition from national breweries and aging facilities would prove to be intractable problems.

In 1997, the Boston Beer Company —owner of the Samuel Adams beers and malt-based beverages such as Mike's Hard Lemonade Twisted Tea— purchased the Schoenling brewery.

Samuel Adams Brewery in Cincinnati
Boston Beer had never produced much of its own beers since its beginnings in 1984/5.  Spending most of its income on marketing, it relied upon others —such as Pittsburgh Brewing Company and, later, Miller— to produce its beers. The 1997 purchase signaled a change. Today, the former Schoenling brewery produces over a third of Boston Beer's beers and other malt beverages.

Now, in 2010, Boston Beer —selling around 2 million barrels of beer and malt beverages per year— is the largest wholly American-owned brewery extant. Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors are foreign-owned. Stroh's, Pabst, etc. no longer exist; their beers are brand names only, brewed by others.

In the photograph, the high iron fence at the Sam Adams plant in Cincinnati seems unwelcoming. As of last check, indeed no organized public tours of the brewery were allowed.

*********************
  • Schoenling was the brewer of Little Kings Cream Ale, a fond 'poundable' memory to beer drinkers of a 'certain age' in the mid-west and mid-Atlantic. I haven't seen any Little Kings Cream Ale in the Washington D.C. area since the dissolution of the Snyder Group/Frederick Brewing Company. Reviews on BeerAdvocate and a story at Wikipedia confirm that it is still being brewed, but under contract, and not in Cincinnati.
  • Pic(k) of the Week: one in a weekly series of personal photos, often posted on Saturdays.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Real ale at home in Virginia

On a chilly Saturday afternoon, thirty or so homebrewers attended a 'real' party in northern Virginia. The Herndon Wort Hogs were celebrating a style of fresh beer called 'real ale.' I was an invited guest.

Real pour (02)

Real ale?
Unfiltered beer that is naturally carbonated, and served from the vessel in which some or all of the fermentation occurred ... which is already a description of most homebrew.

Herndon Wort Hogs?
A homebrew club in the town of Herndon in northern Virginia, named in part after wort —the sweet liquid extracted from barley malt before it is fermented. I didn't ask about the "hogs".  All attending were well behaved.

At any one time, many at the party would abandon the warmth of the living room (and the Olympics on TV) to stand outside on the porch, where members were using 4 handpumps —called beer engines— to dispense the 'real ales.'

The real ale here had been conditioned —that is refermented, providing gentle carbonation—  within 5 gallon kegs. Called 'Cornie's for short, Cornelius kegs were originally designed and used for dispensing soft drinks and sodas.

Real Ale setup


When beer is re-fermented within 10.8 gallon casks — firkins— the beer is referred to as 'cask-conditioned.' There are other sizes of casks with other unique names.

Good food, good company, and, oh yes, 15 kegs of 'real ale.' Some were good. Some were very good. And most were 'session' strength: that is, less than 5% alcohol by volume, the level to which much cask ale in the United Kingdom —its ancestral home —was produced during the 20th century.

A special thank you goes to our hosts Lynda and Wendell Ose (pronounced "OH see"). They volunteered (sacrificed?) their home as the festival site when another had become unavailable.
  • More photos here and here.
  • More on 'real ale' here.
  • Wendell contributed an essay on brewing real ale at home for February's The Session: Beer Blogging Friday.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Clamps & Gaskets: Roundup for Week 7

Clamps and Gaskets: weekly roundupWeek 7
14 February 2010 - 20 February 2010
  • 2010.02.20
    From Brewdog Brewery in Scotland comes the world's newest strongest beer: Sink the Bismark! at 41% alcohol by volume. A review: http://bit.ly/Ydgq9.
  • 2010.02.20
    Brewers Mitch Steele and Steve Wagner of Stone Brewing Company to write book on India Pale Ale (IPA) beer style, for 2011 release. http://bit.ly/a3Zh4L
  • The crowd
  • 2010.02.20
    Beer In Baltimore blog has recap and pics of the 6th annual 72 Hours of Belgium beer fest at Maxs Taphouse, in Baltimore Maryland: http://bit.ly/9KWBBO
  • 2010.02.20
    Brewer/General Manager Janelle Pritchard of Snoqualmie Falls Brewing interviewed for series: Women in Beer. http://bit.ly/dtvWfG
  • 2010.02.20
    Beer journalist Carolyn Smagalski on the the media roll-out of Maryland's newest brewery Stillwater Ales: http://bit.ly/dBXThx
  • 2010.02.20
    In Richmond, Virginia: Richbrau Brewing Company has closed. Farewell, brewer Mike Banks. http://bit.ly/9B8fhA
  • 2010.02.20
    If a pub refuses to properly condition a cask ale, refuse to drink it. When Real Ale Fails: http://bit.ly/9C0Wpe
  • 2010.02.19
    #FollowFriday: Capital Weather Gang @capitalweather. The best weather reporting for the Washington, D.C. area.
  • 2010.02.19
    The demands of debt and dropping sales. Anheuser-Busch InBev lays off 90, including 4 corporate vice presidents. http://ff.im/-gclEC
  • Beer S.N.O.B.
  • 2010.02.18
    Do craft beer drinkers prefer the flavor or the buzz? Beer blog Beervana's post on Malcolm Gladwell's New Yorker piece sparks controversy: http://bit.ly/d8VqJQ
  • 2010.02.16
    Celebrating Lithuanian Independence Day today: http://bit.ly/ahL45n
  • 2010.02.16
    A new American beer style? What was being termed, oxymoronically, Black IPA, now called Cascadian Dark Ale. http://bit.ly/d3Ij5G
***************************
  • Clamps and Gaskets is a weekly wrap-up of stories not posted at Yours For Good Fermentables.com. Most deal with beer (or wine, or whisky); some do not. But all are brief, and many are re-posts from my Twitter account: twitter.com/cizauskas.
  • The Clamps and Gaskets graphic was created by Mike Licht at NotionsCapital.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pic(k) of the Week: Leap!

