If you're a good beer geek -- in the U.S., anyway -- you are always on the lookout for beer "on cask". You hope for a more flavorful experience: warmer, flatter beer that the bartender has to laboriously pump into your glass with the big porcelain handle mounted on the bar.
Two recent internet articles have me pondering the state of cask beer. One is by Ted Sobel -- the brewer/publican of Brewers Union Local 180, an all-cask-ale brewery in remote Oakridge, Oregon -- explaining on his blog why he won't let the beer he brews out of his sight. Shortly after Ted's post, Beer Advocate asked its readers for their opinion on this question: (paraphrasing) is cask beer done right in the U.S., or are those pumps just a gimmick?
In Great Britain, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) promotes this particularly English way of producing and serving beer. There's special emphasis placed on the condition of the beer: the publican has to cellar it while it finishes fermenting, then let it settle after he jostles it up to the serving area, then make sure it is served at the right temperature, while it's still fresh.
Here in Oregon, there are cask engines in more and more pubs, even places that don't cater exclusively to beer nerds, for example Beulahland and Bar Avignon. Ted's post was skeptical about such cask offerings:
The contents of the kegs are dubiously named cask-conditioned beer, which in many cases simply contain ale destined for keg that has been drawn off from the fermenter and primed in the cask (keg).
Now, to my mind, that's good enough. It would not be good enough if it were just an ordinary keg of beer, not re-fermented in the keg. But if the keg is conditioned, it's legit, right?
Bridgeport immediately came to mind as a place in town that serves cask-conditioned beer, and is probably doing it the right way. So I emailed Karl Ockert to ask him about their process. He replied:
We currently have three engines pulling from firkins at both our brewpub on NW Marshall St and the Alehouse on SE Hawthorne. Our cask ales are my beer of choice when I go down at the end of the day to our pub for my pint. And yes we have the stillage racks, spiles, keystones, cask breathers, etc.
And Bridgeport's cask ales are definitely a treat.
But I'd like to hear from all of you out there, especially if you work at a brewery or a pub that serves cask-conditioned beer. My questions are:
- What places in Portland serve cask ale correctly?
- What places in town are faking us out?
- What places have cask ale, but in poor condition?
- Can "ale destined for keg" qualify as cask-conditioned?
- What about Beer Advocate's question: is cask just a gimmick?