City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Beer Town: “Brew Your Cask Off” take two

Atlanta’s Sweetwater Brewing Co. on March 5 presents the second annual “Brew Your Cask Off” festival — a clever twist on the traditional cask ale tasting that brings together 80 invited guests who each create a special beer to be judged and maybe even enjoyed by attendees.

Last year, I was one of the guests for the inaugural event. Although it was a lot of fun, I have to admit it was humbling to read the critical comments from the judges. And it was embarrassing to realize that my beer wasn’t very good. In fact, several folks at the festival gleefully pointed out that it was awful.

So why am I doing it again this year?

brew your cask logo

Credit: Sweetwater Brewing Co.

Even if it feels a little like climbing back up the ladder to the dunk tank after getting soaked, it’s an honor to be invited. And, of course, it’s for a good cause. Last year, the Atlanta Humane Society was the big charity winner.

Beyond that, it’s been a great learning experience. Brewing is a combination of art and science that requires skill and imagination. The balance of aromas and flavors in a well-made beer is the product of a series of choices and processes that are both elemental and complex.

Basically, yeast works on the sugar in malt to make a sweetish, bubbly alcoholic beverage, and the addition of hops gives the finished beer its distinctive bitterness, citrus, pine and herbal notes.

The things brewers are doing to beer these days, though, reach far beyond malt, yeast and hops. Aging beer in whiskey barrels, adding coffee, chocolate, herbs and spices, even bacon, are some of the tricks of the crazy and exciting world of extreme brewing. And all that has become a big part of cask ale, too.

In its simplest form, cask ale is beer that’s been sealed in small metal casks (or firkins) and conditioned with yeast that produces natural carbonation and subtle flavor components.

If you want to taste a good example of that kind of ale at “Brew Your Cask Off” this year, try beer writer Owen Ogletree’s C-Hop Session Ale, made in the style of a light, hoppy English golden ale.

On the other hand, there’s Single Barrel Porter, a dark ale flavored with toasted oak chips soaked in a concoction of Elmer T. Lee single barrel bourbon, Dolin rouge vermouth and Regans’ orange bitters, plus a dose of Georgia dark cane syrup.

I’m thinking of it as kind of a classic cocktail cask ale, and I might even serve it with a cherry. After all, if I’m going in the dunk tank, again, I might as well have a good time. I just hope I don’t wind up as the “Biggest Loser.”


“Brew Your Cask Off” Cask Ale Festival, 6-10 p.m. March 5, $35 in advance at or $40 at the door. Sweetwater Brewing Co., 195 Ottley Drive N.E., Atlanta, 404-691-2537, All attendees must be 21 and up with a valid form of ID. No pets allowed.


While we were brewing up beer, the fun guys from Sapelo Productions were brewing up a little promo film (find it at the Brew Your Cask Off link above).

When they asked if they could include me in their epic, I muttered something about not wanting to look like I’d been caught by the TMZ crew.

A few days later the following hoax appeared in my e-mail box, with an interesting photo and narrative.

Popular beer writer lost at sea

What started as the 2nd annual SweetWater Brew Your Cask Off Festival, Saturday, took a turn for the weird when local beer writer, Bob Townsend, showed up with his entry, an adventurous dark beer-coffee-mescal blend that he was calling Jose’s bean dePort’ed.


Credit: Sapelo Productions

“We figured his beer must have a kick by the big smile that came over his face,” said festival-goer Nick Davis of Cumming, “but when he started making locomotive sounds as he sucked porter through a Bunsen burner, we figured it was time to leave.”

When last seen, Mr. Townsend had ripped a giant oar from the SweetWater headquarters logo and was row-walking down Piedmont Rd.  An eye witness claims to have encountered Mr. Townsend heading, as he claimed, “further out to sea”, although Mr. Townsend was more than 300 miles from any coast line.

— by Bob Townsend, Drink blog

10 comments Add your comment

Steve Farace

March 1st, 2011
2:24 pm

proud of you for stepping up with your name on the line and trying to improve on your cask from last year – should be a great time this weekend


March 1st, 2011
3:10 pm

Also, the winners of the competition will be available to try at the 420 fest at Candler Park April 17th at 2 PM.


March 1st, 2011
3:13 pm

I think you should be more ‘proud’ of me for posting that photo!

Looking forward to trying several of the beers.


March 1st, 2011
4:09 pm

We’ll be looking for you on Piedmont, Bob! Ha Ha! Joses bean dePort’ed. Funny!


March 1st, 2011
5:08 pm

That single barrel porter description reads delicious. I cant wait! How many of these crazy cold concoctions do guests get to sample anyways?


March 1st, 2011
5:33 pm

I got a real laugh out of you on TMZ, Bob. See you in the dunk tank.


March 2nd, 2011
10:04 am

I’m on the fence with returing to the event again this year. I enjoyed some of the beers and it was a good time but overall it had more the feeling of a frat party than a beer tasting. I saw one guy basically doing shots of beer while walking sideways from tap to tap and cutting everyone off.

The two portojohns for the amount of people all drinking beer wasn’t a highlight.

I hope it’s a bit different this year.


March 4th, 2011
8:17 am

You have to admit their little promo piece is funny. We will be there with our cask,”The Sch’it” which is a Porter of course! See you there Bob!


March 4th, 2011
9:12 am

Justin: Samples are limited. There are only 80 casks, after all. But there’s no limited on how many you may try. And Sweetwater beer will be pouring in the tasting room.

Mike: I feel your pain. Beer fests often draw some exuberant and impolite people. Maybe that’s a good subject for a future column. That said, not every ‘festival’ is meant to be a ‘tasting.’ Sometimes it’s just fun to drink good/ interesting beer in a convivial setting. While ‘Brew Your Cask Off’ serves as a simple primer on cask ale, it’s purpose is more about community and charity and a having a good time. And it must be said, I’ve been to some fancy food and wine tastings where a few people acted the fool, too.

Molly: Looking forward to ”The Sch’it”!


March 6th, 2011
11:47 pm

I enjoyed your beer Saturday night. That being said:

MIKE on March 2 was absolutely right. THE CASK-OFF EVENT is such a FARCE. Bob, were you serious about content for a future column? Because after attending it, I would never go back unless a lot changed.

For any serious beer connoisseur, just avoid this thing. I love Sweetwater, I love good beer, but it was a train wreck. 2,000 tickets were sold to this event, at $35-$40 a pop, bringing in between $70K and $80K for Sweetwater … and they will pat themselves on the back for donating a couple thousand to charity. Most everyone working there were volunteers.
That was too many people for such a small space. It was like moving through a train station in India or China, except no one was going anywhere. Did I mention train wreck? How about mess?
For those morons who paid $40 to get drunk on small samples of cask ale, they could have just gone down to Kroger and picked up two “Tackle Boxes” for less and get wasted.
Unless it isn’t completely obvious, I’m pretty po’d. And no, I’m not some “mole” from another brewery: just your average guy who expected a few hundred, maybe 1,000 folks to show up and have a good time sampling some creative beer. But it wasn’t. It was, like Mike said, a frat party.

Disappointment needs a stronger synonym.