I feel like everyone has an opinion on cask ale. The one that you hear most (especially in Australia) is that cask ale is that beer you see drunk by old men in traditional British pubs. It hand pumped and served warm and flat. However to a smaller number of people, it is gods nectar and must be treated with great reverence, respect and a list of rules as strict as the Germans Reinheitsgebolt.
I think that a pint of cask ale can be a magnificent way to spend an afternoon. It can also be the quickest way thoroughly spoil beer within days of leaving the brewery. The beauty of the tradition is also the curse. As with most beer, fresh is best, however with cask ale when the it leaves the brewery secondary fermentation is still underway in the cask. It is up to the publican who has bought the beer to allow the fermentation, conditioning and settling to occur before they tap the cask. They must then ensure that their lines are clean and that their venue is busy enough to pour through the entire (now open to air) cask within a few days of it being tapped.
Phewww that is a difficult chain of events that must meet in a perfect storm to serve cracking pints to thirsty punters. I loved my time searching out cask ales in London, Manchester and across Yorkshire. I drank some fantastic beers that were made just to be pulled from a cask at cellar temperature. I also took my lead from locals and politely returned some beers to the bar. Beers that were no longer tasting close to their best. It felt strange at first but it did not seem to be a faux pas and was each time received with apologies and replacement from the house. Approached the right way these were opportunities to talk to the publican about which of his offerings he thought were best at the time and where else locally to find great cask ale.
So what is my opinion? I think that cask ale is very difficult to make but delicious when it is done right. What did I love? I love that the passion getting great beer in the hand of the consumer takes fantastic cooperation between brewers and publicans. What I also loved is that this means that pubs that serve cask ales very often only serves beers from very local breweries.
The only outcome I can see from passionate publicans communicating with and supporting local breweries is delicious beer in the hands of anyone who wants it. So don’t be scared of flat warm beer. Ask a local where the best cask ales can be found and start a conversation with a passionate publican.