From sour to hazy, session to gose, the styles defining today’s craft beer trends are growing by the growler. And one unique and traditional style of brew that appears to be gaining momentum among those who prefer a softer side to their suds is making news at tap rooms across town.
Behold. Something casky this way comes.
They’re called cask-conditioned beers, and despite a recent spike on the trends meter, local beer executive Brittni Rawlins was quick to remind me of this brew’s place in history when she and I recently raised a pint together.
“People may call cask the hot new thing, but it’s actually not,” said Rawlins, Tucson sales representative for Dragoon Brewing Company. “It’s a throwback to how a beer is supposed to be enjoyed.”
Listening to Rawlins explain the casking process took me back to my Sahuaro High School science class, minus the slam book.
“We take some beer out of the fermenter, after the initial fermentation is done, and put it in a cask, such as a firkin or a pin, which is similar to a keg,” she said. “But in that, there’s still live yeast, as it hasn’t finished fermenting yet.”
Into the mix, the brewer adds priming sugar and a conditioning agent known as isinglass to help clear up the beer. The live yeast continues to do its important job as the beer conditions in the cask in a way that delivers new aromas and flavors that aren’t otherwise prominent in its conventional draft beer counterpart.
Rawlins also pointed out the other obvious difference between draft and cask. While draft beers at Dragoon (1859 W. Grant Road) are served at approximately 37 degrees, their cask brews are served at around 45 degrees.
“At this temperature, you’re really going to get a lot more of those hop aromas and some of the flavors from the yeasts that were still active,” she said. “You talk about legit beer, that’s what cask beer is.”
With the cask version of Dragoon’s newest release, an American Pale Ale called Frosty Friends, I noticed some bright aromas on the nose and full flavors on the palate. But the mouthfeel, with a seemingly lower level of carbonation along with that cool temperature, was much softer and creamier than a conventionally conditioned brew.
In my side-by-side sipping, between the cask and draft versions of that same beer, there were marked distinctions for sure.
The camaraderie of Tucson’s cask community is also on display at both locations of Tap and Bottle, which have featured beers on cask since their opening days.
“Cask-conditioning is great because it allows a brewer to experiment with one-off versions of their beers and introduce something new, something rare, and something different to the community,” said Rebecca Safford, who owns the two Tap and Bottles with her husband, Scott.
Sometimes brewers will send their own filled casks to Tap and Bottle (7254 N. Oracle Road/403 N. Sixth Ave), and other times the Saffords will ship their private firkin to brewers across the region for them to fill and return via their distributors.
“Personally, I love cask beers, and I drink a lot of them at Dragoon,” Rebecca said. “Whenever I go there, the first question I ask is ‘what’s on cask?’”
Ask for cask the next time you’re at your favorite tap room, and get to know your softer side.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Russell is also the host of “On the Menu Live” that airs 5 to 6 p.m. Saturdays on KQTH 104.1 FM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.