*See Also: Is Cask Beer the Way We Were>"/>
When things get festive in Seattle, Maritime's Jolly Roger Christmas Ale becomes ubiquitous, from the aisles of supermarkets to the rotating taps of your favorite pub - like a Mac & Jack's that will put you on your ass.
That's not a protest; I love the stuff. But as I stared at a stack of JR six-packs in the Ballard Trader Joe's this weekend, I became all the more appreciative of the beers I'd just had at Maritime's taproom a block down the street: nitros and cask ales that don't travel farther than the distance between a tap and a bar stool.
Taprooms are a lot of things to a lot of people (read: dog parks with beer on tap), but I'm a sucker for those that offer drinks impossible to find at the grocers - casks and nitros being two big ones -- and Maritime reminded me why.
To review, cask-conditioned ales are those in which yeast is left in the beer when it's poured in the cask, which then carbonates the beer, as opposed to the artificial carbonation provided by modern kegs.
The common complaint of cask beers is that they taste flat, and that often is the case, as the shelf life of a cask beer is much shorter. If handled poorly by the beer pourer, it also runs the risk of being cloudy with yeast.
But done right - as Maritime's Imperial IPA was - the ales have a soft mouthfeel that allows the drinker to catch nuances of the brew that may otherwise be missed under the sharp stings of artificial carbonation. Not served warm but certainly warmer than a typical beer, I took in the full taste of the Imperial's hops (cascade) afforded by the style.
Nitros are nearly the opposite of cask ales, triumphs of modern technology that, as Tastingbeers.com points out, were created specifically because American airmen could not stand the taste of British cask ale during WWII.
But like the cask ale, Maritime's nitro Islander Pale Ale made the brew an experience worth traveling to Ballard for, bringing a silky texture to the mild beer.
We'd swung into the Maritime taproom - named the Jolly Roger - after a chilly hike at Discovery Park. To own the truth, it was the closest brewery on the GPS.
It was a great choice. Pirate flags lined the walls, a map of what I assume is the Puget Sound, re-imagined with beer-themed place names (Schooner Inlet, etc.), decorated the floor, and a forgettable but cheap plate of three mini-hamburgers was perfect for post-hike noshing.
As we watched the Seahawks game with a room full of fans who were polite in a way I didn't think was possible after my experience at CenturyLink Field last week, my lukewarm cask beer slipped me into a fine relaxation in Ballard.