As even a casual reader of this blog may notice, I am an advocate for cask-conditioned ale. Real ale, as it's also called, is a method of serving beer as fresh as it should be, almost as if the beer were being poured for a drinker directly from a brewery's fermenter.
Here in America, there is a nascent style of Real Ale, different in several respects than that brewed and served in the 'mother' country of the UK. That's a post for another day, but it might be summarized as:
- Low emphasis on clarity.
- High carbonation rate.
- Innovative (if sometimes heavy-handed) addition of hops and other ingredients into the cask
- Used solely as a serving method rather than one beholden to beer styles deemed 'appropriate' for casks
Is this good; is this bad? Taste being relative, that's open for debate.
But as to point #3, those extra-cask ingredients often mask the the just-baked breadiness derived from fresh yeast, still active within the cask. That's the marvelous aroma that pervades the air in a brewery, but which is often not transferred to the finished bottled or kegged product. So why hide it in a cask?
I was recently present at Eventide Restaurant, in Arlington, Virginia, for a tapping of a firkin of Smoke on the Water, a so-called Imperial Smoked Porter, brewed by Baltimore, Maryland brewery, Heavy Seas.
The 8% alcohol-by-volume porter — according to the US Beer Judge Certification Program, porter is a style of ale that is dark brown, with flavors of bakers chocolate and a touch of roast)— had only a faint wisp of smoky flavor from peat-smoked malt.
But — there it was! A toasty, fresh-from-the-oven baked bread aroma, indicative of fresh, active yeast. Yes, there were hop aromas, floral and citrusy, and a slight smoky character from the peat, but neither were invasive enough to obscure the heady aroma of a brewery's freshly fermenting beer.
Delicious! I ordered a second round.