In the short two months that I’ve been doing this caskalela thing, I’ve had a lot of discussions (and blogs) about what I think casks can do for a beer community. One of the best opportunities they can bring is the fine art of friendly competition. Its a great way of taking a familiar beer and seeing how different people approach it and make it something unique and new. Its one of my favorite things about cask ales, and it seems like Smog City agrees.
A few weeks ago I was on one of my regular trips to the south bay and introduced myself to Ryan at Smog City Brewing for the first time. We got to talking about casks and I went into my regular schpeel about how the Toronto industry was really built on the innocent challenges between brewers – most of which were done with cask conditioned ales. Ryan quickly became excited as he jumped into explaining an idea he had hatched at the brewery – all of the employees were going to brew a different cask version of the same beer and let the customer decide who’s is best.
This is exactly the kind of event that I launched CaskAleLA for. Its community. Its competition. All centered around the beautiful thing that is cask ale. So when I got the e-mail announcing the official event, I was pretty gutted when I realized I would be back home and would miss the whole thing. Luckily, Smog City has been really amping up their cask program, and this Battle of the Casks will hopefully be the first of many.
Despite my begging to postpone, the first Battle is being fought this Saturday December 28th at Noon, and will feature 5 cask variations on the Bloody Knuckle Porter, including:
- Dried Orange, Cranberry and Maple Syrup
- Peanut Butter and Chocolate
- Mint Chocolate
- Toasted Coconut
- Raspberry and Chocolate.
Fans of Smog City will know that the Bloody Knuckle is the base beer for the Groundwork Coffee Porter, but also a solid beer in its own right. Flavor-wise, its a classic porter with a robust chocolate malt backbone that is both big and roasty, but when it’s turned into the Groundwork Porter it really comes alive. The strength of the beer sort of mellows out and becomes something not unlike sipping a good espresso. It’ll be interesting to see how these additions will alter the flavor of the Bloody Knuckle in the same (or different) ways to the Groundwork.
The planned additions are going to likely make 5 very different beers, with the dried fruit hopefully bringing out an entirely different flavor profile than the more traditional chocolate or coconut additions. But at this point of course, who knows? Because thats one of the other wonderful (and sometimes frustrating) things about cask conditioned ales – you never really know how things are going to turn out.
I’m particularly interested in the Raspberry and Chocolate Cask, which will feature Raspberry Purée, Freeze dried raspberries, Coco powder, Cocoa nibs and Vanilla beans. I’m usually quite cautious of fruit beers but recently Smog City has been doing really great things with sweeter additions. Their Margarita Tripel is one of the most refreshing beers I’ve ever tasted, and last week I got to try their HopTango (Hoptonic with Mangos) and Cumquat Saison and both are pretty outstanding – accentuating the flavors of the beer with an explosion of fruit freshness. Hopefully this Raspberry Chocolate Porter will continue in that tradition.
But I’m not going to have the opportunity to taste these, because of the other wonderfully frustrating thing about cask beers – they are one-offs, and you’ve got to get them when they are fresh. So while I’m braving the ice-covered streets of Toronto dreaming of sipping these beers in the South Bay, I hope that you the faithful cask-lover will be casting your vote for the winning cask.