Editor’s note: This is the second in a series on cask beers in the Albuquerque area, all in advance of the Cask Festival at Il Vicino on March 9. The idea is to explain what cask beers are and how different brewers approach this sub-genre of craft brewing. Click here for our story on Turtle Mountain’s approach to cask.
Sorry for the delay in our second entry in this series; expect these to come fast and furious now. I, Stoutmeister, stopped by Nexus on Thursday afternoon (had to cover the Lobo game Wednesday, so no beer for me) to talk to brewer Manuel Mussen about his recent entry into the cask beer circuit. With pints of Nexus’ Scottish ale fresh out of the cask in hand, we sat down to talk about how cask beers are settling in so far at Nexus.
Stoutmeister: You’re the newbies doing cask. What kind of convinced you to do it?
Manuel: Honestly, I’ve been wanting to do it since before we opened. Casks, in particular, they’re really big in the U.K., in England. Having worked over there, I like it.
Stoutmeister: We talked to Mark (Matheson) from Turtle Mountain. His theory is that cask is best for beers like bitters, milds, those kind of beers. How do you approach that?
Manuel: I really like a good stout on cask, personally. For me it really depends on the beer. I would say though with what I’ve worked with on casks I wouldn’t do anything too light on cask. I kind of doubt I’m going to do the cream ale or the white on cask because there’s just not a whole lot there to bring out in the cask. Something like a cream ale I think is probably better served a bit colder than this, anyway.
Stoutmeister: What kind of system are you using for the casks?
Manuel: I’ve got a dedicated little fridge. Then I’m using pins, four-and-a-half gallon casks, not the nine-gallon casks most people have. Then I’ve got the hand pumps there, or beer engines, whatever you want to call them. Right now I’m serving the casks at 50 degrees, which is the traditional English temperature. I don’t use breathers on them, so there’s actually air going in the cask every time it gets poured. It really cuts back on the shelf life, but it does mean that over the three days the cask is on tap it changes every single day in taste a little bit. It’s just something from where I picked up where I worked in England and that’s how they do it and they’ve been doing it five-, six-, eight-hundred years.
Stoutmeister: Where did you work in England?
Manuel: I worked in a brewery called St. Austell, they’re down in Cornwall, southwest of Plymouth, the nearest big city.
Stoutmeister: What has been the reception from the people? Do you get a lot of feedback from the customers?
Manuel: It seems like it’s been pretty good. There’s been a lot of educating people. There’s been a lot of people that come in here and hear cask, OK, what’s that. You tell them it’s a little bit warmer and a little bit less carbonated. A lot of people’s first thought is like ‘warm, flat beer, that does not sound good.’ But for the most part once people try it they really like it. So far we haven’t had to dump any beer that’s gone bad yet. We’re selling it all in two or three days.
Stoutmeister: Mark said the beer that sells on cask at Turtle Mountain is IPA. I like IPAs better on cask, because it brings out more flavors and it’s not just “HOPS!” when you drink it. How do you look at an IPA on cask?
Manuel: I’ve done one here so far, I’ll do some more. I think it’s pretty tasty. But I like to try to do just about everything on cask if I can. Hopefully (Friday) we’ll be putting on a vanilla bean stout. Then for St. Patty’s I’ve got a cask of imperial red aging on oak chips right now. That’s something I really like with casks, because it’s only five or ten gallons, you can do a lot of experiments with it and try something completely different and see how it turns out.
Stoutmeister: We had the imperial red here (last) Sunday when the entire Brew Crew gathered. It was one of those rare beers we all agreed on.
Manuel: I’ve got a cask of that on oak chips, a cask of that on vanilla beans, and just another plain cask of that.
Stoutmeister: Last time we talked to you down here you were in the process of getting more equipment back there so you could do more. Do you feel like you have a little more freedom to kind of play around with the beers?
Manuel: Right now, yeah, but the question will be what happens come summer again. Right now we’re selling plenty of beer but it’s still enough where I can have three specialties on tap and do a couple casks every week and not have a problem with it.
Stoutmeister: Just in terms of other beers, what else are you working on?
Manuel: The next batch of specialties that are going to be coming out I’m doing a few Belgians. I just did one, it’s going to be a Belgian pale or a Belgian golden. Next week I’ll be brewing a Belgian dark strong and I’m planning on doing a Tripel. I’m planning on doing one or two other Belgians, I just don’t know what yet.
Stoutmeister: In terms of the Cask Festival itself, I know you’re bringing the Scottish, what do you think of having something like that in a place like Il Vicino? Like you said, you’ve been educating people. Do you think having a festival will further that education?
Manuel: I really look forward to it. I grew up in San Diego and there I think twice a year they do a cask/real ale festival. The last time I went I think they had two- or three-hundred firkins. Yeah, it’s gotten to be something serious out that way. I’d kind of like to see more of that. I know just about every brewery is doing casks, at least one day a week. I really think if people really start to understand what casks are, we’ll probably be able to do more casks and sell more. Once people stop hearing “warm, flat beer” and getting freaked out by it.
* * *
Thanks to Manuel for taking time out of his busy schedule to sit down and talk about casks. Next up, Marble, as Josh Trujillo and I are sitting down Friday afternoon.
Cask Festival tickets are now on sale at the Il Vicino Brewery Canteen for $15 apiece. The event runs from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 9, so don’t forget to stop by and grab a ticket or two before they run out. The Crew will see you out there!