Saturday, March 22, 2008

Cask Beers at the Horsebrass

Carla makes me take my clothes off and leave them on the side porch whenever I come home from the Horsebrass. Then I dash naked to the shower, and scrub myself from head to toe. I don't even take off my glasses, because if I don't wash them with soap, I spend the next couple days sniffing around trying to figure out what part of my body or clothing I failed to purge of cigarette smoke.

Despite the unbreathable air, the Horsebrass is a national treasure. A beautiful standing beer list, plus a dozen or so well-chosen rotating taps, usually including three cask conditioned ales. Five dartboards, authentic pub grub, a Rogue beer named after the proprietor's brother (Younger's Special Bitter).... It's worth an occasional brush with lung cancer to bask in such pub glory. This weekend's cask festival was a great excuse to brave the smoke at the Horsebrass. Dave and I headed down there Friday evening; we sat down with Brian, a mustachioed chap that I seem to run into at all of these festivals nowadays. Matias joined us a little later.

The Horsebrass published a list of 21 cask beers, so it was a little disappointing to arrive and find that only 6 of them were available at a time. Not that we were going to run the table with 10-ounce sample sizes, but six cask-conditioned beers felt a little paltry considering that any day of the week you can walk in and find three cask selections. Oh well. The ones we were able to try were tasty indeed:
  • Walking Man: Big Phat Homo Erectus Double IPA: awesome, sweet, hoppy
  • Double Mountain: Oak-Aged India Red Ale: sweet and nice, honey-flavored
  • Laurelwood: Deranger Imperial Red Ale: sweet, thick, hoppy
  • Hopworks: Deluxe Old Ale: very nice, nicer than CO2
  • Bridgeport: Hop Harvest Imperial IPA: good, but still too much dry hops
  • Deschutes: Jubel Ale: subdued, caramely
A word of explanation on Hopworks and Bridgeport. I've had the Hopworks DOA on regular draft at Higgins a couple of times: it's a nice strong ale, much more malty than hoppy. It's always good, but this cask version was even better. As for the Bridgeport, it's really a fine brew, but I can't suppress my disappointment that the fresh hops are completely dominated by the dry hops in the flavor. This goes back to my fresh hop obsession from last fall. The Bridgeport was served firkin-style -- that is, the beer wasn't pumped out, it just poured out from a spigot. The Walking Man may have been done the same way. I didn't see a huge difference between them and the hand-pumped ales; I'm not sure firkins are something to get especially worked up about.

What about the beers we missed? It was quite a blow not to get to try Lagunitas Maximus or Hairy Eyeball on cask (especially for Dave), and I wanted to get a taste of Ft. George's Cavatica Bourbon Barrel Stout, which I've had on CO2 at the Green Dragon. The promised Ninkasi selections were part of the attraction for me, but at least I've been fortunate enough to have Tricerahops and Believer on cask at the Horsebrass in the past. Even so, I'm sad to have missed them, especially since the Tricerahops lined up for the fest appears to be a special dry-hopped version. I also would have liked to try Dick's Porter or Barley Wine on cask, and the Mt. Hood Pittock Wee Heavy. Mt. Hood Brewing always surprises me with the quality of their beers, though the last time I tried their Wee Heavy -- at the Horsebrass, of course -- it wasn't exactly what I hoped for.

All in all, another great pub night with some one-of-a-kind beers. Don your oxygen masks, and go forth to the Horsebrass!


  1. Not to be a beer snob/t, but i actually think the Rogue beer is named for Don's brother...I'm not certain of the reason for that. The flip side of the paltry number of taps casked/firkined was that it extended to Easter Sunday, a very pleasant time to enjoy the Brass

  2. I used to live within walking distance of the Horse Brass and would visit once in a while. Each time I would vow to never go again because of all the smoke. Starting in January of next year, I will probably go over there more often even though it is now a 20 minute drive.


  3. anonymous: Yeah, I wouldn't even have complained, but was out of town Saturday and Sunday. Did you have anything good on Sunday?

    jfwells: I hear you; I'll be there a lot more when there's no smoking. I'm philosophically opposed to legislating a smoking ban, but it will be a good deal for me personally, and I think the Brass will see increased business afterward.

  4. I had Lag's Maximus, which I've enjoyed on CO2, but brother it was absolutely devine on cask. Very full, so it seemed more balanced than the CO2, but still blessedly hoppy. Actually thought it was nearly as good as the Cask Tricerhops, which I never would say of the CO2 versions. It did fall short on the aroma.

    Also had the Black Bear Stout XX. I like this beer, drinking it at a half past noon on cask made it seem very much a breakfast beer. But one of the great mysteries of my life is that I live less than 1/2 a mile from Alameda and yet I rarely, if ever, drink there.

    I did stop by on Saturday afternoon to see the line ups, and a few festival goers at HB were muttering the same thing - they thought 6 or 7 options wasn't really what they had in mind. It would have been fine with me, especially if all beers were $2.50 for 10 oz. Was that the case?

    So, my questions for you, was give me more about the DOA. We have this beer at home (kegged) and have been enjoying it mightily on CO2. So missing it at the festival was one of my greater regrets.


  5. Patrick: I think on Friday we paid $2.50 for some and $3.50 for others.

    Thanks for the rundown, now I really wish I'd got some of the Maximus.

    As for the DOA: I wish I had written down a better description.... my feeble memory tells me that it was smoother and just a little more floral than the CO2; not hoppy floral but yeasty floral. But since I'm trying to dredge that up from memory, it may be all wrong :-).