Cask ale is an old-fashioned type of beer that's making a big comeback thanks to creative craft brewers, and a festival is being organized to showcase the cask beer programs at more than 25 local breweries.
Cask ale is (comparatively) big in Britain, where it is known as "real ale" and more narrowly defined as "a natural product brewed using traditional ingredients" and served, without the assistance of added gases, from the same container it matured in.
Basically, it's beer that undergoes a secondary fermentation in a sealed cask (also called a "firkin") where it naturally carbonates. It's the beer responsible for the "warm and flat" criticism so often (unfairly) leveled at pub ale in Britain.
In reality, cask ale should be served at cellar temperature (50 to 55 degrees), which is warmer than the typical American draught beer (38 degrees) but still cool, and it should have a softer carbonation that results in a creamy head and a rounded flavor profile. But the real draw for craft beer fans is the wildly creative combinations being tried by American brewers.
When creating cask ales, American craft brewers apply the same penchant for inventive ingredients and amplified flavors that they're known for, and the results can be unpredictable but always exciting. Besides the comparatively staid additions of extra hops for an amped-up aroma, fruit, coffee, teas and just about any other culinary ingredient you can imagine get tossed into the craft casks.
More local breweries are launching cask programs (Valiant Brewing Co. recently added casks to its cooperage), tapping casks in their tasting rooms (Noble Ale Works taps a cask every Friday) or providing unique casks to bars and restaurants (Story Tavern taps casks on Thursdays). Stone Brewing Co. is partnering with 38 Degrees Ale house for a five-course beer pairing dinner that features five different casks created by five different Stone brewers.
On March 22, FirkFest takes over Farmer's Park in Anaheim to celebrate the cask ales being produced in the Southland. The untraditional beer festival will offer unlimited tasting from breweries creating casks especially for FirkFest. Organizer Greg Nagel says that he was excited by the idea of a bunch of casks from around Southern California all in one place and that the brewers he's asked to participate might be even more excited.
"It's romantic," Nagel says of the ephemeral nature of cask ales. "You never know what you're going to get, but when it's gone -- it's gone for good."
Don't miss out; $50 tickets for the festival are on sale now.