Thirsty Bear Brewing hosted their second annual Casks & Quesos event for SF Beer Week at their brew pub restaurant in San Francisco on Saturday, February 6, 2010. I missed this even last year for SF Beer Week but after talking to the Thirsty Bear brew master, Brenden Dobel, at the Gala on the previous night, I decided that I was not going to miss this event and I’m very glad that I attended. The focus of this event was cask conditioned beer and cheese with unlimited samples of beer and as much cheese as you could eat. No wonder the event was sold out!
Casks were brought in from several California breweries with most of them from the San Francisco Bay Area. There were 12 selections of beer from Thirsty Bear, Magnolia, 21st Amendment, Half Moon Bay, Firestone-Walker, Gordon-Biersch, Beach Chalet, Speakeasy, Sierra Nevada, Mayfield, and Triple Rock. I believe that I tried all but one. The three beers that I heard mentioned frequently as “the beers you have to try” were the 21st Amendment Imperial ESB, Thirsty Bear Bearly Legal Barleywine, and Triple Rock Hi-Top IPA. All of the beer was quite fantastic and all three of those were certainly also among my 11 favorites of the evening.
The following are some tasting notes of the beer that I tried that evening.
Thirsty Bear Bearly Legal Barleywine is a cloudy yellow-orange amber hued beer with an off-white not-quite-tan head and it a bit lighter than I expected. The hop bouquet is leafy, spicy, and noble with a hint of citrus and is likely due to dry hopping with Mt. Hood hops. There is also a subtle sweet malt and biscuit aroma. This beer has a pleasant malty sweetness but is just a bit drier than other barleywines that I’ve had. It also does not have a molasses quality to it. The bitterness from the hops is smooth and complements the sweetness very well. Despite being 10% abv, Bearly Legal Barleywine does not smell nor taste boozy. This is a full bodied beer which is surprisingly easy to drink and is an overall delicious and well made beer.
Triple Rock Hi-Top IPA is cloudy and amber colored with a sizeable head for a cask conditioned ale. The Cascade and Centennial hops provide for a wonderfully strong hoppy nose of pine, citrus, grapefruit, spiciness, and floral notes. This beer is a bit sweet and contrasts well against smooth bitter hop flavors and grapefruit. The grapefruit flavors manifest more like a sweet grapefruit juice than a the sour and bitter fruit. This medium-full bodied beer is an easy to consume session beer that is full of flavor.
Magnolia Prescription Pale Ale. I really enjoyed this ale and I thought it captured the English inspiration of both being pale and a cask ale while still having some California influence. The color was a clear amber color with not much head (as most casks ales are). The hops bouquet has a gentle hoppy, citrus, and floral quality with some malty biscuit qualities. The flavor was malty sweet balanced smoothy by some hop bitterness. On cask this is quite an enjoyable medium-bodied and low-carbonation.
Speakeasy Paypack Porter is a robust and full flavored porter. It has a dark black color with a mocha colored head. The aroma exudes copious amounts of chocolate with a hint of caramel and a bit like fresh baked brownies. There are also hints of vanilla which enhances the chocolate aromas. This beer is sweet and chocolaty almost to the point of tasting like chocolate syrup due to the thick mouthfeel. Tasting this beer reveals a roasty and caramel malty sweetness. It is a full bodied beer with the slightest hint of chalkiness, which for some reason I tend to detect in many if not all porters. It is delectable and drinkable.
Serra Nevada Stout from a cask, in my opinion, is much tastier than out of the bottle. The hoppy aromas and flavors seem a little more subdued from the cask stout allowing the dark roasty flavors to dominate. The hops still manifest bitterness which contrasts nicely against the roasty malt sweetness to produce some great coffee an espresso flavors and aromas.
Half Moon Bay Bootlegger Brown. I found this brown colored ale to have just the right amount of maltiness with a subtle hop bitterness. It smelled of toasty and roasted malts. It was a struggle to not grab another glass of this delicious brown ale.
I felt that the Gordon-Biersch Dampfbier was much better and more flavorful out of the cask than out of the keg.