All this week, many in the U.K. are participating in National Cask Ale Week. Also known as 'real ale' and 'cask-conditioned ale,' cask ale is fresh, unfiltered beer that is served from the cask in which it undergoes a secondary, carbonation-producing, fermentation. Many beer drinkers —including me!— consider cask ale to have more fully developed flavor than kegged or bottled beer, due to live yeast in the cask, its ultimate freshness, and the gentle method of serving the beer.
The 'week' began on Saturday, 1 October, and will continue through Sunday 9 October 2011 (besting The Beatles' Eight Days a Week). Cask Marque —a 'real ale' quality assurance program in the UK— is the organizer, assisted by CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), a UK-based consumer cask ale organization.
Over 7,500 pubs in Britain are said to be participating, billed as the "World's Biggest Ale Trail."
Timed to coincide with the launch of Cask Ale Week, Cask Marque are launching the new Ale Trail section of their app. Available for iPhone and Android "The World's Biggest Ale Trail" offers customers the chance to use their phone's camera to scan QR codes placed on Cask Marque certificates in each of their 7,500 accredited pubs. When they reach certain numbers of pubs scanned then prizes are won.
The app allows participants to find nearby Cask Marque-accredited pubs, to search for similar cask ales in other pubs, to rate beers in a communal database (akin to the Untappd smartphone app or web-based BeerAdvocate and RateBeer), and to access other 'beer-ticking' functions.
But NOT here in the U.S.
Although cask ale growth is empirically obvious in the U.S., there is no American analogue to Cask Ale Week, or, really, to CAMRA. The Brewers Association —the trade association for small breweries in the U.S.— neither maintains a database on cask ale nor compiles statistics from its member breweries. Its recently concluded 30th annual Great American Beer Festival offered no national competition for 'real ale.' Ray Daniels, of Cicerone —the beer server education program— once organized a national Real Ale Festival, but that competition is no more.
There are several smaller regional festivals. Two examples would be NERAX (the New England Real Ale eXposition) and this month's Chesapeake Real Ale Festival, in Baltimore, Maryland. It's organized by the only US-based branch of the SPBW (Society for the Preservation of Beer from the Wood) —another consumer advocacy group for real ale, based in the UK, though less politically active than CAMRA. Cask ale guru Alex Hall —British born but New York-based— maintains a a database of restaurants and pubs that regularly serve cask ale, at Cask Beer Finder.
Maybe, just maybe, it's time to push for a Cask Ale Week —or a Cask Ale Day, to start with— here in the U.S.A., in 2012. Anyone with me?