Does Cask Beer Make You Farty?

David | Blog | February, 25 2011 | 2 Comments

This weekend I plan to help with the stillage of some 40-plus casks of beer that will be the main attraction a week later at the Chicago Beer Society’s Day of the Living Ales event.  About 400-500 attendees are expected over the course of two sessions.

All kinds of great beer will be dispensed through natural carbonation and gravity on March 5, but I’ll not be surprised if I don’t find a single proper bitter among them. It might be yet another sign that I’ve become an old fart, but if I don’t find at least one or two Firkins in the bunch reflecting what I think is the right beer for a cask, I might be a bit displeased. 

I had a couple of beers with event point man Jeff Sparrow early this week. I don’t think Jeff (who loves a good session beer by the way) will mind my paraphrasing what he had to say on the subject:  The people have spoken, he says, and they don’t want to drink session beers at festivals. Festival goers are tasting beers, not kicking back for a session, and they want to taste things that delight and surprise them.  For evidence, Jeff pointed to a relatively recent Chicago Beer Society event celebrating session beers and summer beers.  The event was not a sellout, and when asked to pick their favorite beers, attendees included the biggest beer in the bunch—a 6% American IPA. I can’t argue with Jeff’s logic, particularly when he adds that club organizers need to pay attention to what the club’s members (nearly 700 of them in the case of the beer society) want in an event, not just what the organizers want.

That said, I couldn’t help thinking of a blog discussion I read recently (Session No. 48) on the topic of “cask, keg, bottle or can.”  At least some participants concluded that the vehicle is much less important than the passenger.  While I agree that a bad beer will be a bad beer no matter how you contain and dispense it, isn’t cask beer—real  ale—at least a little different?  Cask beer feels and tastes different than the others, and for us, living in 21stcentury beer-merica, it also has an important place in the tradition and history of how we got to where we are.  While American brewers and beer drinkers have done so much, the beer we drink today still owes a helluva lot to what we learned from the beers of Belgium, Germany and the UK.

Ah, but maybe that’s just the curmudgeon showing.  If I were 25 years old instead of 50, and RSVP-ing on Facebook for the next Dark Lord Day, maybe cask traditions wouldn’t mean squat to me.  But I’m not, and they do.  So I will use my little space here to encourage beer enthusiasts to get to know traditional cask beers.  When you visit a brew pub like Deschutes, Goose Island, or Vermont Pub and Brewery and they have a cask on, it will most likely be pretty traditional. Have a pint. And don’t pass them up at festivals either. DotllaSetup

When I go to Day of the Living Ales a week from Saturday I’ll taste the Hop Slam if it’s there, but I’ll also look for those beers that best exemplify the kind of beer I think belongs in a cask. If I can find one that also offers great flavor and body, (and not too much nose) I’ll give it an unofficial, no-way-connected-to-my-beloved-Chicago Beer Society recognition.  So check back here on Casimir Pulaski Day (March 7, if you don’t live in Illinois) and see if I am able to name the recipient of the first ever Cheese and Cheers Old Fart Firkin Award.

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  1. Tim Moreau

    Dave, see you there! Maybe there should also be a Cheese & Cheers Old Fart Award for one of us older, flatulent, CBS members?

  2. David

    See ya Saturday Tim. Ooh, that would be a broad field!

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