Cheech leaps, extends, snags the snowball. Helen the Golden Retriever prefers to conserve energy.

Snag and shag

Bryan Park
Richmond, Virginia.
14 February 2010

*********************
Pic(k) of the Week: one in a weekly series of personal photos, often posted on Saturdays

Friday, February 19, 2010

East Coast Beer Cast

East Coast Beer Cast

East Coast Beer Cast.com is a new series of podcasts, topics concentrating on, but not limited to, beer on the US east coast.  I was interviewed for the 8th program. Host Michael Kuykendall asked me these questions:
  • Where did your interest for beer in general come from?
  • When did you first start working with beer, or become involved in the beer industry?
  • It seems pretty common for people working in the beer industry to move through several different jobs and positions over the life of their career. Why do you think that happens?
  • On your webpage you say that beer and wine are your profession, while cask ale is your passion. Can you explain the difference, and how you separate the two?
  • If you were forced to pick a favorite beer, or at the very least a top five, what would they be right now?
  • In an article written by Greg Kitsock you suggested that many restaurateurs simply haven't been exposed to the full spectrum of beer flavors and that "That's where education is important."  How should the craft beer industry go about insuring education of restaurateurs?
  • People often think that there is a certain level of animosity between makers of wine and beer.  Having a point of view into both the wine and the beer industry, how much of a symbiotic relationship do you think they have?
  • You’ve worn several hats. Brewer, brewery manager, brewpub owner, a beer and wine salesman, a restaurant manager, and a brewery consultant. Which of these have you learn the most from doing?
  • What do you recommend to those looking to follow in your footsteps?
  • Plans for the future?


BeerCast 04

I acquitted myself without too much embarrassment, except for a few gaffes, a voice ravaged by a malingering winter cold, and a deficit of vocabulary.

For instance, when mentioning brewpubs in and near Washington, D.C., I unconscionably omitted Franklins, District Chophouse, and Capitol City Brewing. And later, I mentioned a restaurant in Richmond, Virginia, that, while not a beer bar, per se, understands the connection between good beer and food. But geographically impaired, I incorrectly identified the cuisine of Mekong. It's Vietnamese. My apologies to all.

I weigh in on Sink the Bismark,  the new 41% alcohol-by volume beer from Brew Dog in Scotland. What do I say? Listen!

Thank you to Mike. I look forward to his future interviews.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Back to the Future: Liefmans Kriek

Liefmans Kriek (02)

Like a docent, the bartender showed me a museum piece: a glass of Liefmans Kriek poured from a keg from 2008. Better yet, he offered it to me.
click to read more
There is very little Liefmans remaining these days in the United States, and what is here is old. But 'old' can be relative. A bit of maturity can enhance the characteristic refreshing sour smack of the sour beers of Belgian Flanders.

Long renowned for its Goudenbond (brown ale), Kriek (sour cherry ale) and Frambozen (sour raspberry beer), the Liefmans brewery in Belgium had hit hard times by the early 2000s. Under its Riva ownership, production ended altogether in 2007 at both of its breweries —Oudenaarde and Dentergem.  The brewery applied for bankruptcy relief —a Belgian equivalent of Chapter 11 (that is, to continue operations while some of its debts were forgiven and others were negotiated). Its plea was rejected by the court, which ordered the brewery closed in late December 2007.

At the time, Liefmans/Riva had 50 full-time employees, and produced Frambozen, Goudenband, and Kriek under its own name, as well as Dentergems Witbier, Jan van Gent, Lucifer, Straffe Hendrik, and Vondel.

In 2008, Duvel Moortgat —maker of Duvel in Belgium and of Ommegang in the US— agreed to purchase Liefmans for 7.1 million dollars. Some beer remained in the tanks. That was bottled, but as stocks were depleted, exports to the US were halted.

Moortgat closed the Dentergem facility, and has since renovated the Oudenaarde brewery, where new production is slowly coming 'on-line.' Goudenband (re-packaged as Oud Brune) and Kriek (re-packaged as Cuvee Brut) is again being sold, but only in Europe. There is also a new, eponymous, low alcohol, unaged fruit beer. The rights to brew Lucifer were sold to Het Anker.

Cuvee Brut
Duvel-Moortgat has released no public details as to resumption of export of Liefmans to the US, but industry insiders believe its return is probable, if not imminent. If export were to re-commence, side issues would first have to be resolved, such as assignment of importers and wholesalers, and approval by the US government and states.

Fans of other sour reds —such as Rodenbach (itself just recently re-introduced to the US) and Duchesse de Bourgogne— will enjoy this 'museum' Liefmans Kriek. Deep red and cloudy, it's stunningly delicious: cherry-skin tart, with just a bit of residual sweetness, a dash of salt,  and a hint of iron in the finish.

Here's what the brewery has to say:
This Kriek is made with a completely different method from Kriek Lambic. It starts with old brown ale which is macerated with fresh whole cherries [13 kg per 100 liters] in shallow, horizontal tanks. Then it matures for about 1 year and afterwards is blended with Oud Brun and Cuvee Brut or Goudenband of different ages. 

Only a few days ago, I enjoyed a 10-ounce glass of the 2008 Kriek on draft at Rustico Restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia. The bartender poured it from a separate beer line kept seperate in the beer cooler. Fruit beers such as this can permanently 'flavor' (that is, taint) a standard draft beer line.

