Ask the guy spinning platters on his old turntable what kind of beer he drinks, and don’t be surprised to learn that his taste for the old fashioned and authentic extends to his refreshments. Cask-conditioned ale, or “real ale,” as its most enthusiastic fans know it, is beer served in its natural state: without pasteurization or the injection of unnecessary carbon dioxide.
The appeal of cask ale is obvious: its taste benefits dramatically from the fermentation process that continues, right up to the point that it’s making its golden path down your throat. That’s because the yeast cells that ferment the stuff are usually destroyed with pasteurization. Absent that step, these ales are allowed to mature naturally, encouraging the malt and hop flavours to develop, and producing an evolving liquid that stays “live” till it’s drunk.
Real ale is also unique for the way it’s served: by traditional hand pump, without the extra gas that delivers standard keg brews.
Popular in Britain and the States, cask ales are enjoying increasing attention in these beer-loving environs, thanks in part to a handful of Toronto joints that have taken it upon themselves to promote the special drink.
Try a smooth-textured, rich-bouqueted throwback to the old way at Cloak and Dagger, 394 College St. (where there is a single cask ale on tap), C’est What?, 67 Front St. E. (whose five on-tap cask ales include a house variety), Smokeless Joe’s, 125 John St. (where the cask ale options are updated regularly), or Victory Café, 581 Markham St. (where a single craft option was recently added to the menu). If you’re so inclined, you might enhance the authenticity of the cask-ale experience with a revolution or two of Frampton Comes Alive on your Lloyds stereo system.