Showing posts with label cask ale. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cask ale. Show all posts

Friday, February 1, 2019

Real Ale: Real Craft

I am in the planning stages of going home to Scotland for at least a month this summer. Inevitably that means things like plane tickets, making sure travel documents are up to date, getting passports for a pair of 15 month old children, getting 15 month old children to sit still for photographs for said passports, and so on and so forth. Thankfully my current employer is ok with me taking my computer with me and working from the UK so I don't have to use up all my holiday time, working in IT is fantastic at times.

Inevitably intermingled with all these practicalities are thoughts of beers to hunt out, pubs to go to, breweries to visit, that kind of beer tourist crap that I admit to being terrible at. You see, I have this problem, when I find a place I like I often don't feel like changing it up, and I have a short list of must hit boozers and must drink beers for my time home. One thing all these bars have in common, whether in Inverness and environs northwards, or in Glasgow, is they have decent selections of cask ale.

While I am not a member of the Campaign for Real Ale, and in no way, shape, or form an anti-keg beer zealot - forget dry January, that would be abstinence in the US - I do consider myself very much a fellow traveller on the path of real ale righteousness. Nothing, and I literally mean nothing, beats a pint of flavourful, well conditioned, well tended ale drawn from a cask, served at the right temperature. That is something each boozer on my little list has in common, they do cask ale right, and that means sparkled as well, naturally.

There does seem to be something of a false dichotomy though in the UK when it comes to the relationship between cask ale and craft beer. Just so there is no room for misunderstanding, let me say very clearly that the biggest difference I see is that craft beer is ultimately a product of a brewery, while cask ale is a craft throughout its life cycle.

Think about that for a moment. Craft beer basically gets made, kegged, chucked in a pub cold room and then poured from a tap. When the keg kicks, a member of the bar staff goes to the cold room, puts a new keg on and carries on. It is exactly what I did for many years behind the bar at the Starr Hill brewery tasting room. It doesn't take any special skill to pour beer behind a bar that serves kegged craft beer. That's not to say that keg beer is crap beer, it is after all just a different dispense method, rather that when it comes to delivery there is very little that can go wrong once the keg is tapped.

Now consider real ale, delivered to the pub cellar where it needs to sit at the right temperature until it is ready to be vented, and even then it takes time to get to the appropriate condition for serving. It takes a trained cellarman to keep the ale flowing with as little disruption to customers. Even in the pulling of your pint, there is right way to pull through a beer engine. There are many stages at which real ale can turn to shit, especially once it has left the relative safety of the brewery, and of course once the cask is tapped the clock is running on when it will turn to vinegar, a problem that keg beer generally doesn't have, I know of breweries that have found old kegs of beer in the back of their storage and put it on tap to customers who were none the wiser, and happily paid full price for essentially old beer.

I think sometimes cask ale gets a raw deal, demeaned by crafties and lout drinkers alike as old man beer, mistreated by far too many pubs, in the US often served slapped on a bar and with the cask groaning with silly shit, and cloudy as fuck too. When the craft of real ale is done right, the beer has passed through the hands of multiple artisans (and being a good cellarman is an art), and the end product is a pint of beautifully cool, well conditioned ale, there is nothing that compares.

Cask ale is the product of craftsmanship from beginning to end.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

CAMRA - A Fellow Traveller's View

I have never been a member of CAMRA, at least not the Campaign for Real Ale (the homebrew club I go to is called the Charlottesville Area Masters of Real Ale). It really didn't make any sense to be a member when I lived in Prague, and it still doesn't now that I live in Virginia. Those facts though don't change the fact that whenever I go home to the UK I drink mostly real ale, actually that's understating it a bit, I actively hunt out real ale. I consider myself something of a CAMRA fellow traveller and am grateful that they took the step to protect, promote, and campaign for a wonderful expression of beer drinking.

Having said all of that, it is clear to me that the Revitalisation Project that CAMRA are now undertaking is kind of overdue. I remember running into some CAMRA members when I lived in Prague, Liverpool had spanked United 4-1 at Old Trafford, and we went to Pivovarsky D?m for some celebratory pints, and got talking with them about Marston's MD referring to certain sections of the CAMRA membership as 'gobby Hobbits'. These guys were, if memory serves, knowledgeable about beer in general, appreciative of a good lager, and good company over all.

