What is Cask Beer?
Simply put, cask beer is beer, but it's beer from another time. Almost all modern beer, whether served in a bottle or on draft, is carefully filtered to remove solids and to make it sparklingly clear, and then carbonated with an addition of CO2 gas to make it fizzy.
Cask beer, by contrast, isn't filtered: all of the stuff that gives beer body, flavour, aroma and distinct character is left in. In addition to that, cask beer is naturally carbonated--when it goes into the keg it's primed with a little extra fermentable material and then sealed up. The live yeast in the beer (which we didn't filter out) eats the fermentable sugars and produces carbon dioxide, which gives the beer a smooth, luscious and creamy mouth-feel, without any of the prickly or 'scrubby' character of artificially carbonated beers.
The History of Cask
The earliest beers were probably pretty flat, as there were no pressure vessels to capture and hold carbon dioxide for the fizz. Since there was no filtering either, they probably really resembled 'liquid bread'.
During the Iron Age, the Celtic people invented strong wooden barrels bound with iron hoops. Not only was this amazing leap in technology a great way to store and transport important things like beer, barrels held enough pressure to trap the CO2 and give the beer a lively carbonation.
Modern casks are made from stainless steel, for durability and sanitation, but they accomplish the same thing: carefully holding precious, living beer, giving it the smooth, rich taste that's so wonderful.
Cask Beer is an Event
Cask beer is served differently from standard draft beer, which is kept very cold, and pushed out of the keg under gas pressure, to keep the fizziness high. In a much gentler method, casks are carefully vented and then tapped, and the beer is allowed to flow with great gentleness into your glass--no gas pushing and no numb, ice-cold fizz, just flavourfully delicious beer nirvana!
This means that cask beer doesn't last: once you tap a cask it typically goes flat and loses character within a day or so. That means most bars and pubs can only serve it at events or special occasions, and then only one or two casks. That's why cask festivals are awesome: you get to try 10, 15, 20 or even more cask beers at a time (small samples if you're trying 20!)
Cask Beer is Best Beer
A little secret about cask beer: brewers will often show off with a cask. Their regular beers are probably great, and a delight to drink, but when it's going to be served on cask, the gentle treatment and soft carbonation really reveal what a beer is about, and allows a brewer to flex his brewing muscles and make something truly different and spectacular.
Cask Beer is Local Beer
Cask beer doesn't travel at all. Typically any journey over a day is going to make the beer unhappy and it won't taste its best. The only way to get a great cask beer is to go to the brewery where it's made, or to an event close by. The Tri-Cities Cask Ale Festival specialises in casks from the lower mainland and Vancouver Island, with a few, precious casks hand-carried down from the rest of the province. This means that rather than mass-market beers, typically produced by international megabreweries in giant factories, will never show up at our cask festival, and you'll be supporting small, local brewers from your community and maybe even your neighbourhood!
Cask Beer May Just Be Good for You
Consuming beer in moderation is a wonderful part of a healthy lifestyle, but because cask beer is full of live yeast it not only contains important minerals and B-vitamins, it also helps contribute to gut health with probiotic nutrients. We aren't saying it's health food, but every little bit helps!