FirkFest Brings Weird Cask Ales to OC...Again

Pour away!
Pour away!
Photo by Brian Feinzimer

Drinking cask beer is different than drinking any other craft beer. Instead of the conventional brewing process, which typically ends in filtration, carbon dioxide treatment and kegs, casking gets very specific and very spontaneous very quickly.

Cask beer--a British-born style--undergoes a second fermentation in the vessel from which it is served, and during this process, brewers add additional ingredients to create a beer neither they nor their customers have ever tasted. Things get weird with cask beer, so it's no wonder why Greg Nagel of OC Beer Blog decided to put together an entire festival dedicated to these romantic one-offs.

After noticing the hype around cask beer releases at past beer festivals, Nagel decided the style merited its own day of celebration. This year marks the second installment of the festival--named after "firkin," an 8-gallon vessel used for cask beers. The festivities will take place next Saturday, March 21 from noon to 4 p.m. at Farmers Park in Anaheim and will host over 50 dif-ferent cask beers from 30 SoCal breweries.

"It's my chance to showcase Orange County as OC Beer Blog," says Nagel.

Orange County beer has grown dramatically in the last two years. We've witnessed the opening of breweries like Bottle Logic Brewing, Beach City Brewery, and Barley Forge Brewing Co., with only signs of growth for the future. By bringing Firkfest to Orange County, Nagel intro-duced a taste of tradition.

Although English tradition of brewing cask beer or "real ale" calls for brewing milds, bitters, browns and British pale ales, SoCal brewers take their inventiveness to new heights with during Firkfest.

Traditionally, real ales top off at around 3 to 5 percent ABV, but here on the west coast, our beer culture tends to call for higher ABVs and crazier formulas for these one-off sensations.

This year's Firkfest line up includes brews like Barley Forge's Chocolate Milk Stout with cher-ries and cocoa nibs, a vegan-friendly Denver Jackhammer DIPA with Chinook flowers from Beachwood BBQ & Brewery, and Good Beer Company's Hi-Tea Bravo wheat beer with cran-berry, hibiscus, pomegranate, tropical fruit and Brettanomyces bacteria.

But while most brewers relish the opportunity to play around with funky flavors, MacLeod Ale Brewing Co. and OC's very own Noble Ale Works aim to pay homage to the traditional British-style cask ales. While MacLeod serves all traditional UK-style cask beer all the time from their young brewery in Van Nuys, Noble Ale Works almost never brews anything to style, except for this.

"We love British beer," says Noble Brewmaster Evan Price, "so Greg putting on this Firkfest thing is really exciting because it raises awareness on different stuff that's out there but more im-portantly a fun way to experience beer."

While Price is better known for inventing the "golden milk stout" and other such shenanigans, his year, the Noble team is brewing up an honest-to-goodness British Pale Ale specifically for Firkfest.

"It's one of the few times I actually want to make something traditional," says Price. "For the most part, I throw tradition to the wind and I don't really care about it that much. I'd rather cre-ate something new, but the overall drinking experience of these beers [in England] was so unique from what I've been able to have here, that I want to be able to duplicate that so more people can experience it."

This change of heart did not come randomly. Price took traveled to England in the summer of 2014, where he grew to appreciate the traditional flavors of British-style real ales.

"[Last year], we weren't taking these English beers seriously because we hadn't gone to Eng-land," Price says. "All we can think about now was how much we were bastardizing these beers and not really doing them the proper justice."

Both Price and his head brewer Brad Kominek were able to partially fund their trip to England on a scholarship from Inspire Artistic Minds, a charitable organization whose purpose is to help fund educational experiences and opportunity scholarships to those in the food and beverage in-dustry. Coincidentally, all ticket sale proceeds from Firkfest go directly to the Inspire Artistic Minds.

"Twenty thousand dollars in profit all goes to the [organization]," says Nagel. "I make nothing, by design."

This year's ticket sales have already tripled compared to last year's inaugural festival, so be sure to grab your ticket before the event sells out.

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