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Jun 14, 2007 11:44 AM

Real UK-style Cask Ale - South of 49th Parallel - West of Atlantic Ocean?

Just returned from a trip to the UK. Again pondering why one can stumble into any reasonable pub more or less and get a pint of cask-conditioned ale that soothes the soul, whereas you can travel from New York, to Seattle, to LA and across back through Houston to Tampa and still not find a cask ale that a) will not possibly kill you (read my earlier thesis US Brewmasters as failed chemists) and b) you'd want to drink even a pint of.

The problem goes back to the loss of Sherlock's Home, Minnetonka Minnesota. They are the only place I have come across (in the US) with drinkable (make that, unbelievably excellent) real cask-conditioned ale.

I am not that fussy. At an English pub I will run through the menu of real ales. But what I find in the US is that people seem aroused and satisfied by the weird and wonderful creations on offer, but somehow (apart from the alcohol) miss the obvious fact that the stuff is cloudy, gunky, and tastes like water from a washing machine just unloaded from a particularly heavy load of soiled Bolivian unicyclists' jockstraps.

I've found something half decent in Toronto. But south of the border I've travelled cities galore (NY, Detroit, Seattle [too many bloody hills to make the awful beers found worthwhile at all], Houston etc. etc. etc.) and no good. If you knew Sherlock's Home you surely know what I am talking about. Keg Tetley's or Boddingtons in a can is not going to do it. Well-kept (even bog-standard) Guinness draught can give a distant glimmer of what I am talking about, but that is about all.

Please do not write telling me I am crazy. I really think it was Sherlock's or nothing. No one is doing it right. At least in terms of purveying a product that would not start a street riot in the United Kingdom. I have put in the work. I have worn out shoes. I have drunk things that should be labelled with a government health warning all in the name of this research.

But if you knew Sherlock's, and know a place that compares [Great Waters in St Paul is one place I have not made it to] PLEASE LET ME THE HELL KNOW. Thanks a lot.


An amusing aside. On the trip to the UK I noticed that many pubs had dual Guinness Draught keg spigots. One normal and one "Extra Cold" (with icy blue trim). Knowing the answer already I asked a barmaid, so do people like the Ice Cold one? "Oh yes, much more popular." Figures. A beer that's so cold you can't taste its subtle flavors at all is much more popular than even the regularly over-chilled Guinness Draught.

No wonder it's a problem finding 54F bitter.

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  1. You can find Cask conditioned ale served at the proper temperature in many NYC bars. If you come here I can give you some good suggestions. SD also has a couple of places for it.

    Also while I do like traditional English beers on cask, insulting American beer and the people who enjoy it isnt going to get you too far here. The best beer styles do not have to be ones that were perfected over 100 years ago.

    As to the beers you mentioned, personally I wouldn't go out of my way to drink Tetleys or Boddingtons, and I only drink Guiness when nothing else is available. There are American versions of those styles that are much much better. Port Brewing in San Diego makes a dry Irish stout that they occasionally serve on cask that puts Guiness to shame.

    Furthermore there is nothing wrong with "cloudy" beers, that is simply the style. You do not need pure clarity for some brews. Ever had anything from Belguim?

    Also By the way, you seem a little fussy.

    1. You will need to seek out local quality beer bars and brewpubs if you want to find real cask ale. Yes, I think you are crazy if you only think one place in the US that does it right. I can think of about 5 outlets off the top of my head in my area (Boston) that serves cask ale on a regular basis - and at least 3 of them know what they are doing.

      Join this site and ask in this forum where to find cask beer in your area and you will have your answer in a jiffy.

      3 Replies
      1. re: LStaff

        BTW, where is that thesis about US brewmasters being failed chemists? I need a good laugh.

        1. re: LStaff

          Brewing is 90% science 10% art. You really (to knock out consistently good brews) need some sort of formal (not just reading a book or 2) grounding in the science part. Or a good apprenticeship with someone who does. At American brewpubs I do (most times) know how a lab rat must feel. IN other words I feel "experimented upon" by mad scientist wannabes who apparently never try their own brews either out of fear or whatever reason before serving 'em up. If they did, most would be flushed down the drain I think. I know it sound scathing, and sweeping, but I've never had anything vaguely resembling a "decent pint" at these places, barring Sherlock's. Not for want to searching, but no joy.

