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Really Great Time Had by All at Real Ale Fest

summer-2016b-034This past Saturday was the fifth annual installment of the Edmonton Beer Geeks Anonymous Real Ale Festival, held in the skating rink of Ritchie Community Hall. As usual a few hundred thirsty folks attended to sample some of the best, creative or just plain strange cask ales made by Western Canadian breweries.

For those not in the know real ale – often called cask ale around these parts – is beer naturally carbonated in the serving container through the addition of sugar at packaing time. The beer is served fresh, generally warmer and imparts flavours you can’t get from regularly prepared beer. It is common, although not mandatory, to also add hops, spices or other ingredients to the cask to further enhance the flavours.

This year’s event was both the biggest yet – 29 casks (30 were scheduled with one last minute drop out) – and seemingly the most efficiently organized. From my vantage the volunteers from EBGA have got this event down like clockwork, including (I finally realized) putting the casks in alphabetical order.

I am really growing to appreciate the location of the event. While it might seem odd to hold an event in a skating rink (sans ice), I like that it creates an outdoor, festive atmosphere while the boards create a natural way to contain the space.

But, let’s be clear, we were all there for the beer (and community).  I did not get to all 29 casks – didn’t even try – but did taste an even dozen. I had gone with the best intentions of carefully taking notes of each beer sampled, but found myself talking all afternoon instead. So, I pull all this out from memory.

summer-2016b-030I will remind that I judge cask ales differently than regular beer. For one they are intended to be experiments, a never-tried-this-before-maybe-it-will-be-cool kind of thing. Second, they are unpredictable. Even the best of brewers can be surprised how the beer turns out. So, it is important to enter cask ale tasting with a forgiving eye.

Overall, I found the casks to be of consistently good quality but none really gave me a moment of “oh wow! That is amazing!” Almost all the beer I tried were enjoyable, many were intriguing and a couple had me contemplating a second sampling. Here are some random observations:

Stickin’ with the Basics. As I say, cask does not have to be all about the extra ingredients. Both newbie Grain Bin Brewing’s Participant Special Bitter and Alley Kat’s (oddly named) Fullen Si Ihre Stiefel Altbier stood out for their willingness to just present the beer naked. And both turned out quite nicely.

Oxymoron Beer. The good folks at Ribstone Creek had me smiling with their Old Ale, which tasted quite fresh and, well, young.

Where Did that Addition Go? More than one entry boasted an ingredient that did not seem to come through in the final product. Not to pick on anyone, but Tool Shed’s Red Rage with Tequila Oak Chips seemed lacking in tequila to me. I also couldn’t really find the plums in Theoretically Brewing’s Curiosity Amber infused with plums. To be clear, both beer were enjoyable – I just didn’t get the advertised addition.

summer-2016b-040More Like Dessert than Beer. Situation Brewing’s Iconoc Milk Stout seemed more like an After Eight than a beer – but in a good way. Coffee, mint and chocolate added to their base sweet stout turned it into a smooth, mouth-cleansing after dinner treat.

Needs More Rhubarb! Norsemen Brewing went to town on rhubarb with their Runestone Rhubarb Saison With Even More Rhubarb. I feared it would be like sucking on a rhubarb stalk. Instead, it was pleasantly balanced with some light tartness and hints of rhubarb. Surprisingly, it could have used more rhubarb!

Bigger is Better. It seems appropriate that the biggest beer at the event, 10.5%, comes from Alberta’s largest craft brewer, Big Rock. Their Bourbon Barrel Aged Amber Ale offered a moderate oak character and touches of bourbon warming. It was a very dangerous beer, as you couldn’t really tell it was that big. Good thing I only order a half glass of it!

Those are just some of my highlights. If you were there post a comment telling us what your favourites were. And if you weren’t there, tell us what you would like to see in a cask ale.

As usual the Real Ale Festival was a fabulous afternoon of conversations, beer sampling and contemplation of casks-to-come. I am booking off the second Saturday of September 2017 right now!

 

1 comment to Really Great Time Had by All at Real Ale Fest

  • Chad

    There were several casks that where the brewers planned ahead for the event by making beers that need months to develop their flavour. To name a few: Big Rock’s bourbon barrel aged beer, Grizzly Paw’s Brett saison, and Blindman’s sour fermented with the Wyeat Roselare blend for 6 months. Given Blindman’s success with their kettle sours… this was an interesting funky experimental brew.

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