Sunday, February 03, 2013

Super Bowl XLVII: a baseball & cask ale wager

The following is a two-sport beer story.

Today is the day for the Super Bowl (the 47th such annual spectacle). In New Orleans, Louisiana, the Baltimore (Maryland) Ravens will play the San Francisco (California) 49ers, for the championship of the National Football League. Yours For Good Fermentables, of course, picks the Ravens to win.

Once the game is over, however, it's only two weeks until baseball spring training. And, in all of baseball, there may be only two teams that serve cask-conditioned beers at their games. One is the Orioles. The other is the Giants. The Orioles' home park, Camden Yards, is in Baltimore. The Giants play in AT&T Park, in San Francisco. You can see where I'm going with this.

It was only last year, that Flying Dog Brewing (of Frederick, Maryland) arranged to serve cask ales at every Friday home game at Camden Yards. It was a small campaign ... but a very successful one for the brewery.

At AT&T Park, however, cask ale is served for every home game. In fact, the Public House, a restaurant at the ballpark, serves cask ale nearly every day, game or not, year-round, in and out of season.

San Francisco ballpark cask ales!
James Beard award-winning chef Traci des Jardins opened Public House at At&T Park in 2010. Befitting its surroundings, it's a 'gastro-pub,' yet with locally-sourced ingredients. The man who runs the cask program for her is Greg Stone. In the restaurant business for over twenty years, he's a trained wine sommelier. But, now he's definitely caught the beer bug.

Stone oversees 22 taps and 2 casks. He keeps the casks in their own cooler, set at the 'traditional cellar' temperature of 48 °F. He serves from the casks via hand pumps, called beer engines (to the left in the photo). The casks, unlike kegs, are open to air once they've been tapped; to prevent spoilage or the beers going flat, Stone serves them within 48-36 hours.

A lot of Stone's cask training was hands-on at Magnolia Brewery. In fact, the San Francisco brewery makes a 5% alcohol-by-volume for Public House, called Billy Sunday Bitter. But even so, Stone said, cask ale is a small percentage of craft beer available. It can be difficult to find enough cask ale to keep his beer engines flowing, so he's purchased four firkins (10.8 gallon casks) for the pub, which he sends to breweries to fill.

Stone told me that he sells no big brewery beer. If folks do ask for a 'mainsteam' beer, he'll offer alternatives. For example, if they ask for Blue Moon (a spiced wheat beer) from Coors, he'll ask, why not try Allagash White, instead? And, as if the uniqueness of serving cask ale in a ballpark weren't enough, Stone stocks his cellar with a reserve list of 'craft' beer in 22-ounce and 750-ml bottles. And, oh yes, he has a wine list.

Public House Bar Area (02)

It sounded as if a road trip would be in order. But, first things first. San Francisco might win the battle of the casks. But, now it was's the time to defend the honor of Baltimore.

Mixing two sports, I offered Mr. Stone a friendly wager. If (when) the football Ravens win the Super Bowl, he'll buy me a pint of cask ale the next time I happen to be in San Francisco for a (baseball) Giants game. If (it won't happen) the (football) 49ers win tonight's game, I'll buy him a pint of cask-conditioned Flying Dog beer the next time he's at Camden Yards for a Friday (baseball) Orioles' game.

To make it more interesting, he and I have upped the ante. I'm throwing in a case of Baltimore beer: Heavy Seas Brewing's Siren Noire Imperial Chocolate Stout, a beer not sold in California. Stone has matched that with a promise of beers from Sonoma County's Russian River.

I look forward to drinking those, Mr. Stone!

Ravens win!

UPDATE: Ravens win! 34-31.

  • CORRECTION. I edited my original piece, after Greg alerted me in an email that Public House has never carried Blue Moon (and will never).
  • See more photos of Public House at AT&T Park: here.
  • Read another profile of Public House, its cask program, and Greg Stone, via Market Watch of the Wall Street Journal: here.
  • Read more about the cask ale program at Camden Yards: here.
  • See the (corrected) Super Bowl beer bet between the governors of California and Maryland: here.
  • Read more about what cask ale is, at Cask Ale USA.
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