Sunday, March 20th, 2016

Washington Cask Festival recap

Ron Swarner


Across the pond in the U.K., it’s common to see pub signage proclaiming the availability of “real ale.” As opposed to what, you might wonder? Near beer? Something with artificial hops? What they refer to is the Brit’s traditional brew — naturally carbonated ales served from unpressurized vessels at cellar temperatures (mid-50s F), usually referred to in the states as cask ale. Many discerning beer-heads feel that this old-school “real” approach delivers the best-tasting beer. Cask ale is more organic and less mucked. Living yeast create a gentle carbonation within the cask it’s dispensed from, either via hand pump or gravity.

Saturday, March 19, on this side of the pond at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall, the Washington Brewers Guild hosted the 2016 version of its Cask Festival, featuring one-of-a-kind handcrafted cask-conditioned beers from more than 40 Washington breweries in two sessions. We hit the afternoon version.

To remain true to the spirit of “real ale” all beers were conditioned naturally, poured by gravity. After throwing a few back, it quickly became obvious that trying every beer at the festival would be an impossible quest, which is a shame since breweries really stepped up and brewed some fantastic experimental beers for the event.

The Guild called a time out during the afternoon session to pay tribute to George Hancock, former president of the Washington Brewers Guild and founder of Pyramid Brewery, who passed away March 14 after a battle with bladder cancer. He was 71 years old.

Speaking of tributes, every year members of the Washington Brewers Guild collaborate on a beer to honor Herbert (Bert) Grant, the veteran brewmaster who started the Yakima Brewing and Malting Company in the 19th-century former home of the Yakima Opera, using plenty of the flavorful hops he thought other beers lacked. In 1982, Grant opened Grant’s Brewery Pub, the first such establishment in the United States since Prohibition, thanks to his lobbying efforts. Grant died in 2001. This year’s Herbert’s Legendary Cask Fest Ale — brewed with Washington grown and processed malt, and hops provided by the participating breweries — was produced at Mollusk Brewery in Seattle. Peach aroma and flavor hit us in this easy-drinking, medium-bodied Pale Ale.

Machine House Brewery serves up real English Ales in the old machine shop of the Georgetown Brewery in SoDo. Not a shocker their Barleywine received praise in most of the chat circles yesterday. The barleywine was incredibly smooth with caramel maltiness, hints of leather, pipe tobacco and prunes, rich yet dangerously easy drinking at 10.2% ABV. So good.

Silver City Brewery & Taproom poured their Bourbon Barrel Old Scrooge to a long line. Aged in single-use Kentucky Bourbon barrels, Bourbon Barrel-Aged Old Scrooge was a tasty treat of warming bourbon and wood. The rich malt character of the beer bonded well with the whiskey notes of the barrel. Peach also hit our tongue. Very nice.

Black Raven Brewery’s staff was hidden all afternoon behind a crowd. They were offering up their Grandfather Raven Imperial Stout on cask, with rich dark caramel notes, unsweetened chocolate, and hints of coffee aromas and flavors. The highlight for them, however, was their Pour Les Oiseaux, aged in French oak white wine barrels with the addition of brettanomyces. It was delicious — slightly tart, lightly spiced malt flavor with floral notes.

Other good decisions were Rainy Daze Brewing’s Sunrise Coffee Porter with plenty of namesake flavor balanced with vanilla; Cloudburst Brewing’s incredible Darkenfloxx Imperial Stout with hazelnut; Bainbridge Island Brewing’s Battle Point Stout aged in whiskey barrel with maple syrup; Beardslee Public House’s dialed-in Four Ginger IPA; Fish Brewing’s boozy Over and Out Stout aged in oak as well as their Maple Bacon Porter; Harmon Brewing’s wonderful Cask Fest 2016 Chocolate Johnnie Stryker Stout; Maritime Pacific’s sweet and thick Hop Surge Triple IPA, Naked City Brewery’s Mint Chocolate Porter with Junior Mints; The RAM’s Knob Walker Strong Ale aged with Knob Creek Bourbon soaked oak spirals; Walking Man’s dark and hoppy Big Black Homo Erectus CDA on cask special to Washington Beer Lovers members.