There is a well worn cliché that real ale and cask beer fans in the UK are all boring old men with mutton chops or beards, wearing knitwear, and sandals with socks.
I’m told it is a stereotype that actually holds up pretty well over there but as someone who has also been known to wear sandals with socks, and who sports a beard, I am certainly not one to cast judgement on their fashion sense.
Attending the Good Beer Week Cask Off at 3 Ravens brewery, I did spot one or two old men who clearly fit the above description but, much to my surprise, they were vastly outnumbered. Any pretence of this being an event for boring old men was torn-down rapidly by a group of young ladies rushing up to the Holgate stand enthusiastically squealing “Temptress! Temptress!”.
And they were right to be excited. For the true Australian classic that is the Holgate Temptress had been conditioned with plums especially for this event. That’s enough to make any fan of good beer squeal with delight.
Thus was the Good Beer Week Cask Off. A relaxed afternoon of fine, well-made cask-conditioned (aka flat and warm) beer attended by many familiar faces, from brewers both commercial and home, to beer writers, bar managers and beer lovers.
It was one of the first events to sell out for Good Beer Week and one of the ones I looked forward to the most.
I’m a sucker for cask beer. I love it because there is nowhere to hide. Carbonation and cold and cover up all sorts of faults in a beer. If your yeast isn’t working for you then a cask beer will certainly let you know about it. But in the right hands a cask beer is an exciting, smooth and silky experience.
We started the day at the stand of the host brewery, 3 Ravens, for one of their stouts which had coffee and raspberry added for the event. The beer was definitely my highlight for the day and was a tasty rich treat if ever I tasted one.
From there we moved through the crowded space to Bacchus Brewing from Queensland. After trying a few beers from Bacchus recently we were curious to see them in cask form. The beers up for tasting were massive. A 10% double IPA aged in rum barrels, and a 13% Barleywine aged in rum barrels. Both rich and punchy I wanted to take them home and just cuddle them in front of the fire for a while. Although we had to settle for drinking them in the “Pleasure Palace”, a strange bar inside the brewery that was all fluffy couches and pink soft red lighting.
On to Holgate next, which had Road Trip (an IPA), the Temptress with plums and a special ESB -dry-hopped with Galaxy hops.
The Holgate ESB is a regular feature on hand-pump at Melbourne’s Great Northern Hotel and is one of my all-time favourite beers, however I don’t think the galaxy version really spun my wheels. Although, admittedly, I went back two or three times to check, so it can’t have been that bad. The Road Trip was good but I’ll admit I prefer the regular carbonated version and the Temptress with plums, was well… Temptress with plums.
Next in line was Moo Brew, showing off this year’s Vintage Stout, as well as “the Congress”, an English Strong Ale with Maple Syrup and was a collaboration beer from the four breweries taking part. Both beers were solid but the consensus seemed to be that in six months’ time they would be amazing. You could sense the malt in the stout and the maple in the ale just needed a bit more time to do their work. Here’s hoping they’ve squirrelled some away.
Food for the day was provided by American style BBQ food truck/pop-up “Smokin’ Barry’s” in the form of pulled pork rolls and nachos. Cask beer and American style BBQ are probably not good bed-fellows but the beer and company were so fine that it didn’t seem to bother anyone. Plus, being able to help myself to some fresh beer from the Holgate stand as I ate was pretty special.
Finishing with the 3 Ravens Pale which, according to an ex-pat Briton and one of Melbourne’s most visible beer writers, is “what an English beer should taste like”, I was happy my expectations were exceeded for the day.
Apparently next year it will return to Holgate, where the 2012 event was held and only attended by 30 or so people. Hopefully the success of this year’s will mean those numbers increase and we see more of our favourite beers being casked for our enjoyment.