This upcoming weekend’s sold-out Washington Cask Beer Festival is one of the best local festivals of the year. Washington breweries serve up a wide range of beer styles on cask, and there are always many outstanding beers. But, traditional this festival is not. On the other end of the spectrum, a small group of West Puget Sound homebrewers put on quite a show featuring traditional English-style ales this past weekend at the Third Annual Yard City Cask Beer and Real Ale Festival in Bremerton.
The tradition of cask beer comes from England, where styles such as bitters and mild ales shine when served unfiltered with live yeast from a hand-drawn cask. These low ABV (typically under 5% ABV), sessionable beers are full of flavor and perfect for having a few of on trips down to the pub. At the Washington Cask Beer Festival, the menu is a little different. Take one look at the full beer list, and you won’t find many that will come in at sub 5% ABV (just a couple, I think). Breweries bring a lot of specialty releases, such as barrel-aged strong ales and stouts, sour beers, Imperial IPAs, and beers with unique ingredients. There’s nothing wrong with this. Like I said, it’s just not traditional. It’s quite American, and most attendees, including myself, love the selection.
In contrast, at the smaller Yard City festival the intention is really to feature low ABV beers. There were about 12 different beers total brewed by local homebrewers and a few professional brewers with strong ties to the homebrew community. Just one of the beers creeped over 5% ABV, and the rest were typically well under the 5% threshold with a few coming in under 3% ABV. There were dark milds, bitters, pale ales, a session IPA, and several others. My favorite of the bunch was Captain Slow’s Dark Mild, which was flavorful, refreshing, and as enjoyable as can be, regardless of the strength. Throw in the fact that it was only 3.3% ABV, and I’d love to have my own personal cask of this at home. Captain Slow’s was the creation of Russell Everett, who is in the process of opening up Bainbridge Island Brewing. Another attendee at the festival (and good friend), Colin Lenfesty, is leaving his post as brewer at Schooner Exact to join up with Russell at Bainbridge Island. Something tells me I’m going to like their beer.
While the Washington Cask Beer Festival is absolutely one of my favorites, I’d still love to see a festival taking the homebrewers’ idea and featuring professional breweries on a larger scale. There is definitely a demand for this style of beer in Seattle, and a festival like this would encourage breweries to experiment more. Earlier this week when I put up a poll asking readers which styles of beer they would like to see more of, over 100 people said they would like to see more session beers under 5% ABV. I was definitely one of those votes, and I’d love to see more session beers in town, particularly on cask. Brewing flawless examples of these beers on a large scale is not easy to do, but I’m sure many local brewers would be up for the challenge.
Cheers to all the guys that brought beer to this past weekend’s festival, and cheers to all the brewers bringing their creations to this weekend’s fest.