          1. re: bishopsbitter

            I still am intrerested in what places and what beers you have tried. There is a lot of crap out there but the people who post on this board are generally pretty knowledgable on the American craft brewing scene and can point you to the better places.

      2. Thanks MVNYC. The thing is I do think that classical styles are just that. They evolved for a reason. Just because a brewmaster has some obscure malt and other adjuncts knocking around and wonders "what if" it's not good enough reason to subject yourself to the result.

        I am certainly not insulting anyone. I tried to make it clear my post was a little tongue-in-cheek. After all I lived in the US since 1982~!! I even liek Schlitz as a canned beer of choice.

        LStaff says that only 60% of the known outlets "know what they are doing." That's more than in my experience by about . . . 59% . . . but still not a heartening level of brewing art in action.

        My main mystification is why it is so difficult to craft a decent English bitter in the wood. Like Sherlock's Home did. It is not enough to draw some sort of vaguely fermented malt beverage with a cutesey name from a beer engine. This stuff is made in bulk in UK breweries (i.e. it does not require exotic brewing apart from good ingredients and a well managed cellar) and I would submit that if it were in wider circulation here the US would develop a taste for this and strawberry granola frission ales in the wood would die the death they so richly deserve.

        Trust me, the reason that cask ale is so hard to find is because Sherlock's is not on tap everywhere. If it was, the entire nation would be ordering pints. The day Sherlock's closed is a black memory. I had driven 647 miles to drink there (it was just after Christmas) and the place was dark when I arrived. Argh.

        18 Replies
        1. re: bishopsbitter

          Like I said, a lot of brewers are doing lots of wonderful things with casks right now. Sierra Nevada actually makes a bitter on Cask that is fantastic. It doesnt even have a cutesy name. Other good bitters produced by American companies include Alesmith from San Diego and Rogue from Oregon. Both are occasionally available on cask. The site JessKidden listed below is a little out of date but it does shed some light on where you can get cask ales.

          In NYC Blind Tiger always has beers on cask and in gravity kegs. DBA does as well. I had a Bluebird bitter there a week or so ago. It was very nice.

          The US has been producing world class versions of most styles of beer for years now, not just "Strawberry Granola" ales. I for one do not really enjoy fruit beers myself.

          1. re: MVNYC

            Revelation! My fault entirely although my subject line ~is~ accurate. I am not fixating on a lack of ANY cask ale. Only on the lack of UK-Style cask ale such as C.A.M.R.A. members might recognize. I should have stressed this. I tend (wrongly) to assume that cask ales equate with English, Irish, and European traditions, but there's no law says it has to. Can you swear on a bible MVNYC that if I make a pilgrimage to Oregon or San Diego that I will find nirvana, and not (as ALWAYS before) an amber substance, over-chilled, with little "nose" that, while it may vaguely excite for a few sips, ultimately disappoints, and gives you a dreadful headache for yoru trouble. And naturally you never want another . . . . and another . . . . as is the natural order of beers worth drinking. Have you drunk English beer in its natural habitat? If not, maybe have a run over, drink lots of cask ales, then tell me whether I am so fussy after all. Again, don't take me too seriously. I really do feel a loss with Sherlock's Home gone (which was also home from home for a variety of English ex pats) but as with an obscure Indiana girls' basketball team, I am rooting for something to turn up. I really am. But like an abused wife, I am shell-shocked and very wary of the quest for a new love, even a malty-hoppy one. But I've enjoyed this exchange. hope you have.

            1. re: bishopsbitter

              Yes I do think you might find Nirvana at the bottom of a pint of Alesmith ESB, a fine ale it is.

