Last Saturday, Old World beer-serving technique met New World brewing creativity at Orange County’s first-ever cask beer festival – FirkFest. The inaugural FirkFest took place in the heart of downtown Anaheim, one of the more flourishing cities for craft beer in Orange County.
The brainiacs behind FirkFest, Greg Nagel of OC Beer Blog and Brad Kominek of Noble Ale Works, came up with the name of the festival based on the Firkin, a 10-gallon, barrel-like container from which cask beer is served. Cask beer provides an opportunity for brewers’ creativity to flourish, allowing them to use a variety of unique ingredients to create a one-time brew that can ignite a beer-drinker’s taste buds and fill their nostrils with a flurry of rich aromas.
“What you drink at FirkFest can never be replicated exactly,” said Nagel in the event’s press release.
And boy was he right!
Much to the delight of about 500 festivalgoers, breweries from all over Southern California brought their creativity to life in the forms of fermented yeast, hops, and a variety of additives such as mint, figs, tea, honey, and coffee.
Many breweries were pouring tantalizing concoctions, such as Belching Beaver Brewery’s Peanut Butter Milk Stout with Mexican Chocolate and Cismontane Brewing Company’s Smokin’ Santiago Scotch Ale with Chilies and French Oak. The brewery that really stood out for me, however, was Monkish Brewing Co. Monkish brought three casks with them:
- SPA-ISH, a Belgian Single with cucumber, lemon, mint, and ginger
- SHE-IST, a Belgian Tripel with hibiscus, cinnamon, and mixed fruit
- SHAOLIN KICK, a Belgian Dubbel with Sichuan peppercorns, Thai basil, and Sriracha
The SPA-ISH’s aromas really did transport me to a relaxing spa with the calming smells of lemon, ginger, and mint, and the cucumber was also very prominent, making this brew a refreshing palate cleanser on a hot summer day. The SHE-IST playfully amused my taste buds with rich flavors of cinnamon and hibiscus, and the SHAOLIN KICK packed a real wallop. The Sichuan peppercorns and sriracha seared my mouth and left a warmth that trickled from my throat down to my stomach.
The clear fan favorite at FirkFest had to be Bottle Logic Brewing’s Leche Mole with Bourbon chips. The line stretched across the festival lawn, and you could see the anticipation on everyone’s face as they would glance down the line just to make sure that the brew was still being poured. Eventually, the line for the bathrooms was longer than the line for the Leche Mole, so I took advantage of that opportunity and got in line. The full-bodied, uniquely flavored beer was like the perfect dessert ending to a buffet of scrumptious appetizers and entrees.
Not only did Greg Nagel organize such a wonderful event that included noteworthy beers and delicious food, but this festival was also special to me because I was able to bring my dad and watch the joy and excitement light up on his face as he tasted all the cask beers. As a man who is satisfied with drinking generic beer found in six-packs at the local grocery store, it was entertaining to see him gush over cask beers brewed with peppers, spices, and other ingredients you can’t readily find on store shelves.
I sincerely hope FirkFest becomes a lasting tradition in Orange County for many years to come.