On March 5, Sweetwater Brewery in Atlanta held the second edition of its own unique and collaborative beer festival: Brew Your Cask Off. The set-up may appear standard at first (tents, tables, casks, volunteers, tasting glasses, etc.) but it’s what’s in the casks that makes it different. Weeks before the festival, Sweetwater invited around 80 representatives from bars, beer stores, homebrew clubs, and press to concoct their own cask creations using a base of Sweetwater’s brew. Everything from coffee to cardamom went into the casks to produce a plethora of flavor combinations, some great…some interesting. Not all the guests “brewers” have experience in making their own beer, but that’s exactly the point. The festival aims to inspire creativity and experimentation, and that’s precisely what it does.
Last year’s festival featured about 75 guest brewers if I remember correctly. While the casks only grew in number by a modest amount from last year, the crowd gathering to taste them seemed to have grown exponentially. The increased numbers made it a little more difficult, but I diligently tasted all the beer I could get. A judging panel tasted the casks before the festival began and declared the following winners (despite the fifth grade-esque names, I assure you all brewers were 21+):
1st Place – Lika-Titi-Coco Porter (Final Gravity Home Brewers)
2nd Place – The Sch’it (The Porter Beer Bar)
3rd Place – Two Pump Chump (Fontaines)
Attendees were also given a chance to vote on their favorite cask and Cypress Street Pint & Plate won its second consecutive People’s Choice Award with Samhain.
Here are some other notable beers I tried that I would like to award my own imaginary, non-existent trophies:
Brett Tease (Trappeze Pub) A golden ale with a healthy dose of Brettanomyces for sourness and oak chips to lend a slight dryness
I’Yam Cummin (Taco Mac) Sweet potatoes and spice combined to create nostalgic flavors in a well-balanced ale
Peach Flapjack Brown (Hop City Craft Beer and Wine) Fruit in beer isn’t uncommon, but the flavors in this beer matched the name exactly-slightly caramelized peaches with bready notes
Rico Suavé Chocolate Porter (Rocky Mountain Pizza) Mexican hot chocolate beer! Dark chocolate and heat from peppers accompanied the roasty flavors of the porter
Public InChoxication (The Beer Connoisseur Magazine) Another twist on a traditional chocolate beer, this stout was made to taste like chocolate cake
Starlight (Georgia Organics) In stark contrast to many of the dessert beers present, this ale contained honey, ginger, lemon, and sage and begged for a pairing of roasted chicken
Dry-Nutted Brown Ale (Five Points Bottle Shop) This brown ale had all the flavors of a homemade pecan pie, but with a restrained sweetness to remain an easily drinkable beer
If you haven’t had the chance to attend this unique event, look for an announcement from the brewery in early 2012 about when tickets will go on sale for the third annual Brew Your Cask Off. The diverse selection of one-time cask ales promises to be even bigger and better next year.