05 February 2010

The Session: Cask Beers

This month's Session is about cask-conditioned beer:

Viewers of this blog have read my opinions on cask-conditioned ale, and probably once too often. So, let's hear yours, and not only yours. Why not invite brewers and drinkers and bemused casked-spectators to contribute essays for the Session?

Make the post a definitional thing: other than that CAMRA description, what 'is' cask-conditioned ale? Or, make it an encomium: how cask-conditioned ale will transform the world. Or, make it a style harangue: why saisons, for example, should have no place in a cask, or should.

Or, make your post a lifestyle essay: how you first lost your c-c-a virginity. Make it a cultural debate: how Americans have 'extremed' the cask experience, or how Americans need further lessons from the British.

Make it an ale vs. lager knockdown: can lagers be cask-conditioned? Make it a zymurgical and practical thing: how does your brewery commercially produce and transport cask-conditioned ale?

Make it a 'pesce' PETA thing: can one be a vegetarian and drink cask ale? Make it a beer ticker thing: who makes the best, and who serves the best?

Make it a cellarmanship thing: how should a pub handle a cask? Make it an international thing: where was the most unexpected place you drank a pint of cask-conditioned ale? Make it a geek thing: at what temperature to serve, to sparkle or not sparkle, and how clear should clear be?

Make it a sad story. Make it a love story. But ... make it! And make it here, Friday, February 5.
 Cask. Damn. I thought about not even bothering this month, since, well, I don't have a very wide experience with cask. My one beer review from cask is for New Holland's The Poet, which I had at the brewery last fall. I didn't even post that review onto this blog, since I didn't input it until several weeks later, when I was posting a bunch of stuff from notes. Sure, the Poet on cask was good enough to make it into my year-end post, which also happened to be last month's Session, but is it really fair to judge an entire serving style (and, for some people, an entire beery way of life) from such meager experience?

Why haven't I experienced cask? It's not from lack of interest, but lack of availability. Until a year and a half ago, I lived in Alabama, where beer was more likely to be served out of an ice-chilled can than a warm cask, and since then I've lived here in Kalamazoo, where beer is much more widely available but beer bars still tend more towards the college crowd than to us serious beer geeks. Which is fine by me; Bell's gets plenty of my business even without emphasizing their credentials in that world and without offering things like cask ale and brewery tours. To most people in the area Bell's is a great place to go for a few beers and a place to see a great live show on weekends, and if the money they make allows them to make such amazing beers, more power to them. Really.

Okay, sure, I could drive up to Grand Rapids and visit Hopcat, or back to Holland and visit New Holland, and even in the south I could have gone to Nashville's Boscos and have some cask ale once a week, but traveling is a pain in the ass and, I think, gets away from some of the whole point of cask: it's local. Cask ales (from my understanding) are unpasteurized, unfiltered, and mostly unrefrigerated, and thus don't travel well, which means that by and large the beer made for that consumption is meant to be served pretty much immediately and close by. I don't doubt you can ship a barrel of cask Stone RIS or Duvel or whatever all around the world if you want to, but shouldn't brewers of cask focus on their local customers, on making beer as fresh as possible for those right around them?

And in that sense, it's probably a very positive thing for the beer community. Focusing on the beer made in your neighborhood helps to grow organic communities of beer people, and for that matter makes beer a much more ecologically "green" product than other food items. (It also helps to grow the numbers of people who see how easy it can be to make beer in their own backyard, but that's another issue.) It's a serving type that should be expanded, and I'm definitely going to be tasting a lot more of it as my beer travels take me further from home, but for now I guess that's really all I have to say on the topic.

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