Friday, November 16, 2007

Autumn and cask ale

Wednesday it was 19°C around these parts. Down in Charlotte, North Carolina - where I drove round-trip to my distributor's offices - it was a sunny, balmy, un-November-like 22°C.

This morning it's a brisk 5°C, with the leaves whipping about in 20 mile per hour winds (hmm, that would be 23 kilometers per hour). The leaves are finally falling en masse. The temperature dips to -1°C tonight.

It's feeling as if it were indeed November. And that's real ale weather!

The DC area's largest homebrewers club - Brewers United for Real Potables (B.U.R.P.) - conducts its Real Ale Festival this weekend. As its website puts it:

... there is more to Cask Conditioned Real Ale than a beer pushed through a beer engine. Dispense from a beer engine is currently a very popular way of serving not only cask conditioned real ale, but also any other beer. There’s no trick to pulling any beer from a beer engine–it’s just a pump.

Cask Conditioned Real Ale is beer that emphasizes freshness above all else (with the exception of Old Ales). The live yeast in the cask adds to the sensation that this is truly fresh, live beer. The conditioning and serving process insures a level of freshness. <...> It is not uncommon in the UK to have an Ordinary Bitter go, literally, from grain to glass in less than 3 weeks. This is fresh beer.

Commercial US craft brewers tend to put their stronger beers - and of any style - into their casks. (Clipper City does this as well, although it does also offer its Clipper City Gold Ale, an ale of 4.9 % alcohol by volume, in cask-conditioned form.)

B.U.R.P.'s homebrew festival, except for a few exceptions, limits the beers to running beers, that is, to beers of session strength, and to more traditional English and Scottish styles.

A lower alcohol beer, that is properly conditioned and served fresh from a cask, can shine in a way it could not in bottle or even on draft. Case in point: a low alcohol mild ale won the commercial beer Great British Beer Festival this year, defeating its higher alcohol brethren.

Judging of the B.UR.P. entries occurs tonight; the club tasting of all the entries occurs Saturday. One needs to be a member to attend (and to know where to attend!). More information at [UPDATE: 2007.12.05. The Washington Post's recap of the Fest.]

A festival celebrating commercially brewed cask ales was held in early October in Baltimore, sponsored by the Society for the Preservation of Beer From the Wood.

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