Another Kind of Silence

Re-Visiting Old Brewing Techniques With New Twists in Cask Conditioned Beer

By: James Burt

For some seasoned elites, it’s the only way to drink beer. For others, it’s a far-too-radical departure from the traditional lager or bar brew they’re used to. But with the growth of Canada’s independent beer movement, cask conditioned ale offers brewers and enthusiasts a way to revisit the past while experimenting for the future. It’s not something all beer drinkers are accustomed to, but its following is growing.

“Cask sells really well with our regulars though not as much with new beer drinkers,” said brewmaster Simon Jongsman of Squamish, British Columbia’s Howe Sound Brewing. “But you’ll find that cask lovers are definitely excited in trying something new within that type of beer genre, be it a new hop or fruit additive that gives cask a new twist.”

Most people associate cask ale with the traditional form of ale brewing typified in British pubs of centuries past. Today, organizations such as CAMRA—the Campaign for Real Ale—continue to promote cask beer’s qualities of not adding secondary carbonation sources while using all natural ingredients to brew it in a barrel as ale was customarily brewed. Yet cask conditioned ale has morphed slightly these days into various creative brewing forms while also gaining some new popularity globally.

“We tap a cask every afternoon,” said Jongsman. “We also sell casks to other bars in our area. There is definitely a following for it.”

Since cask conditioned ale has no added carbonation, the process of brewing is slightly more meticulous than regular beer brewing. Simon Bellerose of À la Fût Microbrasserie in Saint-Tite, Quebec has successfully experimented with different cask beer styles to provide different flavourings.  

“Cask beer is just another brewing process, but it needs to be done slower. We also need to be careful: we do a lot of calculations for ingredient measurements and timing,” he said. “And we get some experiments too, like using a few different barrels to make cask since we started brewing it seriously last year. We have Belgian oak barrels, along with a rum and bourbon barrel that we brew in. Those ones turned out really well and were popular.”

Along with the number crunching, both Jongsman and Bellerose make note of the significance of proper ingredient addition to cask ale to ensure batches turn out as planned.

“Different fruits and hops can affect the flavour of cask beer a lot,” said Jongsman. “For example, fresh pineapple doesn’t work too well in cask beer but it’s great in regular, more modern brewing processes. However, something like raspberry works fine in cask brewing. The fermentation process is where the flavouring and body are affected, so you have to take notes for each new brew right in the cask to see what will yield a proper drink with a decent taste.”

With popular cask beer festivals such as Toronto’s Cask Days Cask Conditioned Craft Beer Festival showcasing the latest in cask beer trials, many breweries are also investing their efforts in the proper transportation of cask beer.

“We’ve got an IPA and wheat beer going to Cask Days,” said Jongsman. “Sometimes we add some carbonation to them for longer traveling routes. But so long as we keep it properly chilled for the trip, the beers themselves will keep pretty well.”

With À la Fût also sending samples to Cask Days, the outlook for more cask beer on the Canadian brewing landscape is equally positive and exciting.  

“It’s another kind of science to brew. And as corny as it sounds, we like to put a lot of love into making it,” said Bellerose. “Like a sour or any other specialized beer, we just have to invest the right efforts over time.”

**Toronto’s Cask Days is this weekend October 20-22, 2017.