On Saturday, March 22, 31 California breweries hauled casks of beer to FirkFest, at Farmers Park in Anaheim. These “real ale” one-off brews and specialty selections were unlimited and generously poured, without wait, on an idyllic Southern California day – much to the delight of 500 festivalgoers. Especially for an inaugural event, the festival was by all accounts a great success.
The idea and name for FirkFest are the work of Greg Nagel of OC Beer Blog and Brad Kominek of Noble Ale Works. Noticing the growing (and welcome) trend of California breweries and bars to provide a cask offering to beer drinkers, this festival was meant to highlight the creativity and community of Southern California brewers. Ticket proceeds went to Inspire Artistic Minds, a charity organization that supports small businesses and individuals in the visual arts or food and beverage industry.
FirkFest was a distinctive gathering because of the focus on casks – traditional vessels in which the beer undergoes final fermentation and from which beer is directly poured. “Real ale” – beer produced when using this method of conditioning and serving – is a term coined by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), a British organization that promotes this method of beer service. The resulting beer is typically carbonated only by natural yeast fermentation, meaning it is somewhat less bubbly than a keg beer. And the ideal serving temperature is 55 degrees Fahrenheit – warmer than the beer you get on tap.
Belching Beaver (Vista, Calif.) was the first brewery to empty a cask. Its Peanut Butter Milk Stout with Mexican chocolate was a weighty beer, well-suited to the warmer temps and soft mouthfeel cask-conditioning provides. Also popular was the next cask over, Lemoncello Sour from the Bruery. This biting, tart and utterly refreshing beer was a marked contrast from most of the other styles being poured.
Greg Nagel collaborated with Los Angeles AleWorks for a special batch of Karma Kolsch, to which they added whole kumquats and a cold-brew tea made with Masala chai and chrysanthemum buds. It made for a spiced-up, floral edition of the beer, which was cask-conditioned traditionally for three weeks. Firestone Walker offered Velvet Merlin on cask, allowing the more subtle tobacco notes and char in the beer to stand out (flavor profiles that often are hard to detect when the beer is bottled or on tap).
In addition to this full-spectrum of unusual beer, attendees enjoyed lawn games such as corn hole and Giant Jenga at the verdant park lawn. Food was available from Kroft, Adya, Iron Press and Wheat & Sons, and hoards of hungry beer drinkers landed at neighboring Umami Burger when the festival came to a close.
Casked beer festivals are especially popular in colder regions during the spring and fall, when there aren't the heat concerns we can have here. At FirkFest, brewers made do with insulating keg koozies and bags of ice. Whatever it takes to make this a new Southern California tradition.