On a recent excursion to Dive Bar, we were happily met with the chance to try one porter two different ways: on tap and cask-conditioned. Read on for our side-by-side comparison of the two VERY different methods…
A MINI BEER LESSON: WHAT IS A CASK BEER, EXACTLY?
A cask-conditioned beer is made special by its method of storing and serving: unfiltered, unpasteurized beer is kept in a barrel, or cask, designed to retain sediment and keep the beer conditioning while its stored (the experts call this “secondary fermentation”). This creates a natural carbonation while allowing the malt and hop flavors to develop. (Your standard keg, or “brewery-conditioned,” beers are pasteurized as part of the brewing process, which kills the yeast and prevents any further conditioning of the beer.) The cask style results in a richer tasting beer, in comparison to keg beers.
While keg beer is forced out of its container using gas pressure (you know, the typical font-style tap), cask beers are served without any extraneous gas, usually by manually pulling it up from the cask using a hand pump (called a “beer engine”)–and that is why you’ll find them to be flatter and less carbonated than their keg counterparts.
Because of the natural, “living” sediment that remains in them, cask beers have a much shorter shelf life and have to be maintained at very particular, warmer temperatures. Keg beers, on the other hand, have a longer shelf life because after they’ve been fermented and conditioned, they are chilled, filtered (to remove any yeast), and pasteurized (making them sterile, or no longer “living,” like a cask beer). Most critics would say the pasteurization not only kills off the yeast, but also kills off a lot of the flavor, too.
Brewery: Chatham Brewing Company
Style: American Porter
ABV: 5.9% (draft) and 5% (cask)
Serving Style: Draft and Cask
Glassware: Pint glass
Drinking Establishment: Dive Bar, Upper West Side
Primary Consumer(s): Ally & Kerensa
OVERALL RATING (DRAFT):
Sight: Deep, rich brown, with ruby notes. Thin tan head.
Scent: Vanilla beans, roasted malts, and toffee; sweet, not bitter.
Flavor: Sweet AND bitter, like that of espresso.
Feel: Creamy and smooth. Light carbonation.
The draft-version of this Chatham Porter lent itself to typical Porter flavorings. It had a slightly over-roasted tone, dominated by that bittersweet Bakers chocolate flavor and notes of butterscotch. Well-balanced, but nothing too special here. However, it is mightily enjoyable in comparison to–dun dun DUN–the cask Porter! Read on…
OVERALL RATING (CASK):
Sight: Same deep rich brown/ruby coloration. No head.
Scent: Burnt malt, or–even better!–rubbing alcohol. Yes, rubbing alcohol.
Flavor: Overpoweringly sour, like that of sour cherries. Sour cherries soaked in rubbing alcohol.
Feel: Warm and flat (as is typical for a cask beer).
Many in the brewing industry refer to cask beer as “real ale,” because of its more natural, “living” characteristics. But when your first impression of this “real” libation makes you think “rubbing alcohol,” you know something’s wrong. The first sip resulted in immediate “eww face.”
We questioned, did we get a Blue Point Sour Cherry Imperial Stout by mistake? We even thought that perhaps the cask had been stored too long, for usually if a cask beer is old, it oxidizes and gets an almost vinegar-y flavor; but no, the bartender assured us, they only keep their casks full for two weeks. Thus, the only conclusion we can draw? The Chatham Porter doesn’t fare well as a cask beer. Quoteth Kerensa, “Gosh, that’s really bad.”
Concluding remarks: While the draft proved nothing special upon first sip, it tasted like liquified angels in comparison to the cask. It is summed up best by this picture: