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Jun 27, 2014 02:15 PM

Cask Ales in the US

In the last five years or so US craft beer has had a huge impact in the UK and on brewing. From the amount of US beers available , even in a big chain pubs, to the fact that most new breweries are producing US style hoppy IPA'a at 6% abv or over.
Now I like the style and it's been in general a good thing as it's awakened an interest in good beers. It has though made me have more interest in traditional British cask ales , especially when i'm "hopped out". Obviously the we only get a small selection of US beers and it is all of a similar style as it's what perceived as fashionable.Also it's mainly in bottles or kegged (for obvious reasons) So I'm wondering how available is cask ale is in the US?
Also what other US beer styles should I look for? I know the IPA's we get in the UK can't be the only style of beer produced in the US.

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  1. I drink a lot of beer in a lot of different places. I have only seen true cask ale twice in the US.

    23 Replies
    1. re: jpc8015

      Where are you drinking? Most serious beer bars in big cities offer one or two cask beers all the time.

      1. re: Idyllwild

        See I'm not sure about that. Hopefully we can clear this up on this string. Many brewpubs serve beer on the engine typically at room temperature and w/ no carbonation. Now are all these beers: cask conditioned, unpasteurized and unfiltered; which defines "true cask" to me. Serving a "non-living" (i.e. pasteurized) beer on the engine is not true cask as far as I'm concerned. But again I'm not sure if this is what all these brewpubs are doing when they claim to serve cask.

        1. re: Chinon00

          I doubt that many brewpubs pasteurize, so you're probably OK on that count.

          I suppose it depends on the establishment, but I would think that most brewpubs would understand beer terminology and would not use the cask terminology loosely. Nevertheless, caveat emptor.

          In my area (DC-Balto) the production breweries know exactly what cask ale is, and many have some cooperage and regularly produce cask beers for accounts.

          1. re: Jim Dorsch

            I think you are making a lot of assumptions here. Cask ale is a very old, traditional and primitive way of making beer. Even in Europe, aside from the UK and Germany, where this tradition continues, there are very few places that produce it, even occasionally and then in small quantity.

            I agree with your first assumption about pasteurization, but I wonder how many breweries take the extra time to have a secondary fermentation in the cask.

            1. re: ThomasvanDale

              I may have implied that cask ale is plentiful around here. That is not the case. But it is available.

              I believe it is fairly authentic, although you sometimes find stuff like "cask lager" in bars. US brewers can't resist messing around.

        2. re: Idyllwild

          I live in Salem but have been to a ton of bars in Portland so quality and quantity of beer is no issue. The only bar in Portland where I have seen cask ale is the Deschutes Brewery Public House. I think they always have one.

          The other one I saw was in Corvallis at a place called Block 15.

          1. re: jpc8015


            Looks like there are a bunch in Portland next time you head into the city. Alex Hall also runs a cask beer festival here in NYC. Fun event.

            1. re: MVNYC

              I'm sure they are out there. It just isn't something that I have made a point to go out and find.

              1. re: MVNYC

                And we're sure tho' that each are cask conditioned, unfiltered, unpasteurized, and as ThomasvanDale pointed out go thru a secondary fermentation in the cask?

                1. re: Chinon00

                  The two that I mentioned above did indeed.

                  1. re: jpc8015

                    How would you know that? If you compare a Real Ale with a keg or bottle version, it is not hard to tell the difference. But a Real Ale and a casked beer?

                    1. re: ThomasvanDale

                      I can only rely on the word of the two establishments I was in. I have no reason to doubt them.

                      1. re: jpc8015

                        And if you were buying a new DVD player or power drill, would you use the same standard?

                          1. re: jpc8015

                            Yes, I am perfectly calm. Why do you think I am not?

                            When I shop, I too ask questions. However, I also understand the answers may be to sell products, and not necessarily the truth.

                            I have never said there is no Real Ale in the US, I simply said that not all who claim it is are justified.

                            1. re: ThomasvanDale

                              Yeah so I spoke to a pretty knowledgable brewer friend about this and per CAMRA the beer must be conditioned in the cask that it is served in. This process he said takes 7 days. And CAMRA does not allow use of a breather to preserve the beer. The evacuated cask is exposed to oxygen; so the risk of spoilage is high and therefore the window to serve is short.

                              1. re: Chinon00

                                CAMRA does not specify how long the process takes other than "slow". You can read all the details about it here:

                                I believe some breweries in the UK take much longer than 7 days for secondary fermentation. Furthermore, the beer should be dispensed from the fermentation vessel (the same cask).

                                As you correctly point out, the 'life' of cask ale is relatively short: the lines need to be cleaned often, the beer has to be kept at a stable temperature and no gases should be used.

                                At Zum Uerige, a lovely Alt pub in Düsseldorf, the casks are changed every few hours, even though the beer is served in small 25cl glasses. Some tourists sit specifically in the bar room so they can watch (and take photos) as two waiters hoist a full cask onto the bar.

                                And, at the Augustiner pub in central Munich, they ring a bell when a new cask comes on line. Needless to say, that's when most of the orders for it come in.

                          2. re: ThomasvanDale

                            Thomas, did you read the post below on Alex Hall's beer festivals? If he goes through all that work and tells me it is real ale i will believe him

                            1. re: MVNYC

                              You may have just shattered the myth of real ale.

                    2. re: Chinon00

                      Well no I am not sure what every bar listed does as I have not been to all of them. But Alex Hall is pretty fastidious regarding projects that he is involved with. He is working for Wandering Star which most definitely sells live beer.


                      There are definitely bars with fake cask engines but the more serious beer bars will have one or two on offer whether its on the engine or gravity.

                      1. re: Chinon00

                        How would the beer become carbonated if it were filtered or pasteurized? Without forced carbonation, the beer depends on live yeast for the bubbles.

                  2. re: Idyllwild

                    And to us not in big cities...............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................???????????????????????????????????????????????????????

                2. Pap I can only speak to how common "hand pumps" are at the microbrew bars I frequent: answer is "not very common". You might find 1 or 2 beers on hand pump at even a good microbrew bar.

                  Of course a hand pump is just one aspect of cask ale at a bar...

                  1. True cask beer in the US I've only read about. I've never actually been to a bar that serves it anywhere. Like others have stated serving beers on the engine (i.e. no carbonation, at cellar temp via hand pump) is common at brewpubs and some bars. Typically imperial Stouts, pale ales and IPAs are served on the engine.
                    Other styles that are popular and that I think we do a decent job at and that would travel well are our imperial stouts (i.e. Victory Storm King, Founders Breakfast Stout) and saison (e.g. Ommegang Hennepin).

                    1. Quite a few breweries have cask ale in the bay area in California. Pretty similar to the few I had in UK. I always get cask if i can find it. Now what I've never found is cask lager :(. Even in munich , the same beer in cask is just so much better.

                      One US style that I actually prefer over the German variety is hefeweisen. Widmer is probably most famous for that, but most local breweries should have it too.

                      1. Alex Hall's website lists over 700 US bars and brewpubs that serve cask ale (some only occassionally).