Once upon a time, cask-conditioned ales were rarely available outside of Great Britain.
Nowadays, though, you can find unfiltered, unpasteurized natural ales served straight from a tapped cask or pumped from a beer engine at many Atlanta bars. And more craft breweries and brew pubs are experimenting with unique flavor combinations in imaginative, limited edition cask offerings.
In January, Sweetwater Brewing Co. won first place in the specialty category at the annual Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting Festival with a version of its spiced winter seasonal Festive Ale that had been aged in an oak rum barrel from Prichard’s Distillery in Tennessee.
Now, in typically irreverent fashion, Sweetwater is putting a new twist on the typical cask ale tasting event with its inaugural “Brew Your Cask Off” Cask Ale Festival. The brewery invited some 75 special guests — including local celebrities, home brewers, retailers and representatives from charitable organizations — to create recipes for their own one-of-a-kind cask ales using ingredients supplied by Hop City home brew shop.
Feb. 27-28, the guests gathered at the brewery, chose either a dark or a blonde base beer specially produced by Sweetwater, then added an assortment of yeast strains, fruits, spices, and hop varieties (plus a few secret ingredients) to their casks.
The beers will be aged until March 20, when the “Brew Your Cask Off” festival is scheduled to take place under tents on the grounds at Sweetwater. The day marks the vernal equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, and the party atmosphere will include Sweetwater beer, Mellow Mushroom pizza, live music, and guided brewery tours.
Attendees will sip samples of the cask ales and vote for their favorites in the “people’s choice” award. In addition, all entries will be evaluated by a group of judges from the Atlanta beer community and the winning casks will be announced during the festival.
Besides bragging rights, the top four casks and the people’s choice winner will have their recipes replicated at the brewery and served at the Sweetwater 420 Fest on April 17 and 18 in Candler Park.
Though I can’t reveal the exact recipe for the beer I made for “Brew Your Cask Off,” I can report that the name suddenly came to me one morning while I was sitting at the computer.
It’s called “Deadline Destroyer.”
And if all goes according to plan, it will turn out to be a tasty hybrid of a couple of European and American beer styles, as well as a fitting harbinger of spring.
“Brew Your Cask Off” Cask Ale Festival, 6-10 p.m. Mar. 20, $30 in advance at brewyourcaskoff.com or $35 at the door. Sweetwater Brewing Co., 195 Ottley Drive NE, Atlanta, 404-691-2537, sweetwaterbrew.com. All attendees must be 21 and up with a valid form of ID. No pets allowed.