When ordering a light lager of the domestic kind, perhaps your favorite Pabst Blue Ribbon, you may at one point experience the heckling of a craft beer fan. “I can’t believe you’re
drinking that. Drink an IPA. Order a real ale!”, they may say. Well, I’m happy to report that when that happens you can turn around and politely tell them they’re wrong. What many people refer to as “Real Ale” or Cask Ale is growing in popularity, but still rather hard to find in the States. Cask Ale means that the beer was cask conditioned. It’s unfiltered and un-pasteurized beer without any added carbonation, and is generally served in pubs from casks barrels, or firkins. And, although I would never make the distinction between what’s a “real” ale or not, drinking a cask conditioned beer, served at just below room temperature is something that anyone who’s starting to get into craft beer should try.
Cask Ale is different from other ales, lagers and stouts due to the fermentation process and carbonation. The vast majority of beer that you find in stores or at bars goes through a carbonated process at the end of the brewing cycle. Similar to how nitro beer tastes, cask beer has a smoother, less sharp mouth feel that can really allow for certain flavors and aromas to emerge. Cask beer is also unfiltered, so many drinkers may notice a hazy look, similar to some craft beers. I will admit that there are certain beers that I’ve tried on cask and with carbonation, and I have preferred the carbonation (same as with nitro). But, it’s a fun way to test your palette and see how carbonation can change a beer. The name “Real Ale” comes from the fact that in traditional english pubs, all beer is served as cask beer at cellar temperatures (between 50 and 55 degrees). To the American taste buds, this can come across as warm and flat.
If you want to get the full cask experience, I recommend traveling east on Highway 58 to Brewers Union Local 180 in Oakridge. After spending a rainy Memorial Day weekend camping at Hills Creek Reservoir, I was more than excited to stop in at Brewers Union and order a pint or two of their cask ale. The beer is brewed on sight, then naturally fermented in the casks where CO2 builds up. If you never get to experience a British pub, Brewers Union is the best you can get here in Oregon. Their public house is kid-friendly and a perfect stop on the drive back to Eugene. We split the Fish and Chips between two, but I would recommend any of the food options. The cask beer is on a rotating selection of four taps. And, if you’re still not sold on warm un-carbonated beer, they do have six other guest taps.
Here in Eugene, multiple spots around town are starting to serve cask. One of my favorite spots here in Eugene is Oakshire’s new public house. With a traditional british beer engine and a new cask beer on every couple of weeks, it’s a great place to start trying out something new. Right now on tap is a similar recipe to the Overcast Espresso Stout, but without the coffee. It’s rich dark stout that’s a perfect introduction to your first cask experience or one that you can keep coming back to. Cask conditioned ale, isn’t always easy to find, but it’s worth giving a try. While I realize the words “warm and un-carbonated” can be off-putting, that description alone really doesn’t give cask beer a chance. It’s a style of beer that deserves more attention on this side of the pond, and any beer from Brewer’s Union or Oakshire I would recommend. As to whether it’s the only “real” ale, I’ll leave that discussion up to you.