It's fresh, unfiltered and naturally carbonated. Some beer geeks call this smooth brew "a living beer." Some brewers call it an art form.
For the uninitiated, cask conditioned ale is a beer that starts brewing in the fermenter; then it's carefully transferred to a cask for 1-2 weeks, where it ferments a second time. You can't test the beer until the fermentation is complete. When it works, the result is brew that offers subtle carbonation and full, complex flavours. As a beer geek myself, all I can say is - try it. You'll get it.
This is what inspired Halifax's very first Cask Fest. "It's an art," festival co-founder Tracy Phillippi says. "I love the uncertainty of it." Tracy co-founded the festival with Pam Crouse. Along with Pam, Tracy co-founded the Ladies Beer League and heads up marketing at Garrison Brewing.
It all started when The Stubborn Goat, a gastropub in downtown Halifax, reached out to the Ladies Beer League wanting to collaborate. "We got the email, and a cask was mentioned, that got us thinking," Tracy says.
After six weeks of intensive planning and coordinating with seven local breweries, Halifax's first Cask Fest was born. Breweries with beers on tap at the pub were asked to participate, and everyone was eager to join in. On Sunday, Nov. 16, The Goat hosted an afternoon and an evening session. There were 60 tickets released per session - both sold out two weeks before the event.
The upper level of the pub was dedicated to the event - I thought it was a nice intimate space - all exposed wood beams and natural light. The room was buzzing with excitement. Attendees were given eight drink tickets at the door - one for each of the cask conditioned ales, and one to go back and try your favourite. That final ticket was also a chance to cast a vote for the winning cask. That honour went to Big Spruce for their cask conditioned Cereal Killer Stout, infused with Glenora Whisky. This was actually the one I voted for!
Four of the seven breweries that took part in the event - Big Spruce, Bridge Brewing, Boxing Rock and Hell Bay - were fairly new to cask-conditioning beer. Fortunately, Tracy says, the breweries that had experience were happy to share knowledge and equipment with the beginners. LBL Brewer Kellye Robertson assisted Boxing Rock, local cask superstar Greg Nash and Garrison gave supplies and advice to Bridge Brewing and the folks at Big Spruce consulted with Propeller.
Next year will require a larger venue and a broader selection of beers. "Ideally, we want to have it twice a year - once in fall, then again in the spring," she says. Overall, Tracy was pleased with the inaugural event and excited for the future of cask ales in Nova Scotia.
"This is a tipping point for Halifax. We can become a real craft beer city."
If you missed the festival, don't sweat it - you can still sample cask ales at Stillwell Beer Bar and Granite Brewery's Henry House in downtown Halifax. In fact, Granite's Kevin Keefe has been making cask ale for years and is considered the "godfather of cask ale" in Canada. Sometimes cask ales are even available at craft breweries across the province - call your local brewer to find out when the next cask is being tapped.