Unfiltered, unpasteurized, served slightly warmer than your average beer and far less effervescent, cask ales — "real ales," according to purists — are a British tradition that is the historical norm in England but never quite caught on in the States. Sure, some breweries serve cellar-temperature brews directly from the fermenting vessel (usually a cask), but it's often a novelty or one-off experiment that places additional hops or adjuncts into an already brewed beer.
At MacLeod Ale Brewing Company in Van Nuys, the vision is cask-first and cask-only, a first for Los Angeles and maybe the United States. Its taproom, on an industrial street in the heart of the San Fernando Valley, is devoid of any kegs or CO2-fed draft systems, and instead serves all its beer from six ornate hand pumps that line one side of the counter.
Ask head brewer Andy Black why the East Coast Anglophile prefers to make real ales and he'll say that his love of British heritage — which he was exposed to during his time spent brewing in the U.K. — keeps him tinkering with traditional styles and brewing methods from across the pond.
Ask owners Alastair and Jennifer Boase why they chose to open a cask-only brewery in their hometown of L.A. and they'll point to their bagpipe obsession, which keeps them firmly rooted in Scottish customs and culture. With its owners being major members of the local bagpipe scene (Jennifer started and runs the Pasadena Scots, one of the region's premier pipe bands), MacLeod Brewing's beers and branding reflect all kinds of love for the instrument.
Black's year-round beers — from an ordinary bitter called the Session Gap to a 60-shilling Scotch ale called the King's Taxes — are all named after famous bagpipe songs. The different styles of Scotch ale are named after different shilling numbers, which is, yes, what they used to cost in England back in the day but now just refers to the strength of the beer. The higher the shilling number, the more alcohol the beer has.
Jennifer also had the McCallum bagpipe factory in Scotland craft some plastic drones (those black things that protrude from the top of the instrument) to serve as custom tap handles. Even the brewery's name itself (which is pronounced "Mack-loud") comes from the historical bagpipers, the MacLeod clan, of which Alastair is a descendent.
Warm, semi-flat British beers might not sound like the perfect beverage for a hot summer day in the Valley, but Black's dedication to British styles (he even softens the water to make sure his Yorkshire pale ale tastes exactly like Timothy Taylor's Landlord) will make the brewery a national destination for anyone who's been awaiting the return of true cask ales.
The taproom also will be the first in the San Fernando Valley, finally giving locals a place to drink craft beer in the same room in which it was made. Interest in this weekend's opening party has become so insane that the brewery has been forced to regulate entry to its tiny space and opened up ticket sales to staggered session times for the event last week.
For $15, you get five drink tickets and two hours of hangout time, during which you can munch on some of MacLeod's custom-made spent-grain crackers and digestive biscuits or order from any of the five food trucks slated to park outside (you can also bring your own cheese — BYOC — to spread on the house crackers).
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After Sunday, the taproom will be open regular hours for hand-pumped pints and growler fills.
MacLeod Ale Brewing Company's grand opening celebration: Sunday, June 22, noon to 8 p.m. 14741 Calvert Street, Van Nuys. Buy tickets here.