The Brazen Head Packed ‘Em in for Cask Ale

November 6th, 2007
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IMG_9552, originally uploaded by ultraclay!.

Saturday night I managed to squeeze through the cask-happy crowds at The Brazen Head to try out a couple of the ‘real ales’ offered up this weekend.

I’ve written about the festival a few times before, so I’ll refrain from repeating my extended introduction.
The short version is that cask conditioned beer is not as cold or bubbly as Americans typically expect. The change remarkably alters the drinking experience, often bringing out subtleties in flavor and texture of even strongly flavored beers. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work. The festival, which takes place 3 times a year, brings up to two dozen casks to Brooklyn.

Cask conditioned beer in this quantity is rarely available anywhere, so every beer geek worth his hops was there. Like the last few fests, BH’s small triangular space was jammed with people. I typically avoid any place with that many people in that small a place, but the festival only comes a couple times a year, so I made a point of trying again after a failed attempt on Friday. I lucked into a seat by the bar and sampled a few rounds.


I had an good time listening in on all the geekery and trying a few of the casks out. In the end, I wasn’t totally blown away by any of them this time.

Honestly, the cask beer I liked the most this time was the Kelso Chocolate Lager, and that’s offered up every time. It’s a good medium bodied brew with deep flavors of chocolate and malts.

The others, Victory Hop Wallop, Legacy Pale Ale and Chelsea Brewing Company’s Hop something or another were ok, but each made me appreciate the half pint servings I stick with for the festival. The Hop Wallop was more moderate than its name and thus was the preferred of the three. The trend is worrying though.

One of the benefits of cask conditioning is that it mutes the overpowering qualities of the hops and let’s the drinker see past it. Most of the brewers seem to have missed the part about cask conditioning bringing out subtleties in their beer. Instead of presenting beer that have more complexity, they have recently been using it as an opportunity to pack in more super-strong hops that just blunt the taste buds.

In the future, I’m hoping to see more British-style IPAs or bitters on offer. I’d like to taste more beer with a depth that I can explore rather than ones designed to beat you over the head with hops and alcohol.

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