Real ale rambles on

We are lucky to have Cask Days on the Ontario beer calendar. It pretty famously is the largest cask ale festival outside of the United Kingdom.

But here, on the other side of year from when it happens, I think it’s important to make sure it’s not the only time you drink real ale this year.

We certainly don’t have to be exclusive with the festival the Morana family runs. During our discussion for this month’s Brewer vs. Brewer, Mary Beth Keefe from Granite Brewery (where they have four cask engines) mentioned how much she enjoyed the Tynedale Beer and Cider Festival. By happy coincidence, it’s held every June in the village where her husband’s family lives.

“They just do it so well,” she says, “they all have hand pumps. And they have ice water running through all of the casks so that they’re served at a perfect temperature. They were all amazing. What I love so much is that they are consistently making beers that are four-and-a-half per cent and under but with so much flavour.”

Out west, Milo’s Craft Beer Emporium in London has made a commitment to cask with two cask engines. And Ottawa fans of real ale can count on Clock Tower for their fix.

In Toronto, there are more than a dozen options for a well-pulled pint of ale. Enough, in fact, that there is an annual crawl organized to visit as many of them as feasible in one day.

“From the second year onward,” says co-founder of the Toronto Cask Crawl, Dominik Halas “we’ve been starting at the Feathers for brunch and a pint at eleven, and then continuing on to Castro’s. Initially, the crawl went as far west as Indie Ale House and The Hole in the Wall, in the Junction; and at least once it’s ended at the Monk’s Kettle, on Bloor at Royal York.”

This year, they planned to visit House on Parliament, Harbord House and others before finishing at Another Bar on Bloor. And, remarkably, in years when the weather is fine Halas will walk between the stops—in 2017, that meant 21 kilometres.

When you sample the wares from 11 pubs in one day you start to notice the finer points of cask ale service. Things like the mugs used at the Oxley make a difference. “Another pleasant but hard-to-explain part of the experience,” says Halas, “is the physicality of working the pump handle. That last bit of manual labour required to bring the beer up from the cask is a visible symbol of all the work that went into making the beer. A publican who knows how to smoothly and elegantly work the mechanism may not be pouring a better pint in any measurable sense but they’re certainly contributing to the entirety of the aesthetic experience.”

Since it closed (after 28 years) in 2016, the Moranas’ Bar Volo has been greatly missed by Ontario’s cask community—many of us fell in love with craft beer there. Happily, it’s re-opening this June in a new home at 17 St. Nicholas St. in Toronto and Giulian Morana has confirmed that they will have six hand pumps for cask ale.

So, this summer, between the afternoons whiled away on sunny patios seek out the pubs with cask options, look for those all-important hand pumps and help keep an important tradition alive. j

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