I was telling a few friends about some of Vancouver’s periodic cask ale events and was shocked to realize that they didn’t even know what cask ale is! I suppose it is one of those terms that I just take for granted. In any case, I thought I should post a blurb for the uninitiated.
Cask ale is unfiltered, unpasteurized beer that is served right from the cask it is conditioned in. Cask ale must be served via a pump (or gravity) because there is no artificial pressure, which is usually generated by added CO2 or nitrogen. Cask ale is often dry hopped, meaning that hops are thrown into the cask before the secondary fermentation phase, which is generally referred to as conditioning (live yeast remains because it is not filtered out). Cask ale is usually served a little warmer than most beer, at about ten degrees Celsius. Cask ale is the real ale that the Campaign For Real Ale is promoting. The cask ale Wikipedia page has a lot of great information if you are interested in learning more.
I really enjoy real cask conditioned ales, which are generally more hoppy (bitter) and less carbonated than their un cask conditioned counterparts. I also find cask conditioned ales to be smoother and more flavorful. If you are interested in tasting some cask conditioned ale, I recommend signing up for the CAMRA Vancouver mailing list. Their weekly email will tell you where to find cask ale, which is available every day at the Irish Heather, every Thursday at Dix, and every last Friday of the month at Big Ridge.
Also, if you were wondering, bottle conditioned ale is similar to cask ale, save that it is aged in the bottle and not in a cask. Give it a try if you see it in your local liquor store!