The Session #36: Cask-Conditioned Beer

The SessionIt’s the first Friday of the month again, and that means it’s time for “Beer Blogging Friday”—AKA The Session, the monthly collaboration of beer bloggers across the world to write about a common topic. All the participating blog posts will then be gathered and summarized by the host for the month (who is also the one who got to pick the theme and set any ground rules).

This month’s topic is brought to us by Tom over at Yours for Good Fermentables and the topic is Cask-Conditioned Beer:

Cask-conditioned ale —or “real ale” as it is called, somewhat boastfully, by the Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA), a beer consumer advocacy group in the UK— is defined by that organization as

beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide.

Viewers of this blog have read my opinions on cask-conditioned ale, and probably once too often. So, let’s hear yours, and not only yours. Why not invite brewers and drinkers and bemused casked-spectators to contribute essays for the Session?

Besides that question, Tom suggests a number of other possible discussion points for this month’s topic. Actually he suggests a lot. I expect this month’s Session posts will be good reads.

One of the first things I thought, from his definition of cask-conditioned ale, is that homebrewed beer fits that definition almost perfectly: at least when it’s bottle-conditioned. Bottle-conditioning is essentially a secondary fermentation of the beer in the bottle, naturally carbonating it; you open a bottle and serve it as-is, without the “extraneous” CO2. It’s like bottles of homebrew are casks!

Beyond that pithy observation, I have to confess a lack of experience in drinking cask-conditioned beers. Not to say I’m completely clueless—I’ve thoroughly enjoyed cask ales when I’ve ordered them, and I’d be happy if every beer I drink could be cask-conditioned. But Oregon overall has a distinct lack of “cask culture”, so to speak, so the opportunities just aren’t there. The only place in Central Oregon that I know for sure offers cask-conditioned beer is Deschutes Brewery (of course)—they have two taps devoted to cask conditioned beers, one of which is always populated with their excellent Bachelor Bitter.

Now, having mentioned Oregon’s dearth of the cask, I do have to point to the one exception: the Brewers Union Local 180, located in tiny Oakridge, Oregon. It occupies a unique niche in the state’s beer scene: it’s the only Real Ale pub in Oregon—that is, all of their beers are cask-conditioned and only cask-conditioned.

They’re serious about it, too:

In order to keep our casks in peak condition, and to serve in an optimum way, we have built a temperature-controlled cellar behind the bar. This temperature will be maintained at 52° F (11° C), a bit on the cool side of the recommended range of 50°—55° F (10°—12° C). The stillage has been built to accommodate 8 casks, six of which can be in service and connected to the six beer engines on the bar at any one time. We are using CypherCo plastic firkins shipped from England that are automatically kept at the correct angle of incline based on remaining volume in the casks by the use of Tilt-a-Cask auto tilt mechanisms from A-Cask, another product shipped from England.

You would have to search far and wide, perhaps involving the journey over a large body of water, to find a more authentic pint.

The blog is also good reading, and I’d wager I’ve learned more about cask ales from reading it than anything else.

You’d expect a brewpub occupying such a unique niche to be located in Portland (Beervana), but strangely enough it’s to be found in one of the more out-of-the-way communities in the state—which for me, only adds to the appeal. And since Oakridge is only a mere 97 miles from Bend, one of my goals this year is to take (at the least) a day trip over to check out the Brewers Union 180.

And when I do, I’ll be able to talk a bit more about cask conditioning.