Cary Jaworski of Lakefront Brewery offering a sample at last year’s fest.
Even so, many beer fans still have never tried a cask ale — beers made with traditional methods of fermentation, finished in the cask they will be served from, left unfiltered and served with only natural carbonation. Some are still in fermentation stages when consumed. The live yeast changes the flavor and aroma.
Cask ales are served at warmer-than-refrigerator temperatures. There’s generally much less carbonation than found with bottled or canned beers, or those served via CO2 pressure at a bar. Even a favorite bottled beer will taste very different when conditioned in a cask and served in this manner, the process adding new layers of complexity.
This year the Cask Ale Fest (organized by Isthmus) has grown to more than 25 participating breweries. They’ll be bringing a wide range of beers, with many made just for the occasion.
Those on the docket include Karben4’s Vine pale ale. It’s a sessionable beer made with Hull Melon and Hallertau Blanc hops, which give it fruity, wine-like accents. For the Cask Ale Fest, brewer Jeff Olson added golden raisins to the cask, which ramps up its Sauvignon Blanc character.
Door County Brewing of Baileys Harbor will be pouring In a Factory Downtown, an India Pale Ale brewed with lactose sugar, peaches and Citra hops. Then brewer Danny McMahon added more Citra hops and vanilla beans directly to the cask and allowed it to condition. “It should be something akin to a peach milkshake,” says McMahon.
The gluten-free brewery Alt Brew of Madison is also serving something peachy — a Belgian tripel made with peach puree.
From Verona, Hop Haus Brewing will bring Mango Magic Dragon Double IPA. The mango accentuates the citrus hoppiness already in the beer, lending even more fresh tropical notes.
Madison Homebrewers and Tasters Guild member Keith Symonds taps all the barrels, shown here at last year's fest.
The Great Dane, known for the cask ales it serves at its downtown location, will bring Black Watch Scotch Ale. It’s brewed with peat-smoked malt, well-suited to the style.
Making a run here from Minneapolis, Indeed Brewing will offer the 2016 vintage of Rum King. This big imperial stout comes in at over 10 percent ABV and is cask-conditioned with cocoa nibs and vanilla beans.
Scott Manning, brewmaster at Madison’s Vintage Brewing Company, always shines at cask ale festivals. For this year’s event he’ll be offering his Key Lime witbier. Ale Asylum has a special version of its Bambooleator Doppelbock that has been aged in tequila and chardonnay barrels.
And Wisconsin Brewing will offer Badger Kellerbier. This is an example of a very pure unfiltered lager (the only lager in the cask ale fest).
Second Salem Brewing of Whitewater has a growing reputation for interesting one-offs. Brewmaster Christ Christon took a pale ale and conditioned it with poblano peppers, for some heat, and a little pineapple, for fruity freshness.
Hoppy beer lovers should look for a special dry-hopped version of Rockets Red Ale from Next Door Brewing.
Some brewers are still waiting to determine exactly what they’ll be bringing, so surprises are part of the event’s allure. This year’s Cask Ale Fest actually precedes the official opening of Madison Craft Beer Week; it takes place 7-10 p.m., Thursday, April 27, at the Madison Children’s Museum. Tickets ($40 via isthmustickets.com) include a tasting glass and unlimited samples.