Although cask ale has always been a bigger deal in the United Kingdom than in the US, there’s a small enclave of brewers in New York state who are committed to the art of crafting ‘live beer.’
Syracuse-based Middle Ages Brewing has been cask conditioning some its beers since not long after it opened in 1995, “perhaps longer than any other brewery in New York state, according to NYup. But Seneca Lake Brewing is also a cask ale legend.
What is Cask Conditioned Ale?
A lot could be written about cask conditioned ales, beer that in essence is alive, but we’ll stick to highlights.
A cask is basically a keg. It’s shaped differently and has different mechanics when it comes to serving, but it’s essentially a large container that holds beer.
What’s primarily different about cask ale is that the beer itself is unfiltered (which means the active, living yeast are still present) and it doesn’t receive extra carbonation.
The UK get pretty specific about what can be called ‘cask conditioned beer’ or ‘real ale.’ The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) puts forth this definition…
“Real ale is a beer brewed from traditional ingredients (malted barley, hops, water, and yeast), matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide.”
In any case, this usually means that an authentic cask conditioned beer is less carbonated than it would be if it were put into a bottle or keg along with additional CO2.
In addition, traditional cask beers are served using oxygen (or an oxygen/gravity tag team) to push them out of the cask and into your glass. This means you get a different texture from the lower CO2 level. Once the cask is tapped, it should be consumed quickly (ideally in one day)… otherwise the oxygen will cause it to spoil.
An Upstate New York Cask Conditioned Ale Institution
Just north of Watkins Glen on the scenic shores of Seneca Lake in Rock Stream, NY, you’ll find Seneca Lake Brewing. And Bradley Gillett the British ex-pat brewer who owns the beloved all-cask institution, has his own take on what on what cask ale is and isn’t, which he shared with New York Upstate…
“No, it’s not warm and flat….Yes, it is naturally carbonated by active yeast and stored at “cellar temperature. It’s beer in a more natural state,” Gillett adds.
In fact Seneca Lake may be the ONLY full-sized craft brewery in New York, and one of just a few nationwide, to serve exclusively cask-conditioned ales.
Seneca Brewing’s turn of the century pub is also a unique part of the cask experience…
The Beerocracy offers a journey back in time and across the pond to a traditional British Pub. Adding to the authenticity of the turn of the century vibe, the Beerocracy Pub is a cell phone free environment enabling people to truly enjoy the atmosphere and the cask-conditioned ale.