by Stephen Beaumont
Let’s get this out of the way straight off: Despite what some of its advocates might suggest, cask-conditioned beer, also known as real ale, is NOT the ultimate expression of the brewing arts. At its best, yes, it can yield an exceptional pint, but it can also be misunderstood, misconceived and mishandled into something very far from that ideal.
Still, even accounting for its strengths and weaknesses, a festival devoted to the celebration of cask-conditioning is something to be cheered. When such an event is held outside of cask ale’s physical and spiritual home of Great Britain, it is to be glorified!
All of which brings us to Cask Days, Toronto’s annual festival of cask-conditioning and, to my figuring, the largest such event held outside of the U.K. The numbers alone are fairly staggering:
- More than 400 beers, all poured via gravity from the barrel in which they have undergone their final fermentation;
- Over 200 breweries and cideries represented;
- 4 provinces and 4 states represented;
- 5 tasting sessions, including the new Sunday afternoon “Beer Garden” where, for a mere $5 plus glass cost, you can help drink up the remaining beer in a mellow, Sunday-ish and family-friendly environment.
If all that doesn’t impress you, well, you have either been to too many Great British Beer Festivals or are not about to be impressed by matters beer festival-y.
Sure, some of the beers presented will no doubt be oddities as in years past, when I seem to recall dry-pastrami-ed beer and gummi bear – or gummi something – beer. And others will be simple cask-conditioned versions of beers you already know and love, sometimes for their betterment and sometimes to their detriment.
(This last point because not all beers are meant for cask-conditioning. For instance, unless they are very carefully constructed, I find that beers seasoned with bold amounts of US hops generally fare badly in the cask. But that is a topic perhaps best saved for another rant.)
But many of the ales that will be present also promise to be delightful, even coveted and once-in-a-lifetime tasting opportunities. Personally, surveying the list of expected breweries, I am most excited to see what arrives from New Yorkers Community and Thin Man, Maine’s Rising Tide and Allagash, Portland, Oregon’s Hair of the Dog, Nova Scotia’s Tatamagouche and Unfiltered, BC’s Bridge and Driftwood, Québec’s Hopfenstark and À la Fût, plus a host of Ontarians from newcomer Merit to cask-conditioning veteran Granite.
I’ll be there on both Friday and Saturday afternoons, on the latter day with the very first copies of my new book, Best Beers, for sale and signing. (Pete Brown will be there, too, with his new Miracle Brew.) If you’ll be in or near Toronto the weekend of October 20 – 22, you should be there, as well. Get your tickets today at caskdays.com.