When these two 40-liter kegs are emptied, Liefmans Kriek, in the US as such, may be no more. We wait for Cuvee Brut.


  • The photo above to the right is as Liefmans Goudenband (now Oud Brun) used to appear. Above, to the left, is as Cuvee Brut (formerly Kriek) will now appear.
  • More on Liefmans: here.
  • Caveat lector: As a representative of northern Virginia beer/wine wholesaler Select Wines, Inc., I sold the Liefmans keg to the restaurant. If and when Liefmans reappears in the US, the question of whether the company will again distribute the beer is unresolved.
  • Drinking Again is a series of occasional reviews of beer (and wine and spirits). More: here.
  • The Drinking Again graphic was created by Mike Licht at NotionsCapital.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Clamps & Gaskets: Roundup for Week 6

Clamps and Gaskets: weekly roundupWeek 6
7 January 2010 - 13 February 2010
  • 2010.02.13
    Maryland's newest brewery Stillwater Artisinal Ales unveils its Stateside Saison —dry-hopped, French-oaked— in casked form, today at the 72 Hours of Belgium Festival at Max's Taphouse. http://stillwaterales.blogspot.com/
  • 2010.02.12
    #FollowFriday - Wine guy who also loves beer. New York Times Eric Asimov @http://twitter.com/search?q=%23FollowFriday>
  • 2010.02.11
    The Snow Abides. Facts, figures, and photos from The Great Blizzards of Aught-10: http://bit.ly/atsNGu
  • 2010.02.11
    Frisbee inventor Fred Morrison dies at 90; originally named the toy the Pluto Platter. http://bit.ly/a0VwkA
  • Beer tasting (with cheese)
  • 2010.02.10
    According to data from Nielsen Co., 'craft' beer sales rose 12.4% in 2009. Via BusinessWeek: http://bit.ly/a71Yg5
  • 2010.02.08
    Maryland Senate committee chairperson plans to kill bill allowing direct wine shipments within Maryland: http://bit.ly/dabyJ2 [Beer would be affected as well].
  • 2010.02.08
    UC Davis study suggests silicon in pale beers strengthens bones. But less is more. http://bit.ly/cKt7NJ
  • 2010.02.07
    A brief history of the US Real Ale Festival, 1996-2003 http://bit.ly/9XWXa9

***************************
  • Clamps and Gaskets is a weekly wrap-up of stories not posted at Yours For Good Fermentables.com. Most deal with beer (or wine, or whisky); some do not. But all are brief, and many are re-posts from my Twitter account: twitter.com/cizauskas.
  • The Clamps and Gaskets graphic was created by Mike Licht at NotionsCapital.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Pic(k) of the Week: Snowdrops in winter

Snowdrops in winter (02)


At Green Spring Gardens Park in Annandale, Virginia, before the Great Blizzards of aught-10.

Photo by Albert Cizauskas, Jr.

*********************

Pic(k) of the Week: one in a weekly series of personal photos.

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.

***********************************
ADDENDA:



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

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Snow Abides

This may be a good fermentables blog, but an occasional non-fermentable, non-comestible post can't hurt.

From the Capital Weather Gang blog at the Washington Post, here are the official numbers from the big snow(s):


Snow boxes

This is now the snowiest winter of all-time! The likely final numbers from yesterday's blizzard included 10.8" of snow at National (DCA), 9.3" at Dulles (IAD) and 19.5" at Baltimore-Washington (BWI).

Where do we stand on all-time records?
Washington's new all-time record stands at 55.9" (besting 54.4" from 1898-99) while IAD is now at 72.8" on the year compared to BWI's 79.9".

What about February records?
DCA is 3.3" away from the February (and all-time monthly) record for D.C. set in 1899 of 35.2"; IAD has already eclipsed the 2003 Feb. record by 10.8"; BWI has also eclipsed the 2003 numbers for Feb. by 8.7".

The incredible totals
DCA, 28.6"; IAD, 41.7"; BWI, 44.3".

The Capital Weather Gang 03:15 PM ET, 02/11/2010

*******************
More photos here.

VeggieDag Thursday: Box of Chocolate, Bottle of Beer

I recently overheard a customer in a wine and beer shop proclaim: "I don't want beer with dessert. That's just weird."

I kept quiet in the shop, but here, to rebut, I reprint this lede from a 2007 Seattle Weekly article:

Red Wine and Chocolate: arranged marriage. Beer and Chocolate: hot sex.

Chocolate and Weizenbock!

Here's more:
Red Wine Doesn't Go With Chocolate
Try beer instead.
December 12, 2007

Red wine with chocolate is like an arranged marriage. The only thing they have in common is fruit: Red wine tastes like it, and chocolate sometimes tastes good with it. However, red wine's overbearing tannin, oak, and acid affront a fine chocolate's complex creaminess, and neither lets the other finish a sentence. They don't belong together.

Chocolate needs something like beer, a beverage that can be supportive. They speak the same language. They share the same bittersweet nature. Think of the beer as you would a chocolate's center: chocolate-covered malt balls, toasted rice, toffee. They like to go to the same places on your tongue <...>

<...> With beer and chocolate, it's not a matter of getting it wrong. It's more likely to be just right.

What's at play here is the affinity of flavors between chocolate and beer, what brewmaster Garrett Oliver calls the "flavor hook."  He's not talking about Industrial Light Lagers, but fuller-flavored traditional beers and the newer craft styles.

What combinations to try?

Stout, with its roasty and bakers' chocolate flavors, is a natural choice with chocolate. But don't stop there. Try citrus chocolate with IPAs. Sweet fruit beers with 'white' chocolate.

