Is Cask Beer the Way We Were Meant to Drink Beer?

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Image courtesy Washington Beer Commission
Have you ever worked with "that guy?" Or maybe it's an uncle, neighbor or in-law. The one that thinks he knows everything, and takes every opportunity to inform you how wise and well traveled he is? If you try talking to him about beer and the conversation turns to craft beer or European beer, he's quick to say, "Well I've been to England. And it rained all the time, they drive on the wrong side of the road and their BEER IS WARM AND FLAT!"

Unfortunately, the majority of beer drinkers - usually the ones drinking beers that rhyme with boars, killer or tush - demand their beers are served ice-cold. Large beer companies now advertise "Cold you can see!" and use thermochromic labeling to turn the ink on the label or can blue when the beer is cold enough to drink. This is usually because those beers only taste good cold. And hey, on a hot day, on a boat, or at the end of the long hike, those beers DO taste good.

Some of the earliest beers made were fermented in the casks they were then served from. They were unfiltered, unpasteurized, naturally carbonated, and served at cellar temperature - about 55 degrees. There's a growing movement in the U.S., which began in the U.K., to return to making beer in this traditional method. And, a select number of craft brewers in Washington are committed to this tradition of making beer in casks.

These unique beers can be found at several quality breweries and bars around Seattle. Just look for the distinctive tap handle and spout. There is no additional nitrogen or carbon dioxide pressure added to the beers, so they have to be "pumped" from the cask. These beers are less carbonated than most and are served a tad less cold as well, but what you lose in cold and fizz, you gain in flavor and aroma.

I recently chatted with Allen Rhoades from Anacortes Brewery, about his thoughts on cask beers and he said it best, "I think it is important because it reminds us of how beer was produced and served in the past. Also, it showcases the subtle flavors that can be present in beer." You can't get the subtlety of a cask beer in a bottle, particularly if it has a label telling you when it's cold enough to drink.

On Saturday April 9th, over 70 cask-conditioned beers will be served at the Washington Beer Commission's Cask Fest. Brewers participating in the festival stay true to traditional brewing and dispensing methods, but experiment to create unique flavors using everything from agave nectar and mango to wine-soaked oak chips and rosemary sprigs. The full list of beers being poured can be found over at the Washington Beer Blog.

Cask Fest is held at Seattle Center on Saturday April 9, in two sessions. The first session is from 12-4pm and the second session is from 6-10pm. Admission is $40 at the door ($35 in advance) and includes 20 tastes. The first session is already sold out, so buy your tickets now for the second session.

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