Archive for November, 2010

Island Brewing Company- Pumpkin Cask Conditioned Ale


Recently I had the pleasure of visiting Island Brewing’s taproom in Carpinteria.  To get to this gem tucked away in an industrial complex you will walk along a narrow path between the building and the train tracks from Linden St. You will pass several business doors (none of them serve beer) and a lonely alley. You may start to lose hope, and you may start to feel like you aren’t ever going to get a beer but just keep moving forward you are indeed on the right path.  You’ll round a corner and there it will be, most likely filled with many others who have made the same trip and are enjoying their reward.  The unassuming location, happy people all around and the late afternoon sun will make for a great tasting experience.  Sit inside next to the window if you are chilly or on the front patio and watch the sun set over Carpenteria City Beach while you enjoy your beer.  The only downside (for lack of better words) to this location is the train that occasionally goes speeding by.  However, one could argue that the train may also be the thing that makes this place so special.  The noise and the momentary obstruction of a sunset is just a small reminder that life could certainly be worse so enjoy the little things like beer.  Also, the tap room seemed to be a family friendly place which is important for fellow mommas and pappas who want to enjoy a beer after a day at the beach. There were little ones all around having fun, eating their delivery or carryout while grown-ups enjoyed their beer and set a good example for responsible alcohol consumption.This week I will be reviewing one of Island Brewing’s cask conditioned ales but before I get into the review I do want to take a few moments to explain cask conditioned ales.  Long ago before stainless steel kegs, before the wide mouth freezer changing logo specially lined aluminum cans and even before bottles there was the wood cask or firkin.  Partially fermented beer was stored in these casks, moved in these casks and served from these casks when the beer had completed fermentation.  Traditionally these casks were kept in the cellar (45 to 55 degrees) and served from a tap in the bar.  The beer is generally pulled up from the cask by beer engine (small hand pump) and poured into your glass.  Today, these casks are usually stainless steel which is much easier to clean and hand pumps are still used but the beer can also be “pushed” with a very low pressure of CO2.  Because a cask conditioned ale is all natural (no pasteurization, no preservatives, no filtering) and stored at a warmer temp the beer continues to mature, theoretically allowing the same beer to change over time.  However, cask ales should be consumed quickly to avoid any “off” flavors or aromas