Editor’s note: This is the third 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 and click here for Nexus’ views on the subject.
In case you haven’t noticed, but judging by the attendance I think you have, Marble has managed to brew up a few cask beers and serve them to the public on Fridays. Whether under the term “real ale” or cask, folks have taken notice of that little mini-keg that sits atop the bar at Marble once a week, pouring out variations on the usual delicious offerings from ABQ’s biggest brewery. So of course when one wishes to interview a brewer about this, he goes on the day in question and enjoys a good cask beer (in this case, Stands With a Fist, an imperial red lager).
To say that Josh Trujillo and I, Stoutmeister, talked at length about cask beers (and beer in general), would be an understatement. I recorded one hour and two minutes of conversation, and we kept on talking after that. Josh is a great guy and a wonderful source of beer knowledge and again I thank him for taking the time out of his busy schedule to converse. And for the pints, of course. Here is the cask-relevant portion of our interview.
Stoutmeister: Give me the Marble philosophy of cask beers.
Josh: We don’t really have like a Marble philosophy. We just feel that casking the beers offers a different character to the styles that we already produce. We do a lot of our house beers (on cask), the Double IPA, IPA. I like to do a lot of the specials we put on. It really opens the beer up. Some beers are equal to draft on cask and some beers tend to be better. When I started here they had the cask program a little more on the subtle side. I’ve taken it over and established it every Friday, make sure we have a cask. We do variations of all our styles. We don’t just limit it to cask ale. We do our pilsner, which is really good. It just opens the beer up, a warmer temperature, a little less carbonation lets the beer shine through. Rather than being really cold and carbonated through forced carbonation. The yeast that’s eating the sugar, it brings a secondary fermentation to it.
We won the GBBF (Great British Beer Festival) this last year for our Double IPA cask, over all of the American casks that got sent to Europe. I unfortunately haven’t had the privilege to go to England and try some of these casks. I’m pretty sure Mark (Matheson), Nico (Ortiz), all those guys and all of our guys have been over there.
Stoutmeister: Some people still seem to be skeptical of casks. Is it still that process right now, where you’re trying to educate people in a way?
Josh: I think so. I think that there’s always going to be a handful of people that will be resistant to it. The other side of the spectrum I think will be open. Once you really have the beer side by side, some people might not like it either way. The cask really opens a beer up (with) the softer carbonation and the re-fermentation. Like our IPA for example, it’s a hop-forward beer. I was reading Mark’s interview and he was saying (cask is) for session beers and light lagers that don’t have a lot of flavor otherwise unless you put them into a cask, I agree with that to an extent. But we’ve also done some of our large beers. We’ve done the stout with pumpkin pie spice in it. We’ve done oak spirals inside the cask to give the beer a wood-aged character. Pilsner we’ve put in there straight up and it’s a great beer.
Stoutmeister: Brewing is a job, but with casks does it allow you to be a little more experimental, to have a little more fun with it?
Josh: Yeah, you can try different things. You can raise your sugar levels, get more carbonation in there, maybe try to mimic more of a draft Co2 quality. Or you could lower the sugar. We just put ours on the bar and gravity feed. I know most of the other places around town are using beer engines. You’ll still get a little head onto a flat beer.
Stoutmeister: Since you do it every Friday do you get people coming in here specifically just to try the cask and enjoy it? Do you have a cask crowd?
Josh: I think that it’s 50-50. We do have people that look forward to certain styles on cask. Most of our customers come in and drink Marble IPA on draft, even if it’s on cask. But I’ve noticed people warming up more to cask versions of the IPA and Double IPA. It tends to be some of the one-offs that we do that sell a little bit better sometimes. But you can pretty much count on if I put a cask of IPA on the bar Friday morning that it’s going to be empty Saturday when I come in. We don’t run our cask for more than a day. If there’s a quarter of a cask left we’ll have to dump it. We don’t have the means to keep it cool like Turtle Mountain. I think Manuel is doing his through a beer engine as well. Il Vicino is using a beer engine. La Cumbre is using a beer engine and they have a cooler set up to maintain the temperature of their cask. I think La Cumbre’s even pushing it with Co2.
For us it’s sitting on the bar top all day. By the time I come in on Saturday morning it’s pretty well warm. It’s still good, but it’s just not good to the point where we can serve it. Most people wouldn’t be interested in it at that point.
Slowly we’ve engaged a cask crowd. I try to educate people, put a picture of me (on Facebook) every Friday of me drinking a beer. Hopefully it will get people to be more familiar with cask beer and drink it. I guess we typically don’t have too much of an issue selling a whole cask over Friday night.
