Cask Days is the beer festival where brewmasters create beers to impress their peers—and that’s a good thing. For the past year or so, brewers have been boiling, barrel-aging, or adding shots of booze, chipotle, and even brussel sprouts to their wort to make truly inventive—and downright bizarre—ales for this weekend’s festival.
There is no other beer event where you can taste so many one-of-a-kind ales from rising star breweries like Vancouver’s Parallel 49 Brewing, hard-to-find favourite Winnipeg’s Half Pints, and your favourite local outfits.
And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Cask Days is bigger than ever this year, having moved to the Brick Works’ spacious digs. But, while the first of the three sessions (Saturday daytime) is already sold out, there are still a few tickets left for the Saturday evening and the Sunday sessions.
With over 100 fresh, cask beers on tap, you won’t be able to try them all—so we asked organizer, Tomas Morana of Bar Volo, for his top picks (and threw in a couple of our own).
1. Hellwoods Imperial Stout from Bellwoods Brewery, Ontario
The 10 per cent Imperial Stout is big, broody, and a hit with beer lovers. But when you can get it at Bellwoods on Ossington anyway, why put it in the top five?
Morana says it’s all about figuring out which styles of beer show well on cask. “I still feel that traditional English-style beers show best on cask, and I’m a big fan of stouts and porters on cask because the lack of carbonation [writer's note: cask beers are naturally carbonated, so they lack the big bubbles of draught brews] and the silky mouth feel is really nice.”
2. Rouge Dolgo Cider from Les Vergers De La Colline, Quebec
“Les Vergers De La Colline is a Quebec cidery that we’re working with,” says Morana. “ It’s a family-run orchard where they grow their own apples and, to make the cider, they use Brettanomyces yeast. The Rouge Dolgo is a really interesting take—it’s a sour cider with cherries added to try to mimic the flavour of a traditional Belgian Kriek in cider form. It will be really refreshing and tart on cask, and there’s not a lot of carbonation in cider anyway.”
3. Big Hoppa, House Ales, Ontario
Although Morana is quick to point out that House Ales is Bar Volo’s own nano-brewery, he makes no apologies for singling out this Double IPA.
“Oh man, this is one of my favourite House Ales—we’ve only ever brewed it once and, to me, it’s one of the best examples of an American-style Double IPA [read: big, bitter grapefruit, mango, and pine notes balanced by strong caramel and bready goodness] I’ve ever had in Canada. We’ve tweaked the recipe from the last time to give it more of a kick.”
4. Smoktoberfest, Half Pints, Manitoba
While Morana recommends trying Half Pints’ “Punk n’ Fest” (which will be one of seven pumpkin beers a’flowin in the Brewer’s Backyard section of the festival), I’ll be filling my pint with the Winnipeg brewer’s Smoktoberfest—a more subtle version of a traditional German Rauchbier (smoked beer).
Made by smoking some of the malt over open flames for a serious black-forest ham flavour, smoky beers are an acquired taste—but one worth acquiring. Brewmaster David Rudge says to look for flavours of herbs, smoked meat, toast, and caramel with a peppery, bacon finish.
5. Red Racer ESB, Central City Brewing, B.C.
A classic British ale style, the naturally silky Extra Special Bitter (ESB) was designed to be served on cask. Vancouver’s Central City makes the best Canuck version I’ve tried—a silky, biscuity brew with notes of cherry, caramel, and a signature West Coast grapefruit bitterness from beginning to end.
Cask Days will be held at Evergreen Brick Works (550 Bayview Ave.) Oct. 27-28. More information can be found here.