I don’t know what it is about beer geeks. We are so passionate about beer that sometimes we settle being treated like cattle in the process. I’m definitely not the first to say that many beer festivals are atrociously organized, with too big crowds crashing too few kegs. So when an inaugural beer festival goes off as seamlessly as Firkfest in Anaheim, it’s something worth talking about.
I’m very happy to report that outside of the 10 minutes waiting for the gates to open, and an additional 10 minutes I spent in line for one specific beer, I didn’t really line up for anything else the entire day of Firkfest. That’s rare at a festival, and combined with the fact that we got 30+ cask conditioned ales from some of these best breweries Southern California has to offer , I would call the first edition of Firkfest a huge success.
Rather than doing a full recap, I thought I would break things down into a list of sorts, in an attempt to highlight some of the best beers of the day.
First Cask to Generate hype: Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Milk Stout with Mexican chocolate
I think it was less than 15 minutes into the event when I first got a recommendation to try the Peanut Butter Milk Stout from San Diego’s Belching Beaver. From what I understand it was also one of the first casks to kick, which was a reminder to this beer blogger to get those highly hyped casks before it’s too late.
Cask That I Didn’t Want to Drink at 12 pm Noon (but proved to be quite good): Valiant Brewing’s Last Flight w/Grand Marinier, BBL, figs, cherries, vanilla and coffee
One of the very first cask ales to greet guests as they entered the grounds was an American Strong ale with Grand Marnier, which sounded delicious until you got to the part on the sign that hat listed it as 17%. Definitely not the way to start a hot day of beer drinking. I opted to start the day with Noble’s Man’s Milk, but when I finally made it back to Valiant, it was well worth it.
Cask with the Biggest Line: Bottle Logic Brewing’s Leche Mole
As I mentioned above, I have never waited in line so little at a beer festival as I did at Firkfest. The one beer that did generate a line was Bottle Logic’s Leche Mole, which was definitely worth the 10 minute wait. It’s a beautiful beer, rich and velvety chocolate with a lightly spiced backbone. It also didn’t hurt that their pours were more on the liberal side for their patient customers.
Hottest Hot Pepper Cask: Tustin Brewery’s Caribbean IPA
One comment I received via twitter was that there were a few too many hot pepper additions to the casks this year. Personally this isn’t something that bothered me as I’m a bit of a spice addict, but I can understand the reservations of others. When I got my pour of Tustin’s Caribbean IPA I took a sip and immediately shrugged “not so hot to me” until about 6 seconds later when the real pepper heat kicked in. By the end of the 4oz’s, my mouth was on fire, and I had to make my way to Monkish in order to cool things down.
Best Conditioned Cask: Figueroa Mountain Lizard’s Mouth IIPA w/Tropical Fruits
One of the fallouts of a cask festival is that some beers are going to come out improperly conditioned, and when you are dealing with a sunny day in Anaheim, the temperatures aren’t going to help either. I tasted Figueroa Mountain’s offering late in the day and it still held up with a thick silky head and a nice hop kick. Figueroa is really stepping up their cask game and I’m excited to see where they go from here.
Best ‘Taste The Difference‘ Cask: Los Angeles Aleworks Karma Kolsch
One of my favorite things about casks is the chance to taste slightly different versions of the same beer. LA Aleworks provided that opportunity by tapping two versions of their Karma Kolsch side-by-side. The first, made with jasmine tea, was a very classic kolsch, flavorful and refreshing, while the second, made with Chrysanthemum, Kumquat and Masala Chai tea really brought the citrus and built on those classic flavors perfectly.
Best In Show: Monkish
While part of me feels like its meaningless to make a statement like this, I was incredibly impressed with what Monkish had to offer at the festival. They came with three casks (SPA-ISH Belgian Single, SHAOLIN KICK Dubbel, and SHE-IST Tripel) and all of them had people talking. The SPA-ISH Single was definitely the most refreshing beer of the day, made with cucumber and mint. It was light and delicate, in an almost ‘not beer’ way, but with all those spicy casks kicking around this one got a lot of attention. The fest also featured a version of the Shaolin Kick with sriracha and thai basil, and this is actually the 3rd time I’ve had the opportunity to taste this cask recipe. By far, this was the best one to date, with the sriracha and basil perfectly dialed in, not to mention one of the best conditioned casks of the day. At a festival with so many great beers to offer, this one actually had me coming back for seconds.
Overall, a pretty fantastic event. I spent a good half hour talking with some of he folks over at MacLeod Ales, who are opening soon in Van Nuys and will feature classic British ales from a cask-heavy taproom. One thing we discussed a lot is the hope that as cask-conditioned ales become more and more popular in Los Angeles, it would be nice to see breweries stray from the novelty and back toward classic. As I mentioned before, I love a hot pepper cask every once and a while, but a dozen of them aren’t really necessary. My one hope for next year’s Firkfest is that breweries focus more on showing off their conditioning skills over what weird things they can cram into a firkin.