Stoutmeister: We’ve got the Cask Festival coming up. For something like that, do you feel it’s a good way to let more people know this is something happening not just at the brewery they go to, but all the breweries? Do you get that sense this is a good thing?
Josh: I think it’s absolutely a good thing to push events like this and educate people on a different form of the same beers. Il Vicino does a great cask. They like to dry-hop their casks and stuff like that. I think it really opens up people to come try. We don’t promote our cask as much as some of the other (breweries) do. But I think for the most part we have people that know we have a cask every Friday.
We don’t have a list, per se, of what we’re going to tap throughout the week. It’s sort of Friday morning go in the cooler, I try to keep five casks on hand, and sometimes we’ll do a little (poll) of the people in the brewery and see who wants to tap what and the majority usually rules. We’ll make our decision the day of and put it on. You know there’s always a case where you get a cask that doesn’t carbonate and you may have to dump one. Occasionally, not too often, but there’s always a certain amount of unpredictability. I typically fill them and let them sit for eight days, ten days, depending on the style we use, what (yeast) strain is in there.
Stoutmeister: When you get a really strong-flavored beer, all you taste is that primary, you don’t taste all the secondary elements of the beer. I think if you want to educate your palate in beer, I find that cask is a great way to do it.
Josh: It brings out much more of the nuances. The middle comes out a lot more. We do strong beers, this (Stands With a Fist) is eight percent (ABV). It’s also on draft. It’s nice for people to be able to try them side-by-side and see the difference the cask has to offer versus the draft style of that same beer. Some of our casks we may manipulate a little bit. Like I said, we might put some oak spirals in there or pumpkin pie spice in the stout around the season. I really like to do our specials a lot and lagers. Lagers I think do great. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an ale. I know there’s this sort of term, ‘real ale,’ for cask. I guess it’s maybe the American approach, we don’t have to follow anyone’s rules. We don’t have an ESB or something along those lines to run through cask. There’s some beers that aren’t good in cask. Our IPA, Double IPA, Red, everything we do (in cask) always seems to be a completely different beer.
Stoutmeister: For yourself, what was your first cask experience? When did you get interested in taking that over here?
Josh: When I first started working in the brewery, I started here as maintenance, I did delivery, bartending, I kind of rotated through all the positions. Once I really started working back in the brewery, we only had three guys. It was hard to keep up on it. I think the beer that really got me into cask beer was the IPAs. I used to hang out at Il Vicino a lot and every Wednesday they’d do their different dry-hopped IPAs. Those were always great. I’d say cask-wise IPA was the first cask I’ve ever had. It was nice to taste them side-by-side.
We also do our session beers, the Red Light Lager, pilsner. I did the India Wheat Ale with some bitter orange peel inside the cask. You can manipulate the cask more without potentially ruining a large batch. It allows for more experimentation. You might do a cask in a certain way that you don’t normally do your beer and like it. Then it’s let’s try a batch of beer with orange peel or something else within the beer brewed in a whole batch. It’s sort of a gateway.
Stoutmeister: To me it’s just a cool thing, anytime you guys have the liberty to tinker with stuff, I think good beer comes out of that. It’s not just sitting there and “we’re going to brew the same stuff.”
Josh: And then there’s the people that do, they like what they like and they’re not going to change from it. Based on us selling a cask Friday and Friday night, there’s people that are opening up to it, trying it, and getting more flavor out of their beer than they normally drink on draft. They’re doing two or three cask pints rather than having three on draft. Or they may try it and not like it at all and stick with what they normally do. It’s hard to get people to open up sometimes and say I want to try this. We offer free samples to anyone that comes in. Come in, try the cask, like it and we’ll sell you the pint. At least try it. Don’t say you don’t like it before you try it.
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Well, needless to say, we kept on talking (and drinking), but as I near the 2000-word mark, I think I’ll leave things on that. So if you’re at Marble on a Friday and you’re not sure if you want a cask, there you go, ask for a free sample. Take the time to sample some cask beers and make up your minds as to whether or not you like this variation on the traditional Co2-style beer on tap.
And if one trip to Marble is not enough, then join the Crew at the Cask Festival at Il Vicino Brewery Canteen on Saturday, March 9, from noon to 5 p.m. I already purchased my ticket for $15 at the Canteen, or you can click here and buy one online. (But it’s much more fun to go buy a ticket and use the change from your $20 bill to buy a pint)
The Tapping Casks series will continue this week with stops by La Cumbre and Il Vicino itself. Until next time …