June 24th, 2010
A Primer to Houston’s Firkin Fest 2010
Today through Saturday, three of Houston’s best beer bars will be hosting one of the most exciting beer events any beer geek could ask for… Firkin Fest!
“So what’s this fest all about,” you may ask. “What is a firkin? What’s so great about it? Why do I care about this fest?”
Grab a beer, sit back and let this beer geek drop some knowledge on you.
To begin, let’s talk about what a “firkin” is. Looking at it, a firkin just a small, bulbous quarter barrel keg. Just a funny looking half keg, essentially, usually stored and served on it’s side. Firkins are served using no force carbonation, but rather are poured by the use of gravity or a specially made hand pump. These firkins are the common serving vessel for cask beer.
“Cask beer” is basically beer in it’s most natural state. Across the pond, this beer has been coined “real ale” (not to be confused with our own Real Ale Brewing Co.). Basically, when beer was first made way back when, the brewers and serving establishments didn’t have some of the technological innovations we have today. There was no refrigeration. There were no preservatives or chemicals. There was no machine that could be used to artificially add carbonation to beer (much less vessels that could hold the carbonation) or push it through serving lines out of a tap. Back then, beer was simpler. More basic. More “real”. As beer has evolved to what it is today, some beer purists still look for that “real ale” to fully appreciate beer in all its natural glory.
Toady, “cask beer” is essentially beer that uses no artificial carbonation and is served at room temperature (usually “room temperature” refers to European room temperature, which is in the mid-to-high 50’s). To the unassuming, this just sounds like warm, flat beer. But don’t dismiss it just yet… let me tell you a little about why cask beer is so great.
First of all, let me explain “artificial carbonation”. When a brewer kegs beer commercially, carbon dioxide is forcibly added to give the beer the correct amount of carbonation. With cask beer, the only carbonation in the beer is that which has been naturally created during fermentation (CO2 and alcohol are the two byproducts of fermentation). Sometimes sugar is added after kegging to allow a secondary fermentation in the keg, allowing for a little extra natural carbonation.
So what does all this mean, in the end? Flavorwise, cask beer has a much more natural, rounded and soft flavor to it. Cold temperatures and higher levels of carbonation tend to wash out some flavors, so by eliminating those factors, you get a whole new array of flavors in your beer that you may have otherwise missed. You can more accurately taste some of the complexity in the malt. Without the carbonic acid from the CO2, hops are more herbal and their harsh bitterness is rounded out a bit. Added flavors like fruits, chocolates or wood flavors become more pronounced and meld better with the overall beer.
If you have never had cask beer, I strongly urge you to give it a try! With so many great beers on cask these next three days, it’s a great time to begin your journey into beer geekdom! Below is a list of the fine cask beers you’ll find out there.
Thursday, June 24 at Anvil Bar and Refuge
Tapping Time – 5pm
Kracken (Real Ale 2008 Barrel-Aged Sisyphus Barley Wine)
Great Divide Espresso Oak-Aged Yeti
Friday, June 25 at Flying Saucer
Tapping Time – 5pm
Left Hand Twin Sisters
Southern Star Jasmine Bombshell Blonde
2 other Surprise Casks!
Saturday, June 26 at Petrol Station
Tapping Time – 4pm
Moylan’s Dry Hopped Hopsickle
Stone Sublimely Self Righteous – Dry Hopped
Stone Double Dry Hopped Ruination
St. Rogue Dry Hopped Red Ale
Independence Stash IPA