Session #36: Cask-Conditioned Beer

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Our 36th Session marks the three-year anniversary of our little project, spanning over 1,000 posts covering 36 topics, including today’s, which is cask-conditioned beer. Our host, Tom Cizauskas, from Yours For Good Fermentables, wants everybody to write from almost any angle so long as it’s about cask-conditioned beer. He gave a litany of ideas, which I earlier summarized as follows:

  • Ale vs. Lager Knockdown: “can lagers be cask-conditioned?”
  • Beer Ticker: “who makes the best, and who serves the best?”
  • Cellarmanship: “how should a pub handle a cask?”
  • Cultural Debate: “how Americans have ‘extremed’ the cask experience, or how Americans need further lessons from the British.”
  • Definitional: ” other than that CAMRA description, what ‘is’ cask-conditioned ale?”
  • Encomium: “how cask-conditioned ale will transform the world.”
  • Geek: ” at what temperature to serve, to sparkle or not sparkle, and how clear should clear be?”
  • International: “where was the most unexpected place you drank a pint of cask-conditioned ale?”
  • Lifestyle Essay: “how you first lost your cask-conditioned ale virginity.”
  • Pesce PETA: “can one be a vegetarian and drink cask ale?”
  • Style Harangue: “why saisons, for example, should have no place in a cask, or should.”
  • Zymurgical & Practical: “how does your brewery commercially produce and transport cask-conditioned ale?”

“Make it a sad story. Make it a love story. But … make it!” But ending with this entreaty to participate. “Above all, let’s have perspective folks, perspective! Cask-conditioned ale is not a matter of life and death; it’s much more.”

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I’ve been so swamped with SF Beer Week that I’ll have to keep this month’s Session post short, no small feat for me. So I figure I’ll go for “lifestyle essay” and tell the tale of how I lost my “cask-conditioned ale virginity.” It was my first trip to the UK, with my first wife (didn’t know that, yeah, I forget sometimes, too, it was so long ago) and we rented a flat near Clapham Junction. But we arrived one day before the flat was ready for us, so we had to find a hotel for one night. For no better reason than I loved the old Ealing Comedy Passport To Pimlico, I picked a small hotel in Pimlico, a small area in central London, officially part of the City of Westminster.

After checking in, we went for a walk and ended up at the Orange Brewery on Pimlico Road. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it had only opened that same year, in 1983. It was a brewpub, with the brewery in the basement. I remember that because I had a peek at it. After flying all night from the East Coast and lugging our bags on the Tube and to the hotel on a humid August day, I was pretty hot, tired and thirsty. So when I saw this corner bar, we immediately ducked inside.

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Over 25 years later, I can barely remember what I ordered. What I do remember is how much I immediately took to it, loved it in fact. Up until that point I’d pretty much taken for granted that all beer was served cold. To have one at cellar temperature was a revelation. It tasted so good. So I had another. And another. I was immediately hooked, though it would be years before I could indulge such passions on a regular basis. It’s really only been in the last decade or so that cask-conditioned ales have become more commonplace on this side of the Atlantic. While hardly ubiquitous, you can find them pretty easily, at least in the Bay Area where I live. We have our own local firkin festival that’s been going for about 6 or 7 years. There’s definitely a growing awareness and appreciation for them. We may never get to the point where the UK is — trying to save their real ale — but I think it’s safe to say that cask is here to stay and should continue to grow for the foreseeable future. I, for one, am very happy about that development.

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