Friday, October 05, 2012

Cosmic! A Cask Convergence in Falls Church, Va.

Since July 2010, Falls Church, a small town in northern Virginia, has become known for its cask ale.

That's when brewpub Mad Fox Brewing Company first opened its doors to the public. Brewmaster/owner Bill Madden has long been a practioner of 'real ale' —as it's often referred to— there and at other brewpubs earlier in his career.

What makes real ale real (other than the implication that non-cask-conditioned ale is not real)? Without going into all the clamps and gaskets, suffice it to say that cask ale is unfiltered, very fresh ale, with yeast still active within the cask.

Mad Fox usually has three cask ales available at any time, with three more waiting beneath the bar to be tapped. Today, there are five: Wee Heavy —a strong 'Scotch Ale,' The Funk —a Saison, offered in 3 different hopped versions (Galaxy hops, Citra hops, and 'wet' Citra hops, so-called because the hops were shipped directly to the brewpub without any kiln-curing, immediately upon being harvested), and Renegade Double IRA —that is, an 'Imperial' Red India Pale Ale.

Tilting at firkins

But, today and tomorrow, Mad Fox won't be the only spot in Falls Church with casks. Two other non-brewing pubs are going 'real' for the weekend.

Today at 3 pm, Public House No. 7, on the southeastern edge of town, is pouring Olivers ESB, a decidedly British-style ale, brewed by ex-pat Englishman Steve Jones, in a traditional British-style brewhouse with open fermentation tanks, at Oliver Ales in the Pratt Street Alehouse, in Baltimore, Maryland. To paraphrase the brewery's description:
Oliver's ESB is a British-style strong red ale, that balances a firm British malt backbone with a generous use of English Fuggles hops for a splendidly earthy hop profile and finish. 6% alcohol-by-volume.

For the occasion, Public House's publican/proprietor Mark English —and yes, in the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction department, he is English-born— has built his own 'beer engine,' a contraption to hand-pump the ale out from the cask. (Mad Fox spent hundreds of dollars to import beautiful beer engines from England; Public House No. 7 spent much less to 'McGyver' its own. *) Following today's event, the pub will commence a regular schedule of tappings. Follow its Facebook page for more information.

DIY beer engine: front view

Finally, on Saturday at 5 pm, good-beer bar spacebar, nearer to the northwestern edge of town, is tapping a cask of Great Pumpkin Imperial Pumpkin Ale, from Heavy Seas Brewing, a production brewery found just south of Baltimore, Maryland.

Here's the brewery's description:
Great Pumpkin draws much of its flavor from a mixture of spices: nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, and allspice. Dark brown sugar adds color and some dryness to the spicy, malt-forward ale. The addition of the spices and pumpkin in the kettle makes this brew opaque. A warming pumpkin aroma and a slightly sweet taste characterize our special fall seasonal. The bourbon barrel-aged version of this beer, Great’ER Pumpkin, spends three weeks in barrels from Virginia’s A. Smith Bowman Distillery.

ABV: 8.5%
IBUs: 35
Hops: Mount Hood
Malts: 2-Row, Wheat, Crystal, Dark Brown Sugar.

But, wait! There's more.

A few weeks earlier, proprietors Lary and Erica Hoffman drove to the brewery. There, with the assistance of the brewery's cellarmaster, Stephen Marsh, the duo racked fresh beer into the firkin (a 10.8 gallon cask), added a small measure of freshly fermenting gyle for carbonation, and infused the ale with spices of their choosing: white oak chips, toasted-bourbon-barrel shavings, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla beans, and ginger root.

spacebar fermentationists

The City of Falls Church is not large; it subsumes only 2.2 square miles. Nevertheless, none of these three pubs knew what the others had been planning. There was no coordination of this weekend's serendipitous happenings.

It could be a ... Cask Convergence. Ah, alliteration.


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