Weizens and weizenbocks with fruit-liqueur chocolates. Barleywines with toffee/caramel chocolates. Dubbels and other dark abbey and Belgian-style beers with all sorts of chocolate. Even chocolate and peanut butter (!) with an Imperial Stout.

And, yes, if you wished, you could try some port wine with that dark chocolate.

********************
  • More posts on beer and chocolate:  here.
  • As a representative for beer/wine wholesaler Select Wines, Inc., I sell the beers of Heavy Seas (Clipper City) in northern Virginia.
  • VeggieDag is a series of occasional Thursday posts on vegetarian cooking and issues. Why the name? Here.
  • Suggestions and submissions from chefs and homecooks welcomed! Here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Local hops for local beer

One late afternoon in mid December 2009, the threat of a snowstorm transformed a 45 minute car trip into a three and one-half hour ordeal, roads thronged with the slow-moving crush of panicking drivers.

There was, however, a payoff waiting for me at my destination, The Judge's Bench —a pub in Ellicott City,  Maryland, south of Baltimore City ...

It was a pint of Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale —the India Pale Ale (IPA) from Clipper City Brewing Company of Baltimore, Maryland— poured fresh from a firkin, a 10.8 gallon cask.

Tom Barse, hop farmer


A month or so earlier, Clipper City had purchased organically grown hops from a farm in Frederick, Maryland. Those local hops —Cascade and Centennial varietals— had been used by the brewery's cellarman, Stephen Marsh,  to dry-hop several casks of Loose Cannon.

The beer was there at The Judge's Bench. And also there were the farmers of those hops,  Tom Barse and his wife Carol Ann McConaughy. I got my pint and introduced myself. Quick with disarming smiles, they discussed Stillpoint Farm, and their plans for its future.

Sisson & Barse(s)
l-r: Hugh Sisson (owner, Clipper City Brewing);
Carol Ann McConaughy and Tom Barse.


In the 1870s, Tom told me, Frederick, Maryland, had been an important hop growing region. In fact, there had been a brewery, not far from where his farm is today, for which local farmers had supplied hops. Thus Tom, who grew up in nearby Rockville, Maryland, sees himself not so much as a pioneer, but as a revivalist.

A member of the Maryland Wine Growers' Association, Tom began growing wine grapes over two decades ago. He is experimenting with some grafting of various varietals, but he is not interested in operating a winery. "Heck why? I can grow hops."

He took another sip from his pint of Loose Cannon, made with his hops, and continued.

He believes that hops can thrive again in our area, if smart methods are used. Tom farms using organic and sustainable methods, but he won't be getting the certification. Hops have not been grown commercially in the region for over 100 years. As a result, black rot and powdery mildew haven't had host plants in which to thrive. But, he warns, once a hop industry takes root, it might be only a matter of time before infestation recurs. What happens, he wondered, the first time an organically-certified hop farmer has to deal with these problems?

Although the East Coast (and New York State, in particular) was the nation's primary hop-growing region in the 19th century, the industry was was moribund by the early 1950s. Compared to the hop yards in Oregon and Washington, now the premier growing region, the hop farms of New York and the mid-Atlantic experienced higher humidity (and thus greater susceptibility to infestation) and produced lower yield.

The 'organic' regulations themselves are somewhat suspect, he adds. For instance, copper sulfate is allowed under the rules to fight powdery mildew. The best farming practices include returning what you take from the soil back to the soil.

When he first began making plans to grow hops, he contacted farmer Glen Fuller who himself had recently opened a commercial organic hop yard (5 acres) in Colorado. Following his advice, Tom plants his rhizomes no later then the beginning of May, after the threat of a frost has receded. Each rhizome eventually will yield 4-6 hop shoots. He's noticed that the shoots seem to grow well at night, sometimes as much as 1 foot.

Barse entwines the hops on 18 foot high trellises, using coir: fibrous 'string' derived from coconuts.

He harvests the hops mid-August through the first week of September. Already, just with the two varietals he's grown, Tom has noticed that different hops ripen at different rates. Cacades are ready earlier than Centennial, and hops at the top of a trellis ripen before those below.

Tom has at most a 5 day window in which to pick the hops. If there's a late rain, it can be trouble: hops don't 'ripen' properly when wet. His 'signal' is the slightly yellow appearance of the bracteoles, and the pungent-sweet aroma of the lupulin.

Fresh hops contain up to 70% moisture by weight, and thus are very susceptible to rot. So, after harvest, he air-dries the hops to 7-8% by weight. Because of the region's humid environment, the process can take up to 4 days.  He then vacuum-packs them, and stores them refrigerated.

Tom explained that the hop bine (not vine) is a perennial. Thus, even though he took the plunge in 2008, he won't see full potential yield  until the 2nd or 3rd year.  His first harvest, although small, he described as beautiful. The Cascades and Centennial were bountiful; the Fuggles, Northern Brewer, Saaz, and Nugget, not so much. Stillpoint Farm comprises only 47 acres (and shares space with the horses and sheep Carol raises). Even so, Tom expects 2,400 lbs per acre as he gears up.

Tom hand-picked the hops in 2009, but he's realistic about achieving a profitable volume. He will need to mechanize the process.  He is building build a hop picker, basing his design on that of two pioneering hop farmers in New York state: Larry Fisher of Foothills Hop Farm, and Rick Pedersen of Pederson Farm, both members of the nascent Northeast Hop Alliance.

Although Tom plans to increase hop production in 2010, and will be adding other varietals, he is realistic. He has no interest in competing with the Pacific Northwest hop industry. He can't. In addition to not matching its sheer volume, he would never be able competitively pay for the lab analysis to determine the alpha acid content of hops, that is, their bittering power. His hops would be better used for aroma, for which lab analysis isn't necessary.

