The Cask Ale Experience, and a BIG One at That

This past weekend, Dave and I had the pleasure and privilege to attend one of the best Real Ale Festivals this side of the Atlantic at Clark’s Ale House in Syracuse. A true Syracuse mainstay, and one of the first real beer bars to sprout up back in the early 90s before places like that started to become more common the past few years, Clark’s has always done it right with great beer, great atmosphere (there are no TVs), and a legendary roast beef sandwich that is basically a requirement to enjoy when you’re in town. The Peoples Real Ale Festival is an event they have held the past couple of years with great success, and this was my first opportunity to attend.

Cask Ale Experience

Cask Ale, or Real Ale as it’s known in the US, is beer brewed with traditional ingredients and allowed to mature naturally. Being only common in Britain these days, this beer is unfiltered, unpasteurized, and contains live yeast, which will continue to condition the beer in the cask (known as secondary fermentation).

The result is a natural CO2 carbonation which allows the hop and malt flavors to develop, giving the drinker a much more simple, naked, and un-fooled-with beer. No extraneous gas is used in dispensing of the beer, usually by way of a hand pump. It’s a very unique, and more importantly, traditional way of serving beer than the normal filtered, pasteurized, chilled beer we’re used to most of the time. Some people think that Real Ale is warm and flat; however this is incorrect. Cask Ale is served between 54-56 degrees, which is cool, but not cold like normal keg beer, and there should be a noticeable carbonation from the secondary fermentation in the cask.

Cask Ale Experience

Here is a complete list of the beers that were available:

Blue Point Oatmeal Stout
Blue Point Rastafa Rye
Brooklyn Best Bitter
Brooklyn BLAST
Captain Lawrence DIPA
Captain Lawrence Pumpkin
Captain Lawrence Smoked Porter
Ellicottville Prince of Pale
Empire Maple Smoked Porter
Empire Amber
Flying Bison Rusty Chain Amber
Ithaca Flower Power
Landmark Vanilla Bean Brown
Middle Ages X
Middle Ages Dragonslayer
Sixpoint Bengali IPA
Sixpoint Amberdeen Scotch Ale
Sixpoint Righteous Rye
Southern Tier Pumpking

I was fortunate enough to sample about of what was available, and everything I had was very enjoyable. Highlights for me were the Sixpoint Aberdeen, the Brooklyn Best Bitter (I have a real soft spot for simple English Bitters), and I made it a point to do a side-by-side with the two porters and the two stouts. Also of note was the presence of 2 different rye beers, an often under-brewed and favorite style of mine.

As impressed as I was with the beer list, I think I was even more pleased with the way the event was run. It was very well organized, with 2 guys sharing bartending duties on all the casks, which were placed in an area where no long lines would develop and bar traffic could move around with ease. Even better, you had the option of getting 8- or 16-ounce pours so you needn’t buy a full pint of a beer if you were unsure if you would like it. This provided the opportunity to try the majority. And most of all, the price point didn’t hurt—most 8-ounce pours were $2.

Cask Ale Experience

So, cheers to Clark’s for doing it well, and doing it right. Thankfully, there has been a bit of resurgence and growing popularity of these types of festivals over the past few years, and I encourage everyone to take full advantage of them when held in your area. After all, it is how our forefathers enjoyed great beer, and a bit a nostalgia and history never hurts!


1 Comment

  • blair frodelius November 4, 2009 @ 9:40am

    I was there as well. This is becoming an annual event!

    Blair Frodelius

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