Sunday, December 12, 2010

Beer Festivals

Over the years we have seen a swell in the number of beer festivals in the US. The Great American Beer Festival in Denver was thee place to be but for those of us who cannot get a mile high we have a plethora of fests in most major and not so major cities. Here in Pittsburgh we have the Penn Fest, European Beer Fest and the Big Pour, one put on by the Pittsburgh Rugby Club and a smidgen of smaller ones. Beer festivals in America are operated the American way. That is, each person entering pays an admission price of anywhere between 30 to 70 dollars. But you get a free glass to keep and take home. The glass is small, not more than six ounces so it’s easy to carry out. As you know, we get two ounces at a time but we get all we want. The exception is the European fest where you get one shot at all the beers but you can’t get to try one more than once. This is controlled by a punch card. The other exception is when you only get a set number of tickets, which can be used for one ore a variety of brands. I don’t like that method myself, as it seems the most overpriced.

The Brits have a different take on doing a fest. Hey, they don’t drive on the same side of the road as us so why should they drink like us? The English way is to get you in the door for free or at least a quid or two. But before you ask for a cask you need a glass. You buy a glass but it is a full size pint (or half pint) that you use at the fest and if you do not want to take it home on the tube you can return it for your cash back. Now with pint in hand you head for the beer. The Brits operate a fest like a big pub in which you buy a pint (or half) of any beer you want at standard pub prices. Then you turn to the chap next to you and talk football. Now, when you are paying full price for a 20-ounce pint of beer you aren’t going to be sampling one from each brewery. But all in all it makes a great day in finding on that is not typically in your area. In a way the Brits go to a beer festival much like they go to the pub. It is about the beer but for them it is more of a social get together. But in many ways that is universal. Beer brings people together. For more on beer festivals in England see CAMRA.

New York City has beer festivals pretty much the same way most fests are put on in the US but thanks to Alex Hall one can experience a beer festival the British way. Several bars in NYC have cask-ale festivals in which 15 to 20 firkins are lined up on stillage dispensing real ale on gravity and without a cask breather. Some casks are hooked to a beer engine to get the beer to your glass, which is a full pint I have to say. These cask ale fests operate the English way so you buy a full pint of each beer. It’s not about sampling 20 beers in one afternoon, it’s about enjoying a beer you never had with friends. Unlike Pittsburgh, the price of a pint in the Big Apple is $7 or $8. On the good side I can get Sierra Nevada Porter and Stout on cask (just a mention in case Glenn is reading this).

I am off to a cask fest in Brooklyn this January 7 so if you don’t know what a beer engine is or what stillage does, come on up and drink like the English. Of course you will have to hold the glass in your left hand.

To find a cask ale bar in New York City, see this page, with a thank you going out to Mr. Hall and the Malted Barley Appreciation Society.

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