Small farms, Tom notes, need to diversify their crops to be successful. For example, corn or soybeans yield maybe $300 per acre. The best vineyards in Maryland (all relatively small) average gross incomes of $5,000 per acre, and that's after a minimum of 5 years of operation.  The economics demand diversification into higher profit crops. The recent increases in hop prices make hops a potentially viable crop.

Tom and Carol (well, that would be Tom, Carol noted) even have plans to open their own brewery, producing 1,500 barrels per year. That would truly be a farmhouse brewery.

But ... how was the beer? How was the cask of locally-hopped Loose Cannon Hop3 IPA?

Maryland Hop3 Cask pour (02)


You have to understand that this was cask-conditioned beer. It was beer that was still fermenting within a 10.8 gallon stainless steel vessel called a firkin.  This was FRESH beer. The point of cask-conditioned beer is NOT to age the beer (even though you could). The point is to serve it NOW, to drink it NOW: fresh, bursting with just-prepared flavor. Storing cask-conditioned beer even for a week, let alone months, seems ridiculous. That's what a keg or bottle is for.

So, how was the beer? Redolent of yeasty flavors, and the piney, citrusy, character of fresh Cascade hops, it was, in a word, exquisite.

Hops confab
l-r: Stephen Marsh; Tom Barse; Kurt Krol, brewer.


I toasted Stephen Marsh, the cellarman at Clipper City Brewing Company who had prepared this cask and indeed prepares all of the brewery's casks (and who had invited me to this event), and, then, I drove back to northern Virginia, arriving home just as the snow storm, that would dump 18 inches on us, began.

****************************
UPDATE
A month after the event, I met with Hugh Sisson —general partner and founder of Clipper City Brewing. I asked him two questions.

YFGF: I imagine that hops from Stillpoint Farms cost more than those from the large hop merchants. Will you continue to buy from Stillpoint?

Sisson: Yes. The majority of our hops will be purchased elsewhere, but, as Clipper City is a Maryland-based business, we support other local businesses. The fresh flavor of their hops is wonderful. In fact, we are willing to pay a premium above and beyond the spot market price [which is significantly higher than pre-determined contracted prices]. But, he added, that's within reason.

YFGF [leading the witness]: Is Clipper City planning anything special for the next harvest?

Sisson: Yes. For the 2010 harvest, we're anticipating wet-hopped ales, and casks.

YFGF: Wet-hop: That's literally using hops within hours of their harvest, even before they've been cured. The flavor is a lot 'grassier' than with cured hops. Think of biting into a stalk of fresh basil, stems and all, rather than cooking with it. Many west coast breweries —much closer to the northwest US hop yards —do this already. By the time we get these beers —as good as they are— they've lost some of that just-harvested character.

I envision a truck leaving Clipper City in Baltimore, being driven the 45 minutes to Frederick, loaded up, and driven back to Baltimore, where the brewers would unload the hops and promptly brew the beer. Fresh!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Clamps & Gaskets: Roundup for Week 5

Clamps and Gaskets: weekly roundupWeek 5
31 January 2010 - 6 February 2010
    Snow mail
  • 2010.02.06
    The big story of the week was the monster blizzard that hit the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore area. My post, with links to news stories: http://tinyurl.com/ygktjwk
  • 2010.02.06
    Five Ways to Cook With Beer — Super Bowl Style. http://bit.ly/cphZie
  • 2010.02.06
    Twitter BeerEd (ucation) continues, via Ray Daniels of Cicerone.org. Better brewing with chemistry: some molecules (kokumi) e.g. calcium, have no flavor but enhance other flavors.
  • 2010.02.05
    It's the taste! A succinct lesson on the differences between ales and lagers. http://adjix.com/v5zi
  • Real Ale Tent
  • 2010.02.05
    American cask beer festivals: your D.I.Y. guide. Posted for NERAX and The Session -beer Blogging Friday. http://bit.ly/bw09PD.
  • 2010.02.05
    Twitter #FollowFriday for beer, food, and nightlife in Washington, D.C. @fritzhahn @goingoutgurus.
  • 2010.02.05
    Twitter #FollowFriday - Astronaut Soichi Noguchi @Astro_Soichi tweets photographs of Earth from the International Space Station. http://bit.ly/cW1Y1R
  • 2010.02.04
    The Session; Beer Blogging Friday #36: Cask-Conditioned Beer http://bit.ly/arhOnj
  • 2010.01.04
    Scottish brewery Brewdog's Tactical Nuclear Penguin was the world's strongest 'beer' at 32% abv. It has been bested by 25% by German brewery Schorschbräu's Schorschbock beer at 40% abv. http://bit.ly/ctV6us
  • 2010.02.03
    Today in 1959: The Day the Music Died. http://bit.ly/2M3VT3
  • Brewer, owner, fan
    Brian Strumke (r);
    Volker Stewart, owner Brewers Art (c); Chris Cashell, brewer, Brewers Art (l)
  • 2010.02.02
    Baltimore Maryland has a new brewery: Stillwater Artisanal Ales; Brian Strumke, brewer. http://bit.ly/cdQGOr

***************************
  • Clamps and Gaskets is a weekly wrap-up of stories not posted at Yours For Good Fermentables.com. Most deal with beer (or wine, or whisky); some do not. But all are brief, and many are re-posts from my Twitter account: twitter.com/cizauskas.
  • The Clamps and Gaskets graphic was created by Mike Licht at NotionsCapital.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Real Ale Festival, 1996-2003

The topic of this month's The Session: Beer Blogging Friday is Cask-Conditioned Ale. In addition to inviting beer bloggers to contribute, I reached out to non-blogging beer folk (and, yes, they are many).

