Wednesday, April 13, 2011

FoodTrek: It's Saturday Night and I'm A-Feelin' All Right at the Caaaaask Fes-ti-val!

Do you like my theme song for the Cask Festival? Catchy, no? The gloomy skies and wacky winter-esque weather didn't dampen spirits for this year's Washington Beer Cask Festival, organized by the Washington Beer Commission. It's an annual festival to bring together the local breweries who put on their Mad Beer Scientist hats, brewed up one-of-a-kind small batches of cask conditioned beers, and unleash it on a very willing, able and thirsty crowd of Seattle beer nerds. Ready... steady... Cask On!

Shiny tokens in exchange for tasty beer - fair bargain, no? - Photo by Wasabi Prime

There's a great deal of detailed knowledge about the brewing of cask conditioned beers, also known as "real ale," which I'm not going to get into the nitty gritty of because there's more accurate and detailed resources out there and mathy equations about alcohol percentages is not fun reading when you're goofing off on your lunch break, reading a blog about getting your drank on. The process of making beer is several steps of flavor enhancements and allowing time to develop those ingredients into something really complex. That could be said for all fermented drinks, but it's a time honored tradition of drilling in the lesson that patience is a virtue. Cask conditioned beers aren't necessarily aged longer, it just uses methods of fermentation that continues to keep the yeast active and allowing flavors to strengthen as the beer ages. At the end of the day, what does this mean for the beer? It's like a flavor punch right in your face. But a good punch, the kind you pay saucy ladies in thigh-high boots to serve up after a stressful day. Woo-woo!

Imagine this crowd of early entrance folks times twenty, and that's Cask Fest - Photos by Wasabi Prime

I rarely go out on a Saturday night, so this was a rare treat to put my beer goggles on with some brewing friends and meet up with some travel friends, like the Team Travellious Dynamic Duo of Kelly and Austin, who are the roaming rebels behind the travel blog, whose HQ is Seattle, but one could say their playground is the world at large. They're a great resource not only for places to visit, but they road test travel gear and things you never would think you'd need on a trip until -- doh -- you need it.

While I'm no great world traveler, I do navigate the local landscape of beer festivals regularly. Attending the Seattle Cask Festival is one of those events where the saying is true: dude, you just had to be there. I mean that literally. These beers aren't built to go on long hauls to festivals across the country and are produced in very small batches -- as in some casks were out by 3pm, so the folks in the later session were plum outta luck. If you happen to be visiting Seattle in April or live in the area, here are some quick tips that will make your Cask Beer experience pleasantly buzzy: buy your tickets early, and go for the earlier session if you're afraid of some beers running out before the evening session. That's probably the most important thing, because every year it sells out. You can hope that a handful of tickets become available a few days before the event and jump in at the last second, but it's a gamble. The tickets are more pricey than the typical beer events because the location at Seattle Center in the Fisher Pavillion is small, and despite the two sessions, it's a one-day beer soiree, the beers are made exclusively for this event, and they give you a ridiculous amount of tokens that your liver could never hope to churn through in the span of three hours. Another tip: be patient, grasshopper. And be friendly. It's going to be a long line to get everyone ID-ed and checked in and there's going to be lines for all the tastings (short ones, don't worry). And there's going to be a good bit of standing around because seating is limited, although it's easier to gather in small groups that slowly migrate around the tasting floor. Given the strength of some of the beers and the ease of rapid-fire sampling, the Tipsy Meter teeters towards Crunked by the second hour; you'll get bumped and nudged as the crowd hits maximum capacity. Don't take it personally, just have another beer because in an hour, you likely won't remember the dude who stole a pretzel from your pretzel necklace.

Here a cask, there a cask, everywhere a tasty beer cask - Photos by Wasabi Prime

But what about the beer that's a delightful punch in the face? While I'm sorry to say you can't buy these in your average grocery store, I did specifically suss out beers that were awash in superflavor. One of the first ones I had was by Airways Brewing, a new brewery in Kent, who made a Nonstop to Maui Dry Stout, made with chocolate, coconut and oak chips soaked in Maui rum -- WHAM, coconut flavor punch! Thank you, ma'am, may I have another? A coconut beer that had a lighter taste of the islands was Schooner Exact's Coconut Porter, still with a coconut flavor but less heavy. I tried Diamond Knot Brewing's Apple Cinnamon ESB which could best be described as cinnamon toast that will get you tipsy. The rich vanilla/bourbon flavors were popular as well -- Elliot Bay Brewing had an Organic Vanilla-n-Nibs Stout and Fremont Brewing had a Totonac BBomb Bourbon Barrel-aged Dark Ale. To round out this somewhat dessert-themed batch of tastings was American Brewing Company's Chocolate Mint Porter, a beer that wasn't listed on the pamphlet, but was a nicely balanced smoky chocolate with the mint to round everything out. I wish I could say I drank even more than that, but my own tipsy meter was waving the white flag, so I had to scale back to ensure my return home in one Wasabi piece. I will say this -- public transportation is your friend. It delivered me safe, sound and sober to my car, nestled in Bellevue, but not before a run to the lobster-macaroni-and-cheese-border for a late night dinner at Purple Cafe.

Just another bung-pounding Saturday night in Seattle - Photos by Wasabi Prime

I look forward to the next beer festival where we can all gather, get hopped up on hops, and maybe... just maybe... see the sun come out. Is that jinxing it? Bah. Blame me for crap weather in a few months when the Washington Brewer's Festival, aka Father's Day Beer Fest, happens on June 17-19th at St. Edwards State Park in Kenmore.

Bookmark and Share

No comments:

Post a Comment

Commentary encouraged. Fresh baked cookies, super-encouraged. (hit the 'post comment' button twice, sometimes it's buggy)