Friday, May 08, 2015

Spring Real Ale Festival in Baltimore, Maryland.

Our friends at Pratt Street Ale House,in Baltimore, Maryland, are hosting their Spring Real Festival, this Saturday.

They're pouring thirty-two cask-conditioned ales and one cask-conditioned lager. Nineteen come from breweries in Maryland; two from Washington, D.C.; two from Pennsylvania; two from Colorado; one from New Jersey; one from Georgia; and five from breweries in the United Kingdom. This is a bookend to their Chesapeake Real Ale Fest, held every October.

Pratt Street has been the home of Oliver Brewing since 1993 (when the pub was originally known as the Wharf Rat). The brewery creates (among other styles) British-style ales, poured cask-conditioned, via hand-pumps, at the pub.

I asked brewmaster Steve Jones (himself an ex-pat Briton), the host and organizer, about the difficulties (and pleasures) of running a cask ale festival.

Hosting a cask ale festival at a brewpub presents numerous challenges. Ideally, a cask-conditioned beer is set in the place from which it is to be served, at cellar temperature, for several days prior to being vented/tapped, to allow the yeast to settle, allowing the beer to be served at optimal clarity and condition. The casks are soft-spiled for the necessary amount of time to allow the venting of excess carbon dioxide (condition).

This is obviously not possible in a festival environment, such as this.

Casks are stored at regular cold room temperature (40 °F), as we don't have sufficient storage space in our cask (52 °F) room. I vent the casks 24-36 hours prior to the festival, and soft-spile them. Because of the colder temperature, we can't expect them to attain ideal conditioning (CO2 being more soluble at lower temperatures).

Casks are carefully moved to their serving stations during the early morning of the day of the festival (efforts being made to disturb the beer as little as possible). This allows them the opportunity to slowly warm up to cellar temperature (52 °F) over the course of the three or so hours before the start of the festival. Excess condition will be vented off to some degree at this time. Casks are also tapped at this point.

During the festival, casks are kept cool by using bar towels soaked in ice water draped over the cask. Evaporation of the water from the towels will serve to cool the casks; the bar towels are frequently replaced, as they warm and dry out.

Whereas Jones' draft beers are transferred to a conditioning tank, all of his casks are filled directly from the brewery's open fermenting vessels post-fermentation, and are 'primed' with a bit of fermenting wort and fined with isinglass.

Saturday's outdoor festival could be considered a celebration of another event, as well.

After 23 years, the small 'Peter Austin' brew-kit in the basement of the the pub —which Jones often refers to as a Hobbit brewery— is about to be decommissioned. Oliver Brewing Company has nearly completed construction on a much larger production-only facility, offsite, in eastern Baltimore. The Pratt Street Pub will reamain where it is, in downtown Baltimore, across from the Convention Center and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Steve Jones at the door

For the Festival, Jones is serving five of his own cask-conditioned ales, including two that he brewed in collaboration with local breweries for American Mild Month.
  • Burial At Sea
    Ruby mild. 3% alcohol-by-volume (abv).
    Brewed in collaboration with DC Brau (Washington, D.C.) for American Mild Month.
  • Cherry Blossom Ale
    Wheat ale fermented with dark sweet cherry puree. 5.8% abv.
  • Dark Horse
    Dark mild ale. 3.8% abv.
  • Olde Fashion Black Magik
    Dark ale. Brewed on the occasion of the recent 22nd anniversary of Oliver Brewing. 9.4% abv.
    Steve Jones' comment: "Olde Fashion Black Magik has been conditioned in a 10-gallon toasted American oak barrel, from which it will be drawn via beer engine. This barrel has been much used, so we won't know what effect it will have on the beer until we tap it, on Saturday morning."
  • Straight On 'Til Morning
    Golden-oat mild. 3% abv.
    Brewed in collaboration with DuClaw Brewing (Rosedale, Maryland) for American Mild Month.
Jones taps the glass cask (02)

The festival runs from 1 until 5pm. Admittance allows for unlimited sampling (within the bounds of propriety!). Very Important Persons can gain an extra hour of festiveness, at noon. (This exclusivity is gained by paying a somewhat higher ticket cost.) Food is available in the pub.

An ardent traditionalist, Jones finished by affirming:

I hasten to add that none of my casks have any "additions" other than finings!

Here's the rest of the afternoon's line-up.

  • The Brewer's Art (Baltimore, Maryland)
    • Birdhouse, with grapefruit and Amarillo hops.
    • Charm City Sour Cherry Ale.
  • Burley Oak Brewing (Berlin, Maryland)
    to be determined.
  • Coniston Brewery (U.K.)
    Bluebird Bitter.
    Supreme Champion Beer of Britain: Great British Beer Festival, 1998.
  • Dark Star Brewery (U.K.)
    Revelation English Ale, brewed with American hops.
  • DC Brau (Washington, D.C.)
    • On The Wings Of Armageddon Imperial IPA, with grapefruit.
    • El Hefe Hefeweizen.
  • DuClaw Brewing (Rosedale, Maryland)
    • Anti-Venom, double dry-hopped.
    • Mosaic Red, double dry hopped (hop continuum #2).
  • Flying Dog Brewery (Frederick, Maryland)
    Single Hop Warrior.
  • Flying Fish Brewery (Somerdale, New Jersey)
    to be determined.
  • Heavy Seas Beer (Halethorpe, Maryland)
    Deep Six Porter.
  • Hobsons Brewery (U.K.)
    Manor Ale ESB.
  • Ilkley Brewery (U.K.)
    • Mary Jane IPA.
    • The Mayan Chocolate Chipotle Stout.
  • Jailbreak Brewing (Laurel, Maryland)
    Welcome to Scoville Jalapeno IPA w/ blue corn tortillas, mango, and cherry red and long hot peppers.
  • Manor Hill Brewing
    • IPA, with azacca, passion fruit, and raw organic cocoa nibs.
    • 4 Grain Saison, with Hallertau Blanc hops, grapefruit juice, grapefruit peel, and fresh lemongrass.
  • Monocacy Brewing (Frederick, Maryland)
    Riot Rye Pale Ale, with mango.
  • Monument City Brewing (Baltimore, Maryland)
    51 Rye IPA.
  • New Belgium Brewing (Fort Collins, Colorado)
    • Portage Porter, dry hopped with Willamette hops.
    • Skinny Dip citrus-infused lager.
  • The Raven Brewery (Baltimore, Maryland)
    Annabel Lee Belgian-style Wit, dry-hopped with Citra Hops.
  • Sly Fox Beer (Phoenixville, Pennsylvania)
    O’Reilly’s Stout.
  • Terrapin Beer (Athens, Georgia)
    Single Hop Imperial IPA, with Ella hops.
  • Union Craft Brewing (Baltimore, Maryland)
    to be determined.
  • Weyerbacher Brewing (Easton, Pennsylvania)
    to be determined.
  • Yards Brewing (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
    Philly Pale Ale, with grapefruit.
  • Admission is $40 for admission at 1pm (including 'unlimited' tasting) or $60 for 'VIP' admission at noon. Available: here.
  • Isinglass is a traditional fining agent (clarifier) for cask ales. Pulverized, it electro-chemically attracts yeast and proteins, and falls, clumped together, to the bottom of a cask, clarifying the ale. Derived from the swim bladders of fish, isinglass will not be in the finished beer, if used properly, but below the level of the serving tap.
  • Caveat lector: As a representative for Select Wines, Inc. —a wine and beer wholesaler in northern Virginia— I sell the beers of Oliver Brewing. Any opinions here are mine alone.

  • For more from YFGF:

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