Ray Daniels sent along this recollection.

In 1996, I led colleagues from the Chicago Beer Society in setting up the Real Ale Festival which we ran seven times through 2003. Each time, it was the largest gathering of cask ales ever assembled in the US--and most likely the largest ever gathered outside Britain. It still holds the record as the largest competition of cask ales ever conducted on this side of the Atlantic. I met Tom Cizauskas during those days and he asked me for some memories from those days. Here are some brief recollections from the festival.

1996: 32 entries in a rag-tag array of “casks”: Sankey kegs, Hoff-Stevens kegs (still pretty common in those days), 5-gallon corny kegs (a rare size in commercial brewing then) and even some really old “Golden Gate” style kegs. We put the American beers up against the imported entries and Fuller’s London Pride won. In addition to the fest, we had London publican Mark Dorber over to judge and talk about the preparation and keeping of cask ale.



l-r: Ray Daniels, organizer, festival director;
Mark Dorber, master cellarman;
Tomme Arthur, brewer; Steve Hamburg, co-organizer, festival cellarmaster.
Photo courtesy of Steve Hamburg.

1997: We mandated use of “firkins” for every entry allowing easier handling and gravity dispense so that we didn’t need scores of beer engines. (Sales of firkins took off as a result.) As I recall, 98 beers in total were served. Judging was done by US brewers in multiple categories. We had a homebrewed real ale competition too! Educational sessions from Alan Pugsley and others took an entire morning covering how to prepare and manage firkins. One woman who attended came and asked for her money back after being there for 10 minutes because she couldn’t find any cask-conditioned Miller Lite.


Real Ale Fest 1997 (01)Judging at the RAF, 1997.

1998: We moved to a convention center in the suburbs and nearly went broke between the costs and horrible weather. But, we had Michael Jackson in to speak and judge and our firkin count was into the mid-100s. We also offered bottle-conditioned beers for the first time. At this point the festival limited the number of cask entries breweries could send as we simply would not have been able to accommodate all the casks otherwise.We took an interval of 16 months between this fest and the next, moving the event from the fall to late winter.

2000-2002: We moved to the recently opened Goose Island brewpub in Wrigleyville where the fest would be held for three years. Here the festival prospered and took on an international reputation. Despite the close quarters we had people coming from all over the country and from several countries outside the US to attend. Signs of the fest still remain on the ceiling in one room where an over-conditioned keg spewed its contents in a geyser more than 15 feet high.

2003: The last year of the Real Ale Festival as such, was held in a vintage warehouse building at an inner city steel mill. Smokers found still-hot steel forms in the parking lot to huddle around for warmth and festival goers had two floors of cask stillaging to explore. We tapped 232 casks that year, including 32 imported from England that were served at their own special bar. It was a glorious year and we looked forward to returning to the same venue for additional years of the fest. Sadly, that was not to be. Due to licensing issues, we were denied further use of that space. We had looked for years for places where we might do the event as it grew, but there simply wasn’t anyplace suitable. Proper presentation of cask ales requires several days of stillaging before serving and we simply couldn’t find a space in Chicago that would surrender their facility for a full week at a price that we could afford on the revenues from a two-day festival.

The remnants of this festival live on in an annual cask ale event put on by the Chicago Beer Society called “Night of the Living Ales.” The event sells out so quickly that non-members rarely have a chance a tickets.

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.

***********************************

The Session #36: Cask-Conditioned Beer
The Session: Beer Blogging 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.

More here.

Pic(k) of the Week: Snowmageddon

Snowmageddon!

This weekend's blizzard marked only the third time in a hundred years that the Washington, D.C. area has been hit with two double-digit snowfalls in one winter season. The official Washington D.C. total as recorded at Washington National Airport was 17.8", the 4th largest storm in recorded history for D.C., and the 3rd highest winter total on record.

Baltimore-Washington International set a new all time record for a two-day event. Dulles International Airport reported 32.4 inches.

The snow began falling at 10am on Friday, 5 February. Here, on my deck in northern Virginia, the tally was 22 inches by 1pm, and the total backyard accumulation by 5pm, when the snow stopped falling, was 22.5 inches.

Shoveling the deck

The season's first snowstorm in December —dubbed 'Snowpocalypse'— dumped 16.4 inches at Washington National Airport, with much higher totals elsewhere in the area. Another snowstorm is  predicted for the following mid-week.

*********************

Friday, February 05, 2010

A Field Guide to Cellarmanship

The topic of this month's The Session: Beer Blogging Friday is Cask-Conditioned Ale. In addition to inviting beer bloggers to contribute, I reached out to non-blogging beer folk (and, yes, they are many).

The following Field Guide to Cellarmanship was submitted by its author, Ron Fischer, the Division Manager of the Cask Ale Collection for B. United International, an importer and US distributor of beer, cider, and saké.

Once our firkins arrive to our warehouse, coming out of a refrigerated container, we guarantee 7 weeks shelflife (unbroached) when kept at 42-50 degrees Fahrenheit. Within 72 hours after I have finished adding the finings (stateside as rather then at the brewery in the UK; this markedly adds to the shelflife), orders go out to our wholesalers, combined with case and keg product.

After taking the firkin out of “cold storage” (should never be colder then 45 degrees F if for any appreciable length of time), you then want to bring the cask up to cellar/serving temperature of 51 – 56 degrees F. At this rising temperature, the finings are most effective in attracting yeast and together they SLOWLY sink to the bottom forming a bed of sediment.

