For once I’m all out of superlatives to describe Saturday’s completely sold-out Washington Caskfest. A total of 38 participating brewers poured 88 cask conditioned ales during two 4-hour sessions. The Spouse and I attended the first session and between us we managed to sample 33 offerings before time was called. Only three samples were dump-worthy; the creativity and quality of Washington’s brewers continues to amaze us…
At the previous Washington beer festivals we have attended we were given a commemorative 5 oz tasting glass plus between 5 and 10 tasting tokens to exchange for each sample. However at Caskfest we both received the usual 5 oz tasting glass but this time they each contained a punchcard good for up to 25 samples: 50 tastes between us.
At face value this can seem like an awful lot of beer to consume however we really liked the flexibility it gave us compared to the token approach. We could ask for short or long pours, dump any that we felt were sub-par, and still end up sampling a larger number of brews but without consuming any more beer than usual.
I managed to get 22 of my 25 holes punched; and we ran into at least one guy who had all 25 of his holes punched, and he was still completely lucid. I’m pretty sure we didn’t end up drinking more at this festival so I hope the punchcard system is retained for the Washington Beer Commission events still to come in 2012.
Our strategy for Caskfest was to try and sample as many less frequented and unfamiliar breweries as possible. This largely worked although there were some favorites we just couldn’t resist. To see the entire Caskfest 2012 beer list click here. Here’s what we ended up drinking…
Fueled by Beer Guy
- 7 Seas Brewing – Hop Prophet – 100% wet hop ale aged on fresh raspberries with Brett (about sour beers)
- Airways Brewing – Chocolate Rye Stout – a collaboration with Wingman Brewers
- American Brewing – Breakaway IPA – my favorite IPA double dry-hopped & cask conditioned
- Anacortes Brewery – Broadsword – cask conditioned strong Scottish ale
- Anacortes Brewery – Barrel Aged Porter – aged 6 months in bourbon barrel
- Big Time Brewing – Wheatapaug Groove – a very sessionable wheat ale 4.8% ABV
- Diamond Knot Brewing – Herbert’s Legendary Cask Fest Ale – brewed in memory of Bert Grant
- Elliott Bay Brewing – Dry-hopped Demolition – cask version of one of my favorite pale ales – at 7.2% ABV carries some serious ooomph for its style
- Epic Ales – Smoked Brine – smoked stout brewed using Oyster brine
- Issaquah Brewhouse – Wik Ed Porter – brewed by The Impaling Alers homebrew club
- Maritime Pacific Brewing – Barrel Aged IPA – aged in bourbon whiskey barrel
- McMenamins Queen Anne Brewery – Barrel Aged Monkey Wrench – one of my favorite amber ales aged in freshly emptied Hogshead single malt whiskey barrel
- Naked City Brewery – Betsy’s Big Mountain Amber – like regular Betsy but with more of everything!
- Naked City Brewery – Podunk Oatmeal IPA – incorporating 8% flaked oats
- Rock Bottom Brewery (Seattle) – Madagascar Porter – cask conditioned with Madagascar vanilla beans
- Silver City Brewery – Fat Woody – Scottish ale aged and served from oak whiskey barrel
- Snipes Mountain Brewery – Experimental Special Bitter – much like its sibling Little Chief, both demonstrated possibly the most skillful use of aroma hops we have ever come across
- Snoqualmie Falls Brewing – Steam Train Porter – great draft or on nitro, excellent cask ale
- Sound Brewery – Wheat Whiskey Dubbel – my favorite Belgian Dubbel aged in oak whiskey barrel
Mrs Fueled by Beer
- Airways Brewing – Lavender ESB – Jet City infused with organic lavender
- Airways Brewing – Hawaii Shive-0 Stout – stout with Kona coffee and toasted coconut
- Big Time Brewing – Buck Mulligan’s Dublin Stout – dry Irish stout at only 3.8% ABV
- Black Raven Brewing – Snickerdoodle Stout – Irish stout with a twist: cocoa, vanilla, figs, cinnamon and other spices soaked in special liqueur and then added to cask
- Diamond Knot Brewing – Apple Cinnamon ESB – with apple cider, cinnamon, and apple chunks
- Elliott Bay Brewing – Beam’ish Oatmeal Stout – infused with Jim Beam-soaked oak chips
- Epic Ales – Smoke Brine – smoked stout brewed using Oyster brine
- Harmon Brewing – Vanilla Porter – aged on Madagascar vanilla beans
- Issaquah Brewhouse – Rogue Chocolate Stout – it’s Rogue, it’s cask, it’s good!!!
- Rock Bottom Brewery (Bellevue) – Coconut Stout – with a hint of toasted coconut
- Snipes Mountain Brewery – Little Chief – sessionable golden ale at only 3.8% ABV packs hop flavor and aroma that is totally unexpected – and very impressive
Once again Mrs Fueled by Beer surprised me with her best of fest choices. Her tasting selections strayed little from her usual preferences: stouts and porters; but her clear favorites at the end of the day turned out to be the Little Chief IPA from Snipes Mountain Brewery followed closely by the Lavender ESB and Hawaii Shive-0 Stout both from Airways Brewing .
Airways Brewing deserves special mention I feel: after being so disappointed by the limited selection of house brews during my visit to Airways Beer & Bistro, I was wowed by the three cask ales they presented at Caskfest. If there was a People’s Choice award for best overall brewery I think Airways would deserve it for their three casks.
I must also give kudos to American Brewing for their Caskfest offering of Breakaway IPA: what was already my favorite NW IPA was made even better by double dry-hopping and cask conditioning. It sent me back to the table for a second taste - CAMRA would approve.
I must be sound-ing (pun intended) like a broken record these days with my ongoing love affair for the Belgian-style beers of Sound Brewery – particularly Dubbel Entendre. How could they possibly make it better? Well, aging it in a wheat whiskey barrel certainly worked for me! Out of all the barrel aged brews I tasted only three made my shortlist: I ended up having three tastes of this one before deciding it was my best of fest.
My final honorable mention goes to McMenamins. Of the barrel aged brews I tried, Monkey Wrench and Sound Brewery’s Dubbel, at least to my taste, were the ones that benefited from the barrel aging process. The rest were overwhelmed with too much whiskey flavor and aroma for my taste.
On an interesting side note, two of my barrel aged tasting selections were aged in identical barrels: Battle Point Wheat Whiskey barrels from Bainbridge Organic Distillers. I’ve never been a whiskey drinker, and only one of the beers made my shortlist, but perhaps this is telling me something about wheat whiskey?