The Art of the Cask 

Master Brewers Share Their Wares

On Saturday, I was lucky enough to be one of the approximately 300 beer nerds at the 4th annual Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting organized by Owen Ogletree, Athens’ tireless beer enthusiast, traveler, and promoter. His Brewtopia Events, LLC also sponsors the upcoming Classic City Brew Fest in Athens, April 6, an event which also sold out well in advance. The Cask Ale Tasting is essentially a private homebrewing “party” featuring one-off “experimental” beers cooked up by professional brewers and homebrewers alike. The 20 casks this year was the largest number of entries yet.

Brewers or employees from nearly all of Georgia’s breweries and brewpubs had entries at the tasting, including Spike Buckowski of Terrapin, DaveMcClure of Atlanta Brewing Company, Nick Nock of Sweetwater, Glen Sprouse and Crawford Moran of 5 Seasons, John Roberts of Max Lager’s, and Jordan Fleetwood of Twain’s. The large number of entries from outside of the state indicates the importance of the event for the Southern brewing community. Jamie Bartholomaus of Foothills Brewing in Winston-Salem, Tom Davis of Thomas Creek Brewery in Greenville, SC, John Stuart of Green Man Brewery in Asheville, NC, and even Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewing Company offered up special casks.
The beers were evaluated by a panel of certified beer judges prior to the event and the top 4 scores were recognized at the tasting. A People’s Choice was also voted on by the attendees.

While the professional brewers certainly earn some cachet from being selected as winners, the event is more of a celebration and appreciation of cask ale by aficionados of this traditional, but increasingly popular, method of serving beer. Cask ale is naturally carbonated in the serving container (known as a firkin) by adding fermentable sugar to the casked beer, which produces carbon dioxide. The lower carbonation level gives the beer a softer, silkier mouthfeel that does not numb the tongue. The beer is served chilled (about 50 degrees) rather than ice cold, which allows the flavors and aromas of the beer to be more readily apparent.

This year, the judges awarded first place to one of the most unusual entries in the 4-year history of the event. Brewed by John Pinkerton and Chris Lady of Moon River Brewing in Savannah, the Little Chocolate Doughnuts Porter was a brewed with, you guessed it, doughnuts, which were added to the firkin (known as “dry-doughnuting”) to further pump up the flavor of the chocolate malts (which don’t actually contain cocoa). The aroma was remarkably like the chocolate Dolly Madison Gems I used to get in my lunch as a kid, and the taste was mildly sweet and pleasingly chocolate-y. It will be interesting to see if this one shows up in the fermentation tanks on Bay Street in the future.

Second place was also a bit of a surprise, going to the lowest-alcohol beer and one brewed by one of the non-professionals in the competition, Dr. Chuck Chambers of Watkinsville. His Two Ponds Gunstock Mild weighed in at a paltry 3% ABV, but still had plenty of malt character. This is a beer that could be enjoyed all night without turning you into a blithering idiot.

Spike Buckowski’s Rye Squared Reserve, a version of his double rye pale ale aged in whiskey-soaked oak chips, walked away with 3rd place, making him the most decorated brewer in the 4 years of the Atlanta Cask Tasting. His Substance Abuse Imperial Stout took 1st place at last year’s event, and his “Wake-n-Bake on Wood” won 1st and 3rd in the 2005 and 2006 judging, respectively.
A tie for Honorable Mention went to two different brown ales: Garrett Oliver’s American Brown and Dave McClure’s Barrel Select Strong English Brown, another whiskey barrel-aged entry that also had an addition of maple syrup. Yum.

Nick Nock walked away with this year’s People’s Choice award for his Jackass Barleywine. This was definitely one of my favorites. Aged 5 months in an oak barrel, and dry-hopped with Simcoe hops, it featured a huge aroma of caramel malts and hops and a distinct taste of peaches. My personal pick for Best in Show, however, was a well-balanced English-style imperial stout brewed by John Stuart of Green Man. If he had brewed more stuff like this when he was at Park Tavern, I would have been a regular.

Upcoming Beer Dinners

DePalma’s Italian Café in Athens is hosting a beer dinner next week featuring beers from California’s North Coast Brewing Company, makers of Scrimshaw Pilsner, La Merle Saison, Pranqster Belgian Golden Ale, and Old Stock Barleywine. The four-course dinner will feature a salmon pizza antipasti, a radicchio and arugula salad, seared scallops with lemon basil risotto, and a walnut-crusted pork tenderloin or a honey-ginger salmon entrée. The dinner is on Wed., Feb. 6 at 6:30 p.m. Call De Palma’s at 706-354-6966 for reservations.

Twain’s will host another beer dinner on Thurs., Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. The four-course dinner will feature gorgonzola and fig marmalade paired with a randallized Sleepy Conscience ESB, Belgian mussels paired with Captain Stormfield Abbey Ale, Seared Pork Chop and Apple Chutney, Polenta Cake topped with field greens, paired with Hannibal India Red Ale, and a whiskey barrel-aged Descent of Man Coffee Cream Stout vanilla bean ice cream float. Tickets are $50 including tip and tax and are available now at the bar.



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