              As to your question, yes i have consumed alot of real ale at the source, been to England a few times. But here's the thing, when I travel or live in a place, i try to focus on what they do well. As a NYer i generally avoid those Ny foods, like bagels and pizza that I know are just pale imitations of the real thing. So what I am trying to say is Americans do make good beer, you just might have to seek it out. English beer is not the end all be all, there are so many wonderful styles and varieties out there.

              1. re: MVNYC

                MVNYC I think though you make my point. If you had spent your last 25 years say in Germany, far from NYC, I guarantee you would haunt these boards bemoaning why no-one in Dusseldorf or the greater Fatherland can make a decent bagel. I mean "it's so simple". Ditto Pizza. I don't think you would by then have switched to a diet solely of pork knuckles and sauerkraut. You see what I mean? I've lived in NYC myself, and believe me I know what you are saying about bagels & pizza & sandwiches & pickles & ... & ... but if you lived 6000 miles from NYC and had a pizza craving, WHAT THEN? This is essentially my predicament these past 25 years, and without Sherlock's an itch that cannot be scratched without extensive travel. There's no good reason for that state of affairs. It's nto rocket science to make beer OR pizza. And NY style pizza, and English-style ale can both be made (more or less) anywhere. One aside: Minnetonka (home to Sherlock's) had outstanding public water supply. Similar water to Burton on Trent. So it was not entirely a coincidence their beer was so special or that it was erected there (the brewmaster had sussed the water aspect in advance!).

                1. re: bishopsbitter

                  I think that no matter how simple the item might be to make it is a naive expectation to think it should be available outside of it's place of origin in a similar state. Strong cultural-historical currents also affect what we drink and brew and how we do what we do around the world. As much as I enjoy going to Britain and consuming their ales, as a Gen X American male I did find myself craving hops and have an APA as soon as I land home. What I didn't or wouldn't do while in Britain or anywhere else is be the ugly American and judge an Adnam's Bitter to be subpar because its IBUs are under 75.

                  Judge things on their own terms and enjoy life for it's diversity.

                  1. re: bishopsbitter

                    Yeah when i lived in Central Europe(Prague) i have to say i did miss those things, however i did not insult an entire nation of pizza makers becuase they couldnt do it like they could back home. My diet did shift and i ate a lot of pork, cabbage and dumplings. By the way pork knuckles are fantastic. Anyway i developed a fondness for the cuisine and I dont eat it so much back here because it doesnt taste the same. The same thing with Czech beer, i rarely drink it in the US becuase it simply is not as fresh and wonderful as when I got it over there.

                    I do feel for you as after a few months of drinking Czech Pilseners, beers i regarded as great, I really missed a good American IPA. I craved a hop bomb, a real hop monster. That style isn't really brewed in Europe nor is it imported and I did miss it greatly, however when in Rome or in this case Prague....

                    1. re: MVNYC

                      On the contrary, the beer for which I named my Yahoo Id Bishops Bitter was not so much a hop bomb, as a hop NUKE. The brewmaster once said he wanted you to still taste it an hour after your last sip. Remember English brewing is not shy of hops. Rest of Europe another matter.

                      I could go into yet ANOTHER thesis this one to do with why there is no such thing as an "English American" and how that factors into the problem. All the rather strict lectures (almost) to assimilate into the native scene is all very well. but I don't notice many Mexicans around here giving up tortillas, nor Irish Americans saying "enough already on the corned beef and stout stews". Jewish Americans have not had to abandon their chicken livers even though it's not exactly a widespread popular tasting thing. So I think my thesis is that the problem is the lack of the "English American" as an identified sub-group. Now how the heck we can solve that one . . . ?

                      Again, cease please if you think I am insulting the Grand Old US. I love this country as much, if not more, than if it were my own (it soon will be when I become a naturalized American). And I have tried throughout this post to make it clear that while yes I am a frustrated man in search of drinkable beer, I am not exactly having 3 analyst sessions a week about it, nor do I even have anything particularly against Bolivian unicyclists.
                      With all these theses you'd think I'd be Doctor BB by this stage.

