The Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving just happens to be one of the busier evenings of the year for many bars in the US. Where else to go after travel, airport pat-downs, and cooking?
Four years ago in 2007, on that November Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving, the Evening Star Cafe in Alexandria, Virginia, tapped and served its first-ever firkin of cask-conditioned ale. Bar manager Evan Labb didn't know what to expect, but he needn't have worried: the cask of Loose Cannon ―a hoppy, fruity, IPA (India Pale Ale) brewed by Clipper City Brewing, of Baltimore, Maryland― was drained well before evening's end.
The restaurant has made it a tradition ever since, and always with casks of the Loose Cannon. Then, this year, a special treat: Loose Cannon tapped from a wooden cask.
Clipper City ―now re-named Heavy Seas Brewing― conditioned the 7.3% alcohol-by-volume IPA, NOT in a traditional stainless steel firkin, but in a medium-toast, white-oak barrel. The brewery's cellarman then matured the beer for an additional sixty days, infusing it in the barrel with five varieties of hops, including Maryland-grown Cascades.
This was the fifth time that the brewery had filled that particular cask with a beer. As a result, bourbon-like flavors, which one might expect to be leached from the oak during a first fill, were NOT present. Rather, one tasted the softer flavor of vanilla. Accompanying that were American hop-derived grapefruit aromas, and, even more so, a good slug of melon-fruit flavor, spiked with a dose of coconut-like creaminess, possibly derived from micro-oxygenation through the oak staves.
It was a festive atmosphere at the Evening Star on Wednesday. The lounge and the restaurant were filled with patrons, maybe not all there for the cask but many indeed enjoying a pint (or two). Evan, wearing a turkey headdress, encouraged everyone to draw 'hand-turkeys,' supplying paper, crayons, glue, beads, feathers, and baubles. The walls would become festooned with the art, and the cask's special ale would be drunk within hours.
- More photos: here.
- Thanks to Jon McIntyre, the local Territory Manager for Heavy Seas, who personally arranged for and delivered the barrel.
- Caveat lector: As an employee of beer & wine wholesaler Select Wines, Inc., I sell the beers of Heavy Seas in northern Virginia.
- Pic(k) of the Week: one in a weekly series of personal photos, usually posted on Saturdays, and often of a 'good fermentable' as subject.