Friday, February 24, 2012

Birthday in Beer: SPBW Baltimore!

Cask-conditioned real ale is beer that, while still fermenting, has been placed into a cask, brought into proper 'condition,' and then tapped and drunk mere DAYS later. It is beer at its freshest.

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.
The Oxford Companion to Beer

In 1960s Britain, cask ale was under threat. Breweries were abandoning it for filtered keg beer. In the United States, cask ale was already extinct. So, in 1963, "seven disgruntled beer drinkers" founded the Society for the Preservation of Beer from the Wood (aka SPBW) to preserve and promote cask ale in Britain.

Today, in 2012, wooden casks may be rare, but not so cask ale. It is thriving, both in the UK and here in the United States. The SPBW has retained its name and mission (if not in wood, as most casks, called firkins, are stainless steel.)

In North America, there is only one chapter of the SPBW: the SPBW Chesapeake Chapter, based in Baltimore, Maryland. The group promotes cask-conditioned real ale throughout the area, via education, monthly meetings (at pubs featuring cask ale), and events such as its yearly Chesapeake Real Ale Festival.

Society for the Preservation of Beer From the Wood

Here's an email I recently received from Joe Gold, the sales manager for Heavy Seas Brewing, in Baltimore, Maryland. Fifteen years ago, tomorrow, he called to order the first ever meeting of the SPBW Chesapeake Chapter.
Saturday, February 25th marks the 15th Anniversary of the Chesapeake Bay Chapter of the SPBW —the Society for the Preservation of Beer From the Wood— and we would like to invite all past and present members to join our host Jen Oliver at The Wharf Rat, 801 S. Ann Street, in Fells Point, Baltimore, Maryland, at 'high noon,' as we give a tip of the cap, and tip a pint, to the organization and all its members over the past 15 years.

As the instigator and founding member of the Chesapeake Bay Chapter, I’ve had the ideal of this club in my heart ever since it’s inception. Unfortunately life has a way of getting in the way of important occasions – and thus I will have to miss Saturday’s event. However, in my absence, I would like to ask that you give a heart felt shout out to the SPBW leadership over the years – and the oh, so many loyal SPBW members who have kept this most British concept alive in the only North American chapter in existence.

Joe Gold

I would also respectfully like you to please note publicly the list of folks who were at the very first SPBW meeting, at the Wharf Rat, on February 25th, 1997:

Bill Oliver
Gary Williams
Frank Foster
Dick & Barbara McQuate
Mike Shetz & Katherine
Colin ?
Alan Feldman & Deb
Ron R
Ron DeGrange & Mary Anne Straughn
Cheri & Matt Hahn
Richer & Steve
John Frantz
Tom Baker
Andy Firman & Jen O’Neil
Robb Reyes
Angela Perez-Mera
David ?
Additional others – but the hand writing in my beer journal isn’t legible.

It is with regret that I have to miss what I consider a most important milestone event, but I’m sure the SPBW crew will have a wonderful time this Saturday. Be assured that I’ll be hosting a pint at 'high noon' in honor of the “simple pleasure of enjoying cask conditioned real ale.”

Joe Gold

In 1997, the cost of SPBW Chespaeake membership was $10. It's the same today. By any measure, that was a bargain then, and even more so now. Attendance at Saturday's 12 noon toast at the Wharf Rat is not limited to members, but membership is encouraged.

Pint & Beads

Happy 15th birthday, SPBW Chesapeake Chapter!

  • Photos from the anniversary toast: here.
  • The web address for the Baltimore, Maryland, SPBW is spbw.ORG, whereas, for the parent organization in the UK, it's spbw.COM.
  • A firkin, to be precise, is a cask that contains 9 UK gallons of beer. That's the quivalent of 10.8 US gallons, or about 86 US 16-ounce pints. More on cask volumes: here.
  • I've reprinted the email with permission, and edited it for narrative clarity.

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