Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cask Ale

I am a huge fan of cask ales. For the uninitated, cask ales undergo a secondary fermentation in the serving vessel (once a proper cask) and upon delivery to the site of dispensing are allowed to settle for a day, opened to the air and consumed within 5 days. Over the five days the beer oxidizes and rots, allowing for wierd complex flavors to develop. It is very much in the vein of some of humanity's finest foods and treats. As a wise man once said, "toeing the line between discoloration and dysentery is where real flavor lies." While he was talking about sourdough it is clear this occurs in beer as well.

So why do I bring this up? For a few reasons. The first is that I became acustomed to these beers while at what I'll call Stuffy University One in the UK. I was bemused at first by the hand pulled pints, but began to really enjoy them, once I got over the beer being stronger and larger than what I was used to drinking in the US. A longing for this kind of beer is why I started brewing, and something I hope to approach some day. There are a number of bars near me serving cask ales, but I'm left unfulfilled, which is what I'm going to go on about below.

A cask ale is not just any ale pulled by hand. Sure, its a great gimmick and a nice way, when done improperly, to sell me 2" of head on a beer. But cask ale is meant to be low carbonation with the addition of some air and life into the beer on the journey. True, in the North of England they use a sparkler and sometimes a swans neck, but never both. It makes a foamy mess. If I wanted a foamy mess I'd order a Schlitz (and the fridge is always well stocked). I want a beer with a little carbonation, that was designed for that and to age (or rot) well in the air. Too often I have what are fine beers on tap rendered lifelike by the gimick of the hand pull. For shame.

I wanted to get that off my chest. The best cask ale isn't even hand pulled, it is tossed out of a keg at around 55F. The next project here is to get some sort of cask system working in the apartment. We'll need to cheat and use some CO2 and possibly a cask breather. It will bring back many memories until I'm drooling into my sofa whilst the cat boxes my drunken ears.

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