It is best to stillage the cask (position firmly on it’s side on wooden chocks like a wine barrel so that the small opening where the tap is inserted at “6 o’clock” and the large opening is pointing up) a full 48 hours before intended serving time. Anywhere from 12 to 24 hours later, release the extraneous CO2 by knocking a sterile soft spile (porous, balsam wood peg) through the recess in the center of the shive (larger of the two closures which is pointing up while the firkin is on its side). This recessed area (called the tut), as well as the keystone (plug of small opening) must be sterilized. Beer may foam (also called fob) through this peg. If the peg becomes saturated, replace with a dry one until fobbing has stopped.
Then, as soon as possible, hammer a sterile (or “beer clean’) cask tap through the keystone (thereby puncturing it) and hammer tightly into the opening, be careful not to drive too far as the keystone may crack. After tapping, it’s best to draw off at least one pint for sampling to test for product failure and to allow some headspace for the beneficial oxidation (“conditioning’) to take place. The soft peg may now be replaced with a hard peg to maintain the CO2 in solution until it is time to serve and also to prevent any additional air to touch the surface area of the beer inside the cask.

About 48 hours after putting the cask on stillage, following the above steps, you will be ready to serve. Very complex or high gravity ales will need longer then 24 hours to “condition out” (allow the brewer intended flavors to develop and let some of the wacky esters blow off). The general rule states to use:

Soft pegs - while the cask is being served
Hard pegs - for overnight storage

(Air replaces the beer that is drawn off by gravity or pulled with a beer engine. Otherwise a vacuum would occur).

Cask ale needs to be tasted every day before being put on sale, especially as you get to Day 3,4,… after putting it on. The surface area to volume ratio increases and therefore the depreciation of the remaining beer increases exponentially.

Ron Fischer of B United

***********************************
The Session #36: Cask-Conditioned Beer
The Session: Beer Blogging 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.

More here.

Still crazy about cask ale after all these years

The topic of this month's The Session: Beer Blogging Friday is Cask-Conditioned Ale. In addition to inviting beer bloggers to contribute, I reached out to non-blogging beer folk (and, yes, they are many).

The following is an essay from Steve Hamburg, one of the foremost cask cellarmen in the United States.

Chicago was once home to America’s premier cask ale event, The Real Ale Festival, now sadly fading into history. Starting from humble beginnings in October 1996, RAF gradually grew to become one of the most anticipated festivals on the calendar of any serious beer geek. As a co-founder and head cellarman of that event, I have a unique perspective on cask ale in America and its growth in popularity.

Hard to believe, but the first Real Ale Festival featured just 32 beers, and over half of them were served from Golden Gate, Sanke, and Hoff Stevens kegs. Only 4 of the 16 American breweries managed to provide actual casks (Bridgeport, Middle Ages, Highlander, Shipyard)! But surely the highlight of the event was the shipment of firkins flown in from England: Marston's Pedigree, Oyster Stout, and Owd Roger; Young's Special Bitter and Fuller's ESB.

We would never have been able to get any of those English beers without the incredible assistance of Mark Dorber, then the famed landlord of the White Horse on Parsons Green in London and a widely recognized expert on real ale. English brewers initially balked when Ray Daniels and I approached them about getting beers, but when we mentioned that Mark would be arranging the critical equipment and directing the cellaring, they yielded. The USA was a cask ale desert, and no self-respecting English brewer was going to trust a Yank to look after his beers.

We must have done something right, because we never had a problem getting beers after that. The Fuller’s brewery proudly displayed their Best of Show medal in their Hock Cellar and the CAMRA newsletter What’s Brewing said "It looks like a CAMRA beer festival, it tastes like a CAMRA beer festival..."


Beginning in 1997 we required that all beers submitted for the festival come in actual firkins to facilitate uniform handling and serving of every entry. Despite this new requirement, our second festival drew three times as many entries as the first and established this event as the largest gathering of cask-conditioned ales anywhere outside of Britain (only the Great British Beer Festival and the Peterborough Beer Festival offered more at the time). At our last RAF in 2003 we served 220 casks of real ale from 21 states and the District of Columbia, including 16 beers from 6 UK breweries.

Life as a cellarman was always entertaining in those early years. Certain breweries (which shall remain un-named) were renowned for priming their beers so vigorously that soft spiling often risked the loss of an eye and inevitably included a beer shower. That’s when I learned to always wear glasses when spiling. I also learned to keep a box of towels handy, as the fountain that shot forth from the soft spile could splatter the cross beams on a 12-foot ceiling and spray everything within a 15-foot radius.


Luckily only a handful of beers were this dangerous, as beers this lively were almost impossible to serve properly once the festival was underway. RAF always had a professional judging, which meant we always aimed to get all of the beers properly conditioned and bright when judging began. Unfortunately, some beers were still “working” in the cask when judge samples were poured.

After a while, most breweries worked out their kinks and managed to ship us beers that were well-conditioned but not explosive. It became more boring, perhaps, but better for all concerned, on both sides of the bar.

One of my required activities that always drew a crowd was the quality walk-through, where beers were sampled and assessed grades in condition, clarity, and overall quality. The system I used was borrowed (stolen) from Mark Dorber and proved extremely helpful in anticipating problems and providing suitable feedback to judges and consumers.

The process is actually quite quick: you pour off the first pint, then draw a sample and visually assess condition and clarity; take a short sniff to check for off aromas; sample a sip for off flavors; and yes, usually you spit it out. This always seemed to piss off other volunteers, who looked at spitting as something you did at a wine tasting. But the fact is, you simply can’t drink every beer at a festival (by 2003, these duties were split between 3 of us, but that still meant we would each check ~70 beers!). Eventually I learned to plan these walkthroughs when fewer people were around, as too many volunteers wanted to “help” out with the tasting.

