Sunday, March 28, 2010

FoodTrek: Seattle’s Cask Festivus for the Rest of Us

I think it’s fitting that the Washington Beer Commission holds its annual Cask Festival after St. Patty’s Day, because really, let’s be honest, St. Patrick’s Day = Amateur Night when it comes to the celebration of beer. For the beer pro’s in-the-know and professional alcoholics everywhere, Seattle’s Cask Fest has provided the ultimate opportunity for local breweries to really show off some imaginative, limited-edition craft beers. Think of it like Westminster with booze instead of dogs.

Cask Festival 2010: Beer Snobbery of the Best Kind! - Photos by Wasabi Prime

So, Wasabi, what the heck is a cask beer? Think of it as Microbrew to the Tenth Power. Cask beers are just that – brews that are served from the same container or cask from where it ferments. The beer you typically drink from a bottle or poured into a glass via keg was not fermented solely in that vessel – it was cooked up, yeast was added, it was set in a primary fermentation container, and then moved again into a secondary vessel for the secondary fermentation before becoming a frothy, frosty brew to enjoy. Cask beers are lauded by purists/super beer nerds because by keeping the beer in a single container throughout its entire conditioning process, the beers are sealed up and are allowed to develop isolated, unique flavors. This also ensures the final, unfiltered product a level of freshness and flavor that is more on-target with the brewer’s intent. When you think of cask beer, think of it like a time capsule of untouched flavor. It’s capturing lightning in a cask, versus a bottle.

More Cents than Sense - lingering in Flavor Country at Cask Fest - Photos by Wasabi Prime

Divided into two sessions to expand the odds of getting a chance to sample the brews, Cask Fest offered beers from over thirty different Washington breweries, all created by this unique cask conditioned method. Notorious for selling out quickly, festival-goers seemed to be more prepared than previous events, buying tickets early and showing up in full beerfest regalia: pretzel necklaces, funny beer t-shirts, and oh yes – KILTS. Granted, Utilikilt is a local company, but really, when else are you going to be able to go to an event and not be the one dude wearing a kilt, getting a funny look? Or maybe you’re into that sort of thing, what the heck do I know? Mr. Wasabi was certainly in good company with his Utilikilt, that’s for sure, and I couldn’t say, “yeah, he’s the guy wearing the kilt… oh… wait, nevermind.”

Enjoying the Local Color of Seattle Beer Festivals - Photos by Wasabi Prime

All the major players were in attendance: Black Raven, Elysian, Mac and Jack’s, Redhook, Fish Tale, Harmon, Port Townsend, Boundary Bay, Naked City, Two Beers, Fremont, Georgetown, Elliot Bay, Northern Lights – gads, that’s not even all of them! Festival-goers become voters when they enter, given a ballot to choose their favorite, and this evening gave Fremont Brewing Co. the top honor, with Black Raven Brewing Co. a close second. From the get-go both of these brewers had the longest lines to sample their creations, so it wasn’t a shock to see that they were the ones to win the crowds’ beer-soaked hearts.

It's Last Call - FILL 'EM ALL UP!!  - Photos by Wasabi Prime

But that’s not to say other beers weren’t noteworthy. Going with a group of beer nerds is one of the best ways to enjoy a festival as you get great input, plus everyone sips from one another’s glass, saving one from a wait in line, and furthering the germ-sharing love. Some of the beers this humble Wasabi took a liking to were Diamond Knot Brewing Co’s Apple/Cinnamon ESB, a spice-laden beer that literally tasted like apple pie; Harmon Restaurant and Brewery’s Scott’s Puget Creek Vanilla Porter, a fragrant brown porter overflowing with whole vanilla bean flavor, destined for a porter/ice cream float; Redhook Brewery’s Limited Release 8-4-1 Expedition Ale with a honey and malt sweetness; and Issaquah Brewhouse’s Oak Aged 2009 Frosty Frog, an incredible winter spiced beer, aged three months in Jack Daniel’s barrels with the smoky, deep flavor of molasses and raisins.

Local Brewers Flossin' it at Cask Fest 2010 - Photos by Wasabi Prime

The growing trend of organic beer was visible as well. Olympia’s Fish Tale Ale's Fish Tale Organic IPA was a fresh, citrusy zest, rounded out by the flavor of its organic hops. It uses Centennial hops and a unique organic variety from New Zealand called Pacific Gem. Making its premiere in Washington was Oregon-based Laurelwood Brewing Company. With a new location in Battle Ground, Laurelwood made its Evergreen State debut with its Organic Free Range Red, a smooth, medium-bodied ale with tasty sweetness that was extremely well-balanced in flavor.

Just like Cask Fests before, this one was no exception, giving local brewers a chance to show off their imaginative beer talents. I look forward to next year’s celebration of cask conditioned beers, and definitely look forward to the next big Washington Beer Commission event, the Washington Brewers Festival at St. Edward’s Park on June 18-20th (Father’s Day Weekend). I have to say for fun value, the Brewers Festival is probably my favorite!

Much cheers-worthy thanks to the Washington Beer Commission for giving the Prime a chance to cover this event and a very big Wasabi Thanks to ALL the fabulous brewers who came out and shared their creativity and passion for beer with Seattle. To the kilt-wearers of the Pac NW, I salute you.

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  1. My husband loves craft beers...well actually, all micro-brews in every form. He takes me to all of the craft beer events here in NYC but we live vicariously through your West Coast adventures! Great post!

  2. Those kilts look very, ummmm, practical. Loving the handy built-in bag.

    I've never seen a kilt at a beer festival south of the Scottish border...

    Cask beer, on the other hand, is absolutely where it's at in brewing. Much more difficult and temperamental than regular brewing, all of the best beer I've ever drunk has been cask.


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