                      1. re: bishopsbitter

                        You mention tortillas and corned beef and chicken livers but we in the States happen to have millions of Mexican, Irish and Jewish immigrants (and not as many Brits). I personally would love to see a few Brits skip the pond and open a true English brewpub and broaden the American beer scene even further.

                        1. re: Chinon00

                          I think you'd be surprised how many of us there are. I don't know the stat's but our problem is in the British habit of keeping a low profile :-)
                          A quick bit of Internet research and :
                          If you check out the above link I think you'll find it interesting that (as I suspected) immigrants from the United Kingdom are the highest from Europe and even in the classic period of mass immigration we kept up with the Irish. We've just never (and I think this a bad thing) been recognized in the US as a block of folks. This is mainly to do with the british character I think. We tend to shy away from other Brit's rather than seeking them out. Again it's a shame and to do with all sorts of things like English Class and the like.

                          Bottom line though, there should be as many English real ale places as Irish bars and tortillerias, well almost! ;-)

                          1. re: bishopsbitter

                            There are some "problems" with casked real beer and the styles that are usually produced as real/cask beer that hinder its popularity with mainstreem beer drinkers in the US.

                            1) Not advertised/marketed- most don't know it even exists, nevermind what it is and why they should be drinking it
                            2) Has a reputation (deservedly or not) of being flat and warm where most beer drinkers in the US prefer cold and spritzy
                            3) Styles/brand names with the word "bitter" is offputting to most mainstream beer drinkers due to ignorance of the bitter style
                            4) Not enough publican knowledge - even from those bars that put it on on how to prepare/keep cask beer or even when it needs to be taken off.
                            5) Fresh beer is not a huge objective for microbrewers and distributors of craft beer , so there is no distribution channels that can be relied upon to get fresh casks out to its customers in a timely manner.

                            1. re: LStaff

                              LStaff - I think you hit the nail on the head. Especially about the marketing (why else would that yellow fizz be the best selling in the world).

                              It's a shame. Or perhaps a blessing, at the moment at least. If there were to be a swell of cask drinkers, it would be even harder to get it. And I'm not sure how quickly the pubs/brewers would respond considering the difficulty in cellaring/tapping/cleaning, etc.

                            2. re: bishopsbitter

                              Good information. But I guess in general there isn't much of an identifiable distinct British cultural stamp in America. Maybe this happens when you are a nation that was once first, a British colony, and secondly settled by British people?

                              1. re: Chinon00

                                Yes, I think it explains what one still observes quite often here: remnants of anti-British hostility, no less tangible today than the shakedown effects of slavery and the Civil War.

                                Also as a United Kingdom immigrant to this country, it always irritated the heck out of me how Northern Irish folks (who are also United Kingdom nationals) got preferential treatment in both visa lotteries and quotas. It might interest you (if you don't know already) that English, Scottish and Welsh nationals were exempt from "diversity" Visa Lotteries organized by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. And yet Irish and Northern Irish (who again are Irish only in name and part of the United Kingdom, although the IRA might not quite agree there) were not. Irish immigrants hardly add to the diversity of this country, per your previous note, but this provided many with a fast path to a Green Card all the same.

                                But yes, there are still some fallouts and hostilities held against the British from the events of 200-300 years ago but zero towards nationalities like German or Italian or Japanese who far more recently have been mortal enemies of the US in world wars!

                                Oh well, the topic is beer, not immigration and history. I used to live in a small town in Oklahoma where there was a fish and chip place called "Mr Limey's Fish and Chips" I always thought it similar to Mr Greaseball's Pizza or Slant-Eye San's Sushi in terms of being rather offensive (there was a sign featuring a typical English "twit" in a bowler hat to top it off) but fact that no-one really cared (either the insultING nor the insultED parties really) seems somehow a part of this whole topic we are talking about.

                                I can't think of any member of Congress of recent British heritage either now or recent memory.

                                Maybe that's why they invented Canada. :-)

                                But I love the US so much. Like Christopher Hitchens, coming from the stuffy arena that is the UK and Europe the US almost immediately bowls you over, and for most of us that never ever wears off, even with a few hurdles to climb and lack of bitter.

