The Cask at Hand

By on April 7, 2016


Oyster-House-cask-aleDo you know about cask ale? Oyster House Brewing Company does, and it’s ready to introduce you to ale made in the old-world way. Just don’t let the temperature scare you off.

West Asheville’s Oyster House Brewing opened its doors at 625 Haywood Road in June 2013 and quickly earned a loyal following of craft brew fans with its best-selling Galaxy IPA and flagship Moonstone Oyster Stout. That fan base has grown since to include those who venture to the restaurant for cask ales.

“We definitely have a dozen or so regulars who come every time there’s another cask on tap,” says owner Billy Klingel.

Alongside its regular tap selection, Oyster House sports two cask ale beer “engines” pouring a different take on traditional beer. Cask ale is naturally carbonated and poured from hand-drawn taps, and cask fans are commonly treated to variations on Oyster House selections like Bourbon Barrel Aged Bubba Brown or Cliff’s Mandarin Pale Ale.

“Because we are smaller, and these are made in smaller batches, it gives us room for experimentation,” Klingel says. “Take five gallons of pale, dry hop it, throw in some mandarin orange and you’ve got Cliff’s Mandarin Pale. It’s a blend of tradition and experimentation.”

Think ales flavored with single-malt scotch-soaked chips or a stout infused with Kahlua. Klingel and brewer Philip Shepard like to see where they can go with cask flavors. “We get to get creative,” Klingel says.

Sometimes though, they don’t need to add anything; the cask conditioned Bob’s Your Uncle ESB is great all on its own.

The defining quality of cask ales, and the reason people keep coming back, is the difference in texture, temperature and flavor cask ales provide. Cask ales are known for a silky texture and creamy head. Klingel also serves them at the traditional cellar temperature of 55 degrees. That temperature, he admits, is a hurdle for some beer drinkers used to America’s ice-cold obsession.

“You really miss out on a lot of notes and nuances of beer by serving it ice cold,” he says. “When beer is slightly warmer, your taste buds pick up a lot more flavors.”

(Not convinced? Don’t fret, the rest of the Oyster House offerings are refrigerated to a colder temp. But you really should still give cask ale a chance.)


What the heck is Cask Ale?

Cask ales, or “real ales” are brewed using a secondary fermentation process identical to the way beer was made more than a century ago, before the use of carbon dioxide to carbonate the beverage.

Here’s a quick primer on how it’s made: Five gallons of fermented unfiltered beer are pumped into casks or kegs. Though most of the yeast has settled during the primary fermentation, there’s still enough alive to react when a sugar like honey or dextrose is added. Seal the cask and the yeast starts eating and breeding. When yeast eats sugar, it produces alcohol and CO2. In most fermentation processes, there is a blowout valve to release gas as it’s created, but casks don’t allow CO2 to escape and the pressure carbonates the beer.

The beer engine is the final touch. With no CO2 to drive beer through tap lines, the beer is hand-pumped up and out through a “sparkler” which sprays the beer into the glass, agitating it and helping expose the CO2.

The finished result is a creamier, softer ale that Oyster House serves in an imperial pint glass to make room for the thick head. Pours usually take a few seconds longer to let the ale settle. But the result is well worth the wait.

Oyster House Brewing Company offers a full selection of house brewed and guest taps, cocktails and a full dinner menu.

Oyster House Brewing Company
625 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806
(828) 575-9370

Hours: Mon – Thurs 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., Fri 3:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m., Sat 12 p.m. – 12:00 a.m., Sun 12 p.m. – 11 p.m.

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