I was recently in Santa Rosa working a beer festival and decided to stop at the local pub, Toad in the Hole, because they usually have a cask-conditioned beer from Moonlight, one of my favorite Sonoma County Breweries. While I was there imbibing I started thinking about how excited I am about ‘Firkin Friendship’, an upcoming event on Wednesday June 19th, where two Bay Area breweries, 21st Amendment (SF) and Calicraft (Walnut Creek), will be celebrating with firkin festivities at Beer Revolution.

For those of you asking yourself ‘What the frack is a firkin?’ here’s a little beerstory:

The word firkin is actually another one of those fun names for a British unit of measurement, and a specific sized vessel for beer or wine.  Historically these vessels were wooden, but since the 1950’s or so they have been stainless steel. The word firkin actually derives from the Middle Dutch word ‘vierdekijn’, which means fourth.  In short, a firkin is an ale vessel that holds 10.8 US gallons, or about 86 pints, of cask-conditioned ale. A smaller vessel, which holds 5.4 gallons, is called a pin.

Firkins are filled with the freshest beer, and carbonation comes from yeast activity, or secondary fermentation, inside the vessel. Since Brewers yeast thrives at temperatures starting around 60 degrees Farenheit, cask ale is served at a warmer temperature than draft beer, and is either hand pumped from what is called a ‘beer engine’ or propped up in a way that gravity assists with the flow of beer, since it lacks the amount of C02 necessary to push the beer through a typical draft system. Brewers can also add ingredients to a firkin or pin to create a small batch of unique beer, for example vanilla bean to a stout, or more hops to a pale ale.

I like Cask-conditioning because it allows me to enjoy a beer at its peak freshness and flavor. Cask-conditioned ale, sometimes called ‘real ale’, is unpasteurized. (CAMRA– Real ale might not exist today if it wasn’t for the 1970’s British lobbyist group CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale).) Cask-conditioned ale had all but disappeared until this group came along and fought for what they define as “beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide”.

But now, we have cask-conditioned ale in the bay.  If you can’t make it to Firkin Friendship there are some other places to enjoy a cask-conditioned beer nearby. A few notable ones are Magnolia Gastropub– San Francisco’s Haight Street Brewpub boasts a separate cask walk-in and typically has a couple cask ales at any given time. Triple Rock in Berkeley has a pair of beer engines that seem to be constantly under repair, but check out their annual Firkin Fest in April. Some other Bay Area bars with beer engines include The Englander in San Leandro, Toronado in San Francisco, and Commonwealth in Oakland to name a few.

What’s your favorite place to enjoy a cask ale?

Oakland Local loves a good brew. If you have ideas for our beer column–spots to cover, great brews or events in town, or amazing happy hours, email beer@oaklandlocal.com

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