We weren't able to make any of the Firkin Fest events a few weeks back, so we jumped at the chance to try a cask of Stash IPA from Austin's Independence Brewing Co. last Friday at Anvil.
For the uninitiated, all this recent buzz about firkins and casks might be a bit fuzzy, so let's first try to clear that up.
Q: I have a beer nerd friend who, when cask ales are mentioned, begins weeping for joy and speaking in tongues. Why does this happen? A: While those actions aren't particularly mainstream, the joy is commonplace. Normally, beer is filtered and pasteurized during the brewing process, removing sediment and killing the yeast, whose job it is to process the sugars into alcohol and give the brew a mild carbonation. Killing and removing the yeast gives the beer a much longer shelf life, but it also dulls the flavors. In cask ales, by contrast, the yeast is allowed to remain alive and in the batch, where it continues to condition the brew until the minute it's served, adding complexity and keeping the flavors fresh.
Q: People seem awfully excited about a beer with a bunch of crap floating in it. What gives? A: That cloudiness is the yeast, and it's not harmful. Get over it.
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Q: Is the bartender new? Why doesn't he/she just hold down the tap to pour my cask ale? A: Beer normally is distributed in kegs pressurized with nitrogen or carbon dioxide gas (think aerosol cans). These gases add an "unnatural" component (fizziness, for instance) to the beer that wouldn't be there otherwise. Cask ales are not pressurized, which means they have to be pumped out manually.
General cask-ale comments aside, the Stash IPA itself was excellent. We were really in the mood for a beer that afternoon, and a bitter one at that. The drinking experience, as compared to drinking a pasteurized-and-pressurized brew, was like one of those Claritin commercials in which the screen is translucent and blurry until the lucky allergy sufferer pops her pills, after which the world is clear and bight.
The aroma of the Stash was amazing -- very floral, fruity and strong. One drinking companion mentioned apple pie. We definitely got some orange scent. The hops soon made an appearance, and were satisfyingly robust, but the bitterness never felt acidic, and the finish was surprisingly rich and full, not harsh and hop-dominated.
In summary: cask ale: good. Stash IPA: good. Speaking in tongues: not so sure.