This issue, we asked BeerAdvocate.com users: In the US, cask ale is often an afterthought, a decorative hand-pump on the bar, and often not executed well due to a slew of reasons that can stem from the bar to the brewery. That said, when done well, cask ale in the US can be a beautiful and respectful nod to this traditional experience. In your opinion, do you think that cask ale in the US has become a gimmick?
In a nutshell, yes, and it will probably remain that way because of a classic chicken and egg situation.
Cask ale has two crucial elements. Firstly, the cellarman who can love and tend to the beer, giving it all the attention that it needs, and who can present it in the correct manner.
Secondly, a customer base that can consume the beer in a finite amount of time AND who can appreciate it to a degree that makes the cellarman’s work worth all his effort.
In the US, the art and skill of caring for cask beer is very seldom found because (at least in part, and ignoring cultural differences) the customer base does not exist. However, the customer base is unlikely to ever exist as long as there are so few outlets that have skilled cellarmen who can educate them. In that respect, we’re stuck.
Graze (New York)
The question of whether or not cask ale is a gimmick in the US has to be addressed on an individual basis, first by analyzing the brewery and the bar that serves it.
First, why is a brewery making cask ale? Is it an homage to the roots of a particular style, done with authenticity and care, or is the brewery simply casking anything and everything in an attempt to profit from a trend it knows very little about? Real ale is about more than filling a cask with beer that hasn’t been filtered, in the same way that every double- or triple-strength version of a style shouldn’t be called “Imperial.”
Next, why is a bar serving real ale, and how do they care for it? Is the staff and management truly knowledgeable with regards to what and how they’re pouring? Asking questions can only help.
I don’t think it’s a gimmick: Cask ale is on the ascent in the US. As it expands from its original base, quality must decline. Otherwise, if all bars could procure and serve cask ale as easily and as well as Toronado, they would have from the start. Perhaps in some places, it’s an afterthought or the hand-pump is merely token, but every year you have new cask ale festivals, or Nights of the Barrels, or a Churchkey. There will never be a world in which all cask ale is good cask ale; living in London for a year convinced me that even when entrenched in a culture defended by CAMRA and constantly monitored by breweries, much real ale in pubs is simply not good.
We just have to accept that poor cask ale is an unfortunate, but inevitable, side effect of a world with great cask ale. ■