A Tale of Two Cask Festivals – Traditional vs. Experimental

March 28th, 2012 · 3 Comments · + Russ, Events, Washington Breweries

Thanks to +Russ for the photo links.

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.

The brewers from the Yard City festival.

Very cool shifter cask handle.

New Wave of Seattle Real Ale


3 Comments so far ↓

  • Russell

    Thanks for the writeup! It was a great time, and many thanks go out to Matt and the West Sound homebrew crew for organizing it. There were some great beers there, not a bad one in the lot. Looking forward to next year already!

    Glad you liked the mild, I’m certainly enjoying it’s brother keg… (split batch, brewed with a different yeast) Captain Slow’s was a slightly lower octane (it’s normally a mighty 4.0% ABV) homebrew prototype of a recipe that I’ve been keeping on as a house beer for several years now, and that we hope to produce regularly at the brewery. So it’ll definitely be returning!

    I find that I hit hop, palate, or liver fatigue sometimes with so many great big beers around, and so I’m a fan of flavorful little session beers. It’s hard to beat British bitters, browns and milds in that department. They’re quite different cold and force carbed, so we’ll also be putting some on actual cask at the taproom for that warm and flat British beer taste.

  • Marti

    Also enjoyed the event. So nice to see people from the Seattle side bringing casks and attending the event. My favorite beer was from Mike M. and he only brewed it 11 days prior!

  • Fruittrees

    Nice write up Geoff. I can’t agree any more than you have said. Even the mention of Cask Fest turning into a low-aby festival would be awesome. Till then I will continue to promote my festival, again this year. Keep supporting the low aby movement. I am right there with ya.

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