Of course, when you’re working in a pub environment with a maximum of 5-6 casks on, taste away!

Sadly, RAF faded away after years of various venue issues. Most of the original equipment we used - the cooling jackets, glycol chillers, handpumps, taps – were sold off. But the success we achieved over 7 years was still impressive. We know that we never wavered when it came to the quality and presentation of the beers. I was especially proud when Mark Dorber came back in 2002 and said we were really doing things right. And we’re still doing a nice real ale event in Chicago – it’s just smaller (around 40 or so casks), but the beer quality is still something we’re proud of.

Slowly, surely, real ale has been catching on in America. At the very least, brewers have better access to casks, cellaring supplies, taps, and handpumps (Paul Pendyck’s UK Brewing Supplies has been a great resource). But to my mind, too many brewpubs and beer bars still lack the cellaring training and experience or worse, the desire to serve cask ale at its most elegant best. Many breweries continue to struggle to find the right balance of yeast and/or primings in the cask. A lot of places didn’t bother with finings at all, or even if they did, they didn’t give them a chance to work their magic.

l-r: Ray Daniels, organizer; Mark Dorber; Tomme Arthur, brewer; Steve Hamburg.

The most common problem I see today is that beers haven’t been given enough time to develop conditioning and drop bright in the cask. I understand the need to turn over beer quickly in a bar or brewpub, but come on – what’s your rush? Let the beer finish. As I often heard Mark Dorber say, “cask-conditioning is a marathon, not a sprint.” Most beers, even the most intensely dry-hopped “tea-bagged” IPA can be served bright if given enough time. If you’re not allowing proper time for conditioning and brightness, why bother with cask-conditioning at all?

The job of the cellarman is to use his/her tools and experience to bring out the greatest beauty of every beer on offer. If you’re willing to drink unfinished cloudy pints, you don’t need a cellarman at all – just throw the cask on the bar, tap it, and be done with it. But whatever it is, it’s beer from a cask, not cask-conditioned beer.

Unfortunately, too many American beer drinkers have only been exposed to a more false representation of real ale, where the “show” takes precedence over the beauty and elegance of the beer in the glass. Casks are rolled and sloshed around right before tapping, as if they were the stainless steel (or plastic) equivalent of a bottle of Bavarian hefeweizen. Patrons are too often told that real ale is “supposed to be cloudy” because it’s unfiltered. Sometimes beer that’s been overspiled and flat is pumped through a tight sparkler to give it the head it should have had without such “special treatment.” We can all do without this sort of thing.

Cask ale done right is a remarkable drink. Let’s not settle for style over substance. 

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.

***********************************

The Session #36: Cask-Conditioned Beer
The Session: Beer Blogging 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.

More here.

Homebrewed Real Ale

The topic of this month's The Session: Beer Blogging Friday is Cask-Conditioned Ale. In addition to inviting beer bloggers to contribute, I reached out to non-blogging beer folk (and, yes, they are many).

The following is a contribution from Wendell Ose.

Writing this as the first inch of an expected 20 inch snowfall begins to accumulate here in the DC burbs of northern Virginia and borrowing the melody from 'Frosty The Snowman', I author a new lyric, "There must have been some magic in that firkin cask we found 'cause when we drank the ale inside we began to dance around."

But wait, there's another song to screw with, "I've never been to England but I kinda like the Real Ales. Up here In NoVa, not Arizona, what does it matter?"

I'm ashamed to admit it but I've never been to England although I've had the pleasure of drinking plenty of imported cask ale that has made the trip here to enlightened DC bars as well as 100s of homebrewed real ales and a few local pub-brewed commercial examples over the last decade. I've been homebrewing for 17 years and many of my creations have been brewed in the cask ale tradition.

Ose & Funnell
Wendell Ose (l); Nick Funnell (r)

I've had the good fortune to win homebrew club Brewers United for Real Potables BJCP sanctioned Real Ale Championship in 2000 and 2007. The 2007 winning beer, an English Mild Ale, made me eligible to enter the 2008 GABF Pro-Am Competition in Denver. English ex-pat Nick Funnell, head brewer for local Great American Restaurants' Sweetwater Tavern, allowed me to brew a 15 barrel batch with him that advanced to the final 6 beers of 58 GABF entries from around the US. I based my recipe on one Nick had contributed to a Brewing Techniques Magazine Beer Styles article back in the 90s.

My homebrew club, The Wort Hogs, has its 4th Annual Real Ale Party scheduled later this month so I brewed two ales for that event this week, a Best Bitter and a Northern English Brown Ale, a sweet version that's a close cousin to my Mild Ale. (Btw, recipes and process info available on request.)

I love to brew real ale as much as drink it, probably because of my short attention span. You can brew one today and be drinking it at its peak in 7 to 10 days. Now that's fresh beer and freshness and liveliness are what cask ale is all about. A well made, Ordinary Bitter at about 3.5% ABV, naturally and lightly carbonated can be magic in a glass, magic in a bottomless glass for that matter since it seems like you can drink them one after another and still walk/drive away safe, sound and feeling good all around. If you're drinking a lovely English-style ale and it seems like you simply can't enjoy enough of it, chances are you're drinking a cask ale at its best.

Find one or brew one, and as The Great One [the late Michael Jackson, the beer writer] suggested, "do it a favor and drink it."

Wendell Ose is an award-winning homebrewer, and an avid supporter of local breweries.

***********************************

The Session #36: Cask-Conditioned Beer
The Session: Beer Blogging 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.

More here.