That's kind of what I would like to see come out of the Revitalisation Project, a campaign that knows and promotes good beer in general, sure with a focus on real ale but without being snotty about it.

I would also like them to drop their quasi-nationalist double standard. If you go to the Great British Beer Festival the foreign bars serve beer from kegs rather than casks, seemingly the thinking being that this allegedly inferior product is perfectly okay for Johnny Foreigner but not for John Bull Esq. Good beer is good beer whether served from a cask, keg, bottle, or can, and British brewers shouldn't have to labour under the misapprehension that cask is the be all and end all of British beer.

As well as being an opportunity to broaden the scope, and appeal, of the Campaign, this project is also an opportunity to re-victual the idea cabinet so that once again CAMRA is a vital part of the beer scene in the UK in a way that is relevant to drinkers in the 21st Century. Without it, I fear the Campaign will become just a chapter in the next edition in the Oxford History of Beer, an important chapter yes, but still just history consigned to the page.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Real Ale Homebrew

I love a good pint of cask conditioned beer, something which is painfully difficult to get in this part of Virginia at times. None of the breweries here has a regular cask lineup, and worse yet when they do decide to have some kind of 'firkin' special they invariably bastardise the beer by adding stupid shit to the beer, and slap it on a bar for gravity pouring without proper stillage. The resulting beer is so murky that it would do London beer proud, and no that is not a good thing.

The only places I have enjoyed pints of well cared for real ale in the last 6 years have been Beer Run here in Charlottesville and ChurchKey in DC, though sadly Beer Run stopped having a regular cask offering a few years ago. What then is a chap to do? Make you own obviously.

I have written before about using a 1 gallon polypin, called a cubitainer in these here parts, for replicating cask conditioning. It really is a pretty simple process:
  1. Put priming solution/conditioning tablets into the cubitainer to achieve about 1.2 volumes of CO2
  2. Rack fermented beer from primary into cubitainer, filling it about 90% full
  3. Close cubitainer with tap attachment (edit: store the cubitainer with the tap on the top of the cube)
  4. When the cubitainer swells bleed off some of the resulting CO2 so it doesn't burst - usually have to do this twice
  5. After about a week drink it
The picture below is of one of my cask experiments, an 80/- ale from a few years ago.

Now, gravity pour is all well and good, but I about a year ago I decided that I wanted to be able to pump my cubitainer real ale. Beer engines are pretty bloody expensive in and of themselves, and I don't have a home bar to add the necessary kit to, and did I mention they are bloody expensive? An answer I found on the old interwebs was to use a 'Rocket' pump, which is more usually used in mobile homes to pump water. One of the guys at the homebrew club I go to had a similar idea, but attached it to a cooler so that he would have portable real ale, so I must admit I nicked his idea to build my own 'caskerator'.

It's a really simple set up, and so easy to build that it took me about 10 minutes to do, and most of that was drilling the holes in the top of the cooler to attach the pump to. The entire outlay for this was:
Real ale for less than $45 can't be bad. To make it work:
  1. put a freezer gel pack in the bottom of the cooler to keep the previously cellar temperature stored beer at about the right temperature
  2. put cubitainer in cooler, tap to one side and pointing upwards
  3. connect the pump tubing to the tap (this can be fiddly)
  4. turn tap on
  5. close cooler lid - taking care not to kink the tubing, though this kind of replicates the behaviour of a sparkler
  6. pump - it takes about 10 pumps to get an imperial pint
  7. drink

There you have it, how to produce a reasonable approximation of British style real ale at home and on the cheap.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Finally - #IHP2015 Truman's Double Stout

This past Saturday, Mrs V and I hosted a little soiree at our place, ostensibly to christen the patio we had built last autumn, but it pissed down from about 11am so we were restricted to the kitchen, which is where the best parties happen anyway.

At the beginning of the day I wasn't sure whether my version of the 1860 Truman's Double Stout would be ready. Having tired of bottling batches of beer, I have started using my 1 gallon cubitainers, which I refer to as 'caskitainers', more and more, and I had 2 caskitainers of stout sitting in my cellar. As I say though, I wasn't sure if I wanted to inflict the beer on friends without having tried it myself, beyond the sample from packaging the beer, which was pretty damned delicious.

