An early new years resolution for Mark

I don’t usually make New Year’s Resolutions. If you need to wait for some milestone date before you can stop doing whatever annoying thing you do, or start doing something you know could have tremendous benefit to your health, you’re not really committed. If you meant it, you’d start now, lazyass!

Ahem. Sorry. Anyway, call it a ‘now’ resolution that just happens to be affirmed within a month and a half of New Year’s Day.

I, Mark Tichenor, resolve to drink more cask-conditioned ale.

Bruce and I are rarities among beer lovers because we skew toward lager rather than ale, which true purists generally consider more rich and complex in character and flavor (excuse me…’flavour’). True Ale lovers, on both sides of the pond, tend to dismiss lager as ‘that fizzy yellow stuff from the Continent’ or the pisswater product of major American breweries. This narrow, Anglocentric view is anathema to me. How many puffy-bearded, real-ale swishing civil engineers have totally overlooked the hearty malt kick of a Helles, or the mellow, raisin warmth of a good Doppelbock, just because its yeast ferments on the bottom of the tun?

Conversely, I don’t want to be a pontificating lager nazi, so wrapped up in my pilsners and maerzens that i do a disservice to excellent ales. And lord knows we drink enough American draft IPA, stout, and porter, but it’s undeniable that I’ve been giing the cask-conditioned stuff short shrift.

For those unfamiliar, cask-conditioning is the ‘old’ way to serve ale. The beer is unfiltered, unpasteurized and dispensed from the fermentation tanks into casks or barrels with live yeast still bubbling away inside. The beer continues to ferment all the way from the brewery to your pint glass, to which it finds its way via a mechanical hand pump that uses air pressure instead of co2 to pull the beer up from the cellar. Until you drink it, cask ale (or ‘real ale’) is a living product.

When Americans laugh about the British liking warm beer, this is the stuff they’re talking about. But cask ale (or ‘real ale’) isn’t served warm; At 50-55 degrees Farenheit it just isn’t as cold as the stuff coming out of the draft cooler.The higher serving temperaure gives cask ale a complex aroma that’s integral to the enjoyment of one’s pint. It also has a less fizzy mouthfeel; to an American light beer lover, real ale would taste almost flat. However, the low carbonation provides voluminous flavor that afficionados swear cannot be matched by anything on keg draft, even if it’s the exact same beer from the same batch.

Once the only style of beer, cask ale suffered a precipitous decline during the 20th century, until its resurgence in the ’80s and ’90s. Nowadays, it’s not unusual to find a hand pump and a cask selection at the bar (at least, here in Rochester, NY), and it’s a treat to try many of the great American beers served in this manner as well as out of the draft line.

I, for one, promise to do my part.

-Mark

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