The California Guide to Cask Days 2015

CD15-Poster(WebHigh)Last year’s Cask Days festival was a real honor for me. Bar Volo and Cask Days are both very important pieces of my craft beer education and it was great to finally be able to connect my home city with my adoptive State of California. We made history by serving casks from craft legends like Stone, Sierra Nevada, Lagunitas and Ballast Point for the first time in Ontario and in some cases, the first time in Canada. Arriving at the first early session of Cask Days to find a crowd already gathered in front of the California booth will always be one of my favorite moments I’ve experienced in craft beer.

For this year’s Cask Days, the featured U.S. State is Washington, but the Morana family also reached out to me to organize a smaller California feature – this time focusing entirely on the emerging Los Angeles brewing community. In a lot of ways I’m even more excited for this year’s line-up. We’ve secured 20 firkins from honestly some of the best breweries in California – but in a lot of cases they are all still flying under the radar.

So it’s likely that you are from Toronto and may not have heard the names of the Los Angeles breweries listed on the Cask Days lineup – so let me provide a little help.

Old-School Cask Lovers
(For fans of Beau’s All Natural or Granite Brewing)

july_macleodAs we all know, cask beer is a British tradition and there’s a corner of the Ontario beer-drinking market that is looking for classic British styles to be served from their firkins. These styles tend to be malt forward, with a slight sweeter character and some decent body thanks to the use of specialty malts. If that’s what you are looking for on a cool October day, then you can’t get much better than The King’s Taxes from Macleod Ale out of Van Nuys. A traditional Scottish 60 schilling, this beer boasts a beautifully clean caramel malt character that avoids being cloying. Macleod was part of our contingent at last year’s festival and Cask Days’ founder Ralph Morana was so impressed he featured their bitter as part of his VIP tour at the beginning of each session – that’s a pretty solid endorsement if you ask me.

While cask ale is undoubtedly of British origin, there’s a similar tradition in Germany called ‘gravity kegs’ that has a similar effect on the beer. Torrance-based brewery Smog City Brewing has sent Cask Days a lovely pilsner – Little Bo Pils – on cask that will showcase exactly how well a clean and crisp beer can do on cask. While Smog City’s version is a Czech-style pils, the brewers have tossed in some extra saaz hops to give it a firm hop character and aroma. Brewmaster Jonathan Porter has stated repeatedly in the past that the cask that first really got his attention was actually a pilsner and he’s made a point to push this style on their tasting room beer engine.

Some of my favorite beers at last year’s festival were the big, bold and dark beers. Velvety and rich, porters do exceptionally well on cask and that’s exactly what Three Weavers Brewing has sent us with their Amburana Porter. This imperial porter was aged on Brazilian amburana wood and roasted cacao nibs so expect some rich cocoa character along with some sweet & spicy vanilla character from the wood. Three Weavers is a brewery that manages to brew every style exceptionally well and this one is guaranteed to be one of the more interesting beers in the line-up.

One-Way Ticket to Funky Town
(For those who lineup for every barrel-aged release at Bellwoods)

Founded by a Toronto ex-pat living in Los Angeles, 101 Cider House exists at the crossroads between sour beers and hard cider. Fermented naturally using wild yeast, 101 Cider House produces funky tart ciders that are not-only delicious but also 100% natural and pro-biotic. The cider has provided Cask Days with casks of their flagship cider – SoCal Scrumpy – as well as an experimental blend dubbed Red Dog,  which includes activated charcoal imparting its signature black color and cactus pear juice that delivers a beautifully bright tartness reminiscent of watermelon jolly ranchers. 101 Cider House is weeks away from launching their brand in Ontario so keep your eye out for them at better bars like bar Volo and Wvrst.

ladyfaceUntil about a week ago, we weren’t even going to be getting Ballista from Ladyface Ale Companie. The brewery was only booked to send a single cask of their IPA but when another brewery had to pull out, Ladyface stepped up with this barrel-aged beauty. A imperial grisette style aged in 2012 French oak viognier barrels, this beer features a tart character driven by the use of 17% acid malt, but also incorporates 100 pounds of rolled oats giving the beer a silky body – something that should really shine on cask. Ladyface is really making a name for themselves in the barrel-aged beer world and this might be the beer I’m most disappointed to miss out of.

Monkish Brewing Co. has quickly become one of my favorite breweries in all of California. Focusing on Belgian styles, Monkish has evolved from a brewery doing clean fermentation into the world of mixed and wild yeast. One of the two beers they have contributed to Cask Days is Hard Drive Problems, a barrel-fermented saison with an addition of blackberries, cherries and boysenberries. What stands out about all of the beers that Monkish produces is the precision in which they dial in all their recipes. Look for this one to showcase a balanced and light acidity without going too far into mouth-puckering territory.

All Your Hops Belong To Us!
(For those that skip work to buy cases of Thrust! An IPA from GLB on release days)

Can you list off the hop bill in all of your favorite IPA’s? Then you’re a hophead at heart, and while at Cask Days I implore you to check out Galaxy Showers from Noble Ale Works. This Anaheim California brewery is the only place we sourced beer from in Orange County and there’s a good reason why: they’re quickly becoming one of the most popular breweries in the region. The ‘Showers’ series from Noble is a single-hop experiment that people are freaking out over and this Galaxy-hopped version is one of the juiciest beers I’ve ever tasted. Noble recently took home a bronze in the session IPA category at the Great American Beer Festival, and it’s no surprise because they know their way around a hop cone.

esbcEl Segundo Brewing Company out of (you guessed it!) El Segundo has put their entire focus as a brewery into the thing they do well – hop-forward styles. While they are bringing two IPA’s to Cask Days this year, the beer I’m most excited about is Mayberry IPA with Mango. Mayberry is a mosaic-focused hop bomb that has a clean malt profile and bursting with tropical flavors backed up by that undefinable mosaic musk. The addition of mango will ensure this one is easy-drinking and make you crave the beautiful southern California weather.

While Beachwood BBQ & Brewing originally was set to send their Melrose IPA to Toronto, a mix up in scheduling resulted in a last minute switch up and instead they are sending a Double IPA called Hop Ninja with an extra dose of Citra hops. Lets be honest – Southern Ontario LOVES citra so this one should be a no brainer – not to mention that Beachwood BBQ wins so many awards I would be more surprised if they DIDN’T walk away from GABF with some tin. While the bulk of Beachwood’s awards are for darker styles or Belgian saisons, their IPA’s are almost second to none – and absolutely something to go out of your way for.

Speaking of awards, one of the most under-rated breweries in Southern California has to be Figueroa Mountain Brewing. Located in Santa Barbara County, this string of brewpubs has been building quickly over the last few years and they’ve been collecting countless awards along the way. They’ve provided Cask Days with a firkin of their flagship Hoppy Poppy IPA, dosed with an extra helping of mosaic. Hoppy Poppy is a classic IPA that’s easy drinking and boasts a reasonably ABV, allowing you to go back for a few while also quenching your insatiable thirst for hops.

Sadly I won’t be attending Cask Days this year but I’m excited to share all of these wonderful beers with you. I promise you can’t go wrong with any of these excellent breweries. While you are tasting at the festival, shoot me a tweet and let me know your favorites from the lineup – @CaskAleLA! Cheers!