Which Cask is Right for you?

How do you decide which cask beer is right for you? By tasting it, of course.

By Juliette Wills

selecting a cask beer

There are over 10,000 cask fresh beers currently being served in the UK. That’s a lot of good beer, but not everyone knows what constitutes cask fresh beer, or why they should be drinking it. Cask beers come in a multitude of styles from strong, purposeful stouts to refreshing citrus blends. Cask is a living thing; it deserves all the love and respect you can throw at it and if you’re lucky enough to have a decent local that serves it, yet you’ve never tried it, now’s the time to get stuck in. If you’re used to bottled lager it’s really worth experimenting before you say, ‘pint, please.’

The first thing to consider is the glass, because the glass really can make the beer. In Belgium they’re nuts about serving different beers in different glasses. It’s a serious business, and if you get it wrong, you might get thrown out of the bar (we’re saying that from experience). In the UK we’re far more relaxed about how we drink, and it’s only in recent years that different shaped glasses rather than your standard chunky pint glass have popped up. The thing is, those Belgians aren’t crazy: just as wine, champagne and cocktails are best drunk from glasses of different shapes, so is cask beer. Any publican worth their salt will pour your lovely, fresh cask into the best glass for the job. If you’re new to cask – congratulations, by the way – then you may be wondering how best to taste it to figure out which one you fancy spending the evening with. Blonde, auburn or brunette? We’re talking about the beer, of course.

You can spot a decent cask like you can a healthy salmon on the fish counter. Put simply, it should be bright and clear. That’s where the similarity ends; if your pint smells like salmon, hand it back. Ditto if it gives off a vinegar tang. The exception to the bright and clear rule are born-to-be cloudy casks. Essentially, if it smells OK and tastes good, you’re onto a winner.

And so, to the glass. It should be fatter at the bottom than at the top. Your cask should be served cool, but not cold. You know how Americans think we drink warm beer? We don’t. Unless you’re in a sauna, room temperature means cool. The glass should be filled a third of the way up, then tilted at a 45-degree angle. Give it a swirl (you need to be able to swirl your beer without spilling it, so for this reason it is wise to do this when sober). Stick your nose in the glass and take three short sniffs, much like a dog would sniff the air when he smells a squirrel in the park. This is called The Bloodhound Technique. Enjoy that bit, then take a sip – enough to coat your tongue, but not enough to qualify as a mouthful. Savour the taste, swallow it, then take a decent gulp. A big ‘aaah’ and wiping your mouth with your sleeve isn’t obligatory but feel free to add that at the end. Welcome to cask fresh beer – your adventure starts here!


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