                                1. re: bishopsbitter

                                  I didn't mean to imply "anti-British hostility". I was only saying that it would be harder to distiguish (traditionally) American Colonial era cultural traits from 18th century British cultural traits (to me this is intuitive but I have no facts to back it up).

                  2. re: bishopsbitter

                    try this site:

                    It's run by an expat who's also a member of CAMRA. As for finding Cask, I can help you find places that serve it, but not places that make it. In which case I can kind of see where the original point was coming from.

                    But if you're ever in the new york city area, try the imbiber.

                2. re: bishopsbitter

                  By the way, I am just curious as to what beers are the results of these failed experiments? you may just be ordering the wrong things

                  1. re: MVNYC

                    MVNYC, No I don't think so. I usually ask the bartender "what is your cask ale most like an English bitter?" and drink whatever they give me. I request medium alcohol, lots of hops and not too much malt. Often they look at me as though I am "funny" (not in a good,ha ha, way) but it is a fair request I think. And brings me back to another thesis that if people are not that interested in these factors then no wonder they get such swill dished up without discrimination. I have had a revelation though. see my reply to your other one of 1109AM.

                    1. re: bishopsbitter

                      One final think. At Sherlock's Home when they first opened they sold WAY more lager style beer than real ales (they always had 4 cask ales: Bishops Bitter, Stags Head Stout, Palace Porter and one other Scottish style I forget). But over the years Americans in the Twin Cities (not just UK ex pats) started to appreciate the glories of real ale and they ended up (before closing) selling far more Bishops Bitter than anything else. Hence my third thesis, that if real UK style ale could only attain a critical mass in the US they'd soon be selling it at TGIFridays. Well, hold on. Perhaps I am getting into the realms of fantasy there. But I assure you the taste would develop. Best. from (I loved the ale so much I bought the yahoo ID, shades of Victor Kiam)

                  1. This website keeps track of all the bars and brewpubs offering cask ale (both domestic and UK beers) in the US-


                    There is also a Yahoo group- not real active but questions and suggestions are quickly answered- as noted on the bottom of that page.

                    The beer importer, B. United brings in a lot of cask ale ("a lot"? Well, compared to anyone else...) and they now have a "Where to find our products" page that lists "On Premises" locations, state by state-

                    11 Replies
                    1. re: JessKidden

                      Sounds like a good idea But in this part of the world (Texas) it's a theoretical entity. Alas, you think of those old newsreels of them chopping into the wooden beer barrels. I too can remember in the UK when EVERY pub (not just "real ale pubs) served from the wood. It's a highly perishable product, and no wonder is hard to find. But this is a huge country and somewhere, even without Sherlock's, I think someone could product something quaffable in the UK Real Ale bitter style served at 54F in imperial pint glasses.

                      1. re: bishopsbitter

                        Hey Bishops,

                        Not sure what part of Texas you are in, but you're going to have a bit of a job finding an English bitter out there. Texas was settled by predominantly German immigrants, so much of the local stuff is more of the German styles.

                        One notable exception are the beers from Real Ale Brewing Co. They have a very nice Nut Brown ale, and a fantastic Rye Pale Ale.


                        They must be alright, they quote Zappa on their homepage.

                        If there's a Flying Saucer near you, you might want to see if they do cask beers. I know the downtown Ft. Worth location occasionally serves cask beer. They also have a pretty decent selection of bitters (in bottles, at any rate).


                        Here in San Diego, there are a lot of cask beer producers, though none that I've seen serving from wood.

                        1. re: Josh

                          I am in Eagle Lake. Near Houston. If I can, will attend June 30th party and see what's what in Blanco. THANK YOU for the tip Josh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                          1. re: bishopsbitter

                            That's quite a drive. I've seen their bottles at HEB, Central Market, and Whole Foods as well. The Houston Flying Saucer probably has it on draft. According to their website they're pouring Left Hand's Jackman's Pale Ale right now, which is a very nice English-style pale.

                            1. re: Josh

                              I have tried the Black Labrador (AWFUL beer but fairly awesome goth waitresses with 16" waists and Mary Jane shoes) and the Red Lion (good Guinness on draught but no cask) and went into another place that was so awful we left after a scant pint. It might have been Sherlock Holmes as well, but without the pun. incidentally, here is a little more about Sherlock's Home. Those of you who did not know it . . . well I can only wish you had. It was the REAL DEAL.



                              Flying Saucer I will try but am I setting myself for another abusive eposide and trip to the battered malt beverage recovery Center?

                              1. re: bishopsbitter

                                I've been to Flying Saucer on several occasions and have been pretty happy with the beer selection, but I'm not specifically seeking out English-style brews. They have a great cross-section of beers though. There's actually a place I went in Waco that had the best selection of English draft beer I've yet seen in the US. They had a number of Fuller's and Young's on draft, including Fuller's London Porter. Wish I could recall the name. If you're interested I'll try and find it.

                                1. re: Josh

                                  I am going to seek out and report on t\he "Real Ale" operation in Blanco TX.

                                  1. re: bishopsbitter

                                    Cool. I'm interested to hear what you find out.

                                    1. re: Josh

                                      A note I got from Blanco. Unfortunately owing to a s.n.a.f.u. on another commitment in oklahoma that was supposed to be THIS weekend, but is now looking like next, I may not be able to make it.
                                      Note however that they do not always have cask conditioned ale. Just "often". And it's not a pub. :-(((((((((((((((((((((((((((
                                      But anyone in the Austin area that lieks real ale / cask-conditioned, might want to head out. I will still go there if I can. Just looking not 100% certain.


                                      Thanks for writing.
                                      We have recently moved to our new brewery, complete with a tasting room and brewery tours.
                                      We are manufacturing facility, rather than a pub, so you can taste our ales on premise
                                      but we can only sell you shirts and glassware.
                                      The tasting room is now open to the public from 2-5pm on Fridays, with a tour at 4 pm. However,
                                      due to the party on June 30, we will be closed on Friday June 29.

                                      We do cask conditioned ales often, but not on a regular basis, and Blanco being such a small town, we
                                      primarily sell them to bars in Austin.

                                      If you would like to add your name to the list for the Friday tour, please let us know ahead of time.
                                      You can email or leave a message at the office number below.
                                      There is no charge for the tour, and it normally takes about 45 minutes.
                                      Please include your name and the # of people in your group.

                                      Cheers, and thanks for your support.

                                      Real Ale Brewing Company
                                      Handcrafted Ales from the Texas Hill Country
                                      PO Box 1445
                                      Blanco, TX 78606
                                      830.833.2534 p
                                      830.833.0594 f


                                      Your brewery came up in the context of this Chowhound thread.

                                      I was wondering though, my wife and I were planning to come over to Blanco this weekend (and maybe the one after for your celebration).

                                      Thing is I am not clear whether you have a public retail (bar/pub) there or just the brewery. If the latter, where in Blanco can we get any cask-conditioned ales you make please?

                                      Thank you for the info, Looking forward to trying the beer. Since Sherlocks' Home (brewpub) in Minnetonka closed several years ago, have not been able to find any decent cask-conditioned real ale in the US.

                                      1. re: bishopsbitter

                                        Austin has a branch of Ginger Man (from NYC), and that's where I first had Real Ale's beer. It seems like the kind of place that would serve casks.

                                        I see there's one in Houston, as well.


                                        1. re: Josh

                                          A note to gingerman and I heard back very soon with reply below
                                          But I have had the supposed cask St Arnold's at another place and it was a bit in the "health threatening" category.
                                          But will ahve to try the Gingerman all the same. Cask ale is all about how its kept after all


                                          All of the Texas pubs serve cask-conditioned ale from St. Arnold.


                                          "A small portion of Elissa IPA is routinely drained from the
                                          fermenters, dry-hopped, cask-conditioned, and delivered to select
                                          local pubs and served from old-fashioned beer engines."