The craft beer scene in Alberta has expanded rapidly in the last few years, and “cask ales” have become more widespread as a result. You may have heard many breweries advertise “cask nights” at brewpubs throughout the city. So what’s a cask, you ask?
Cask ale, or “real ale”, is a traditional British process for finishing beer. A fermented beer is transferred to a cask— traditionally wooden, but today stainless steel—where sugar is added and the cask is sealed to undergo a secondary fermentation process and carbonate naturally over one to two weeks. When it’s ready, the cask is tapped and served fresh, usually at a slightly warmer temperature, which creates fuller flavours that aren’t found in normal beer. This is where the stereotype that people drink warm beer in Britain comes from! All this means that cask ale is a “living” beer, and should be consumed same-day for best flavours.
Craft breweries use cask ales to create special one-off brews, adding flavours like fruit, spices, hops, tea, etc. Since it’s a small quantity, one-off brew, brewers can afford to be experimental and wacky, and if it doesn’t work, it’s all good—less time, ingredients and money go into a cask than a production brew.
Where can you experience cask ales for yourself? There is no shortage of options in Edmonton! Situation Brewing is Edmonton’s first daily cask location; having the daily cask offering at their brewpub creates variety in the menu for regular visitors. Craft Beer Market has a different brewery hosting a cask night every Tuesday night. Beer Revolution hosts a cask night every Friday. And Arcadia hosts a bi-weekly cask night on Mondays. Social media is usually the best way to find out what brewery’s casks will be featured and when.
Cask events also happen on the regular! Edmonton Beer Geeks Anonymous (EBGA) hosts two big cask events per year—the Real Ale Festival in September and Freeze Your Cask Off in January. Their newsletter is the best way to find out about upcoming events.
Best part about cask ales? They’re good for you! Only natural ingredients are used to make cask-conditioned ale, so there’s no chemicals, preservatives, or additional gas from the force-carbonation. Plus, when you don’t filter the beer, you get bonus vitamin B and probiotics from the yeast. Win-win!