A few jars to the good later, I decided to throw caution to the wind and pulled out my little homemade beer engine and the first of the caskitainers. With everything hooked up, I poured myself a sample...

My goodness, this was nice. Huge great dollops of bittersweet chocolate, kind of like the 1lb bars of Belgian dark chocolate you can buy at Trader Joe's. In the background lingered a roasty bite that stopped the beer from being cloying, and the came through in the finish an assertive hop bite. The body was full and luscious, bordering on lascivious, and the densely creamy head could almost convince the unknowing drinker that it had been served through an abomination nitro tap, actually there was a little kink in the line which caused an effect not unlike a sparkler, the natural way to drink cask ale anyway.

Suitably emboldened, I offered our friends glasses of the beer, which went down very well, much to my relief, and so we finished off a caskitainer and a half. Thankfully I still have half a cask in the beer engine, and with no extraneous oxygen getting in, should still be in fine fettle when I finish it off tonight...

Every prospect pleases, and I might have to brew more of this.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Session Fizz

When I was home in the summer I drank almost exclusively cask conditioned ales, as well as a fair few bottled conditioned ales. If I recall correctly, I may have had fewer non-real ales than I have digits on my hands. I am utterly biased I admit, but cask conditioned ale is, for me, one of the heights of the brewer's, and cellarman's, craft.

When we landed back in Philadelphia after our holiday, we grabbed a couple of seats at a bar and ordered food and beer. My beer was Yard's Philadelphia Pale Ale, a beer that I actually quite enjoy, but after 3 weeks of Happy Chappy, Skye Black, and Kelburn Dark Moor, it was just too fizzy for me.

On Sunday afternoon some friends of mine came into the bar at Starr Hill, having just returned from a few weeks touring round the south of England. Taking in the delights of London, the New Forest, and the Cotswolds, and reveling in the pleasures of....cask conditioned ales in the pub. As we chatted, my friend commented on how much more beer she drank while in the UK than she would normally, and while part of that is likely to have been a result of the lower gravity of many of the beers, she also said that the lack of excessive fizz meant she didn't feel bloated after a few pints, which got me wondering about session beer.

I love session beers, as pretty much anyone that knows me will tell you. I can think of no better way to while away several hours than being sat in the pub, drinking low alcohol, flavoursome beers. For me though, a session starts after the fourth pint, which can be tricky when the beer is north of 6% and much fizzier than something properly cask conditioned, and no, putting still fermenting beer in a firkin with a slew of weird shit doesn't count, you could call it 'casky' in juxtaposition to the real thing.

My thought then is this, are cask conditioned ales more conducive a session, because they don't fill you up with excessive CO2 to burp and fart out along the way? Perhaps an extra, admittedly optional, criteria is required for the definition of session beer? Less fizzy than standard beers.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Cask vs the World

Let me get something straight right now, I like cask conditioned beer, I also love lager, oh and I love stout and porter. Thinking about it, I love beer FULL STOP. While I think the term 'craft beer' is pretty much meaningless drivel, the beers which bear that tag are some of my favourite beers to drink, whether from a bottle or, preferably, on draught in the pub. Yes sir I am a beer drinker and it is because I am a beer drinker that there are times that I despair at the collective antics of the various 'consumer organisations' and brewers on both sides of the 'cask vs craft keg' debate.

Whilst on Twitter this morning, Martyn Cornell tweeted about a page on Cask Ale Week's website, which claims that:
keg beers, smooth beers, craft beers, lagers and stouts are different from cask beers. They:-
  • Are all brewery conditioned: they undergo only one fermentation and are then pasteurised
  • Are filtered so they contain no live yeast
  • Have gas added in order to give them a fizz or a ‘smooth’ texture
  • Can be identified by the type of font or tap (they are served by switching on rather than pulling through) on the bar, and the straight sided containers in the cellar.
  • Are usually served at a chilled 6 degrees centigrade
  • May be served ‘extra-cold’ at 0 to 5 degrees centigrade
Now, you can see that a lot of this is just bullshit straight off the bat, but as someone who works, albeit part-time and only in the tasting room, in a 'craft' brewery I can confirm that Starr Hill Brewing Company does not pasteurise their beer. Thinking about it, Devils Backbone don't pasteurise either, I guess they aren't 'craft'.

But if you read the entirety of that page, you see a very snide and malicious attempt to set up cask ale as somehow natural and healthy as opposed to evil, industrial "keg beers, smooth beers, craft beers, lagers and stouts", especially as cask ale is made from "4 wholesome ingredients: water, malted barley, hops and yeast". Can we assume therefore that no cask ales have brewing sugars in them, or is this simply misinformation?

As I said at the top of this post, I am a beer drinker, not a cask drinker, keg drinker or craft drinker. I have drunk some absolutely cracking cask ales as much as some which were downright awful, just as I have had both great and undrinkable 'craft' beer. The method of dispense and market positioning of a brewery are irrelevant, it is what is in the glass that is important, how it tastes and whether I enjoy it.

Surely this sniping and attempts at point scoring against other parts of the industry has got to stop and people need to realise that at the end of the day we are all on the same side - the side of good beer.

Without it we are in danger of becoming the zythophilic version of this:

UPDATE: The text above has been changed to the following:
Keg beers, smooth beers, craft beers, lagers and stouts are different from cask beers. They:-
  • The vast majority are brewery conditioned, undergoing only one fermentation and then pasteurisation
  • Nearly all are filtered so they contain no live yeast
  • Most have gas added in order to give them a fizz or a ‘smooth’ texture
  • Can usually be identified by the type of font or tap (they are served by switching on rather than pulling through) on the bar, and the straight sided containers in the cellar.
  • Are usually served at a chilled 6 degrees centigrade
  • May be served ‘extra-cold’ at 0 to 5 degrees centigrade

I would still question the veracity of the claim that the vast majority of craft beers are pasteurised, I can't think of a single one off the top of my head, but at least it is no longer a blanket claim.

UPDATE 2 - the above text has been amended again so that only "Keg beers, smooth beers, lagers and stouts..." do through these evil processes. Better not mention that Bernard lagers are all unpasteurised or I fear heads will explode.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Good While It Lasted

We were driving back from Waynesboro on Sunday afternoon when I got a text message from fellow beer drinker and former beer blogger Dan to tell me that changes are afoot at one of Charlottesville's leading beer emporia.

It turns out that the guys that own and operate Beer Run have decided to dispense with their beer engine and install an additional three regular taps in the space being freed up. I won't hide it, this makes me sad. Many of the best beers I have enjoyed since moving to the US have been on cask at Beer Run, Joker IPA from Williams Brothers, Sierra Nevada's Torpedo and a barleywine from Cricket Hill that was obscenely easy to drink.

Now, I realise that enjoying cask conditioned beer is something of a minority interest in the beer loving community this side of the Pond, but the thought of the only place in town offering beer the way god intended being South Street Brewery is somewhat depressing. Admittedly I haven't been to South Street for quite some time, so maybe their beers have improved, but last time I allowed for that possibility I had the most depressed 90 minutes of drinking in my life, so I am not holding out much hope.

My most fervent hope is that one of the other pubs in this town pick up the baton, buy the beer engine from Beer Run and run with it. In a different world, with ownership that actually understood pubs and pub goers, it would be perfect in Court Square Tavern. If I owned the Horse and Hound I would seriously look into it, imagine that a "British" pub that actually has something authentically British about it. As it is, I think the best place for a beer engine in Charlottesville would be McGrady's or just outside town, Timberwood Grill, where the homebrew club meets once a month.

Dan also mentioned that Beer Run were planning to ditch their proper pint servings because only one person ever drank them, surely there are other drinkers than just me that like a proper pint? Thankfully though, on that front he was kidding.

Friday, May 4, 2012

In Excelsis!

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I spent a chunk of this week up in Washington DC at a conference and that I was hoping to find a good pub to while away a few hours after everything work connected was done with for the day. Eventually then a colleague and I jumped in a taxi and headed to Churchkey.

I had heard mention of Churchkey from various sources. Having climbed the stairs and had my ID checked, I stood in wonder at the bar. I barely noticed the 50 something tap handles crowding the wall behind the bar, for there, at the very heart of it all were handpumps, five of them. Yes, you read that correctly 5 handpumps in an American pub. Sure, Charlottesville has a couple of places with a solitary handpump but having a choice of cask ales was magical, perhaps even mythical. I have to admit though that I can only remember 2  of the available beers, because they were the two I drank, Williams Bros Midnight Sun Porter and a beer called Ape Must Never Kill Ape, a 3.3% abv beer from Oliver Breweries up in Baltimore.

I am planning a trip to Baltimore with my best friend in August.He is from the city and when we were flatmates in Prague in 2000 we drank shed loads of beer on the balcony of our flat while he told me that one day he would show me his home town. Suffice to say that the Pratt Street Ale House, home of Oliver Breweries is very much on our list of places to get slaughtered in. Quick side note, sampling dozens of weird and wonderful beers is all good and well, but sitting with your best mate getting totalled is the pinnacle of the drinking world. Anyway, the AMNKA is a session strength Belgian inspired dark ale, which according to the commercial description is made with:

"English pale malt, dark crystal, chocolate, carafa 3, Belgian biscuit and caramel vienna. Bittered with Kent Goldings and Czech Saaz, finished with Fuggles and German Tettnanger then fermented with Belgian DeKonick yeast and cold conditioned with vanilla beans"

Absolutely packed with flavour this beer is, a veritable melange of coffee, chocolate, toffee, grass and so many other flavours that you need a good few pints to really examine it well. I didn't have my note book so I had a good few pints just because it was so damned good. Another silly little aside, the glasses at Churchkey are 16oz nonic kind of things, which just look weird to my proper pint trained eye.

We sat at the bar for a good few hours, watching ice hockey, drinking beer and talking about work and life in general. We chatted with random strangers at the bar, naturally plugging this here blog, and if they come back and read this post then I hope they took the time to learn a bit more about the Scots language.

Churchkey seems to be finding that most elusive of balances, at least in my experience, of being a beer bar which keeps the tickers happy and a pub where regular drinkers feel welcome, and they have simply excellent bar staff. What a great way to waste several hours.

Monday, January 2, 2012

When Things Get Better

It was nearly 7pm when our little Dash 8 swooped into . It was Hogmanay, though for Reuben of Tale of the Ale fame it was already 2012. Mrs Velkyal and I had finally finished crossing the Atlantic, having spent 2 weeks in France, the last 2 days of which were spent in Paris with Reuben and his wife.  I am not much of one for flying, or at least the taking off and landing bits, I don't mind the middle bit as long as there is an absence of turbulence. I also find that being 6'4" makes flying an exercise in feeling the pain of the sardine.

From a beer point of view, France was something of a . Much of the beer was distinctly meh, some entirely undrinkable, some reassuringly as good as usual and some a lot better than expected.

If you have been following Fuggled for a few years, you may well recall that the last time I went to Paris was in January 2009, and that I was somewhat scathing about a British themed brewpub near Gare d'Austerlitz, The Frog and British Library. The beer was thin, the mouthfeel overwhelmingly watery and in the case of the stout, simply unfinishable, but the food was good. We found ourselves there again on Thursday night as, out of necessity, we were in the area and needed feeding. The food is still good, and happily the beer is much improved. The In Seine no longer left me wishing that was exactly where it was, indeed I had a second pint as I revelled in the flavours and aromas of Styrian Goldings - a hop that I like very much. The Dark de Triomphe actually got finished this time. I am not saying they are wonderful beers, but they are drinkable and repeatedly so.

Thus on Friday, having walked from Notre Dame to the Eiffel Tower, via the Champs Elysee and my first ever hot beer (won't be doing that again, I am sure I can still feel the fur in my veins from the sugar), we jumped on the Metro to head for the original Frog brewpub, The Frog and Rosbif. Part of me wonders if having a British themed pub on Rue de Saint Denis is irony, coincidence or the 20th Century equivalent of hoisting your bow drawing fingers at the vanquished French?

Whatever the truth may be, one thing is certain, Le Frog and Rosbif would be a regular haunt for me if I lived in Paris, simply because they have the In Seine on cask (or at least they did on our visit, maybe they rotate). Not only do they have it on cask, the waitress wasn't utterly baffled by me asking if it was sparkled (it was) and happy to give me an unsparkled pint so I could compare. I won't get into the ins and outs of the sparkler debate but I prefer sparkled beer and this test did nothing to challenge that.

Discovering that the beer at the Frog brewpubs had improved was probably one of my beer highlights of the trip. I am one of those people who thinks that it is better for the beer industry as a whole for existing breweries to get better rather than go under; it keeps people in jobs for a start. Some might moan that the beer styles being brewing by The Frog guys are uninteresting. However, as I have said many, many times, if a brewer can't make a sub 4.5% abv beer that I want to drink several off, then I wonder to myself how good a brewer is he or she in reality?

* The picture is from the 2009 trip, the In Seine I had last week was darker, so I guess they may have messed with the recipe as well.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Are You For Real?

On Friday afternoon I needed a pint. A proper pint that is, one that is 20 fluid ounces, or just over half a litre, as in 68ml over half a litre (for those outside the States, not everything here is bigger than elsewhere, their pint is a mere three quarters of the real thing). Thankfully the pub I frequent most often here in Charlottesville, and that not as often as I would like, now knows that when I ask for a pint, that's what I get, a  proper pint, in a nonic glass - my favourite shaped glass.

The pub in question is Beer Run, a bar, restaurant and bottle shop rolled into one, 2 minute drive from my house, delight. They also have a handpull, with a sparkler! Friday's firkin of fun was a barleywine from Cricket Hill, and it was delicious, far too easy to drink for an 8%abv beer. I needed a pint, the second one I wanted. So all seemed right with the world, a sparkled pint of barleywine, not cold, not warm, just right, pulled nicely and served by a smiling young lady - seriously, what more could you want in life? Perhaps being sat by a roaring peat fire, with my new Cairn Terrier puppy stretched out at my feet would round the scene out perfectly.

I love seeing handpulls in pubs, there are at least two such treasures here in Charlottesville that I know of, the other being in South Street Brewery. I am not a fan in the slightest of cold and fizzy beer - and people that try to give me a frosted glass are politely asked to return with a normal glass, thank you very much. If I want cold and fizzy, I'll drink Pepsi. Even when I am in the Starr Hill tasting room, I pour the Dark Starr Stout just after giving a group the penultimate beer for the day, so it can warm up and the lovely chocolate and coffee aromas and flavours can unlock and come to the fore.

Perhaps I am alone in this, but I often sit in the pub gazing at the beer engine and thinking about the stillage. I assume as most beers I have had on cask at both Beer Run and South Street are properly stillaged. Then my mind wanders back further in the process, to the filling and priming of the cask itself, and whether or not it is possible to use a regular Sanke keg as a cask? I am then filled with dread, am I being duped? Is this really cask conditioned ale, or is it just unfiltered beer, pulled through a beer engine?

At the end of the day though, it is the beer in the glass that is important, and every pint I have had in Beer Run from the beer engine has been a delight - especially the Joker IPA they had from Williams Brothers a while back, oh and the Two Hearted Ale from Bell's in Michigan, oh yes, mustn't forget Cricket Hill either - a brewery I will have to winkle out more beer from.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

From the Cask

Admittedly the pictures in this post were taken about a week ago, and posted on Twitter. It was only this morning that I realised I hadn't written anything about how the beer from my little cask actually tasted as opposed to just looked. The beer in the cask was my Gael 80/- Scottish Export Ale and although it looks really dark in the picture above, when held up to the light it was a bright crimson.

One thing I learnt after the first pint burst forth from the polypin was that to get a decent head I needed to press down on the polypin when pouring. Drinking your own real ale from a cask really makes you appreciate the difference between a beer being nicely conditioned and overly fizzy, and I know without doubt which I prefer.

In terms of the actual taste of the beer, the chocolate and caramel malts I used are very much to the fore, with just the slightest hoppy bitterness in the background - just as it should be. The first couple of pints were a touch thin, but after a few days they body filled out a bit and made the beer rather moreish. I was a bit worried that the beer would lose condition quite quickly from the cask, but it stayed good for about 10 days.

So I think my cask ale was a success, from both a technical and a drink point of view, and I may have to buy a couple more pins, and if Mrs Velkyal and I find a house to buy within our budget, I can see a beer engine becoming an essential!

Old Friends: Joseph's Brau PLZNR

I have to admit that there really are not that many things that I miss as a result of this pandemic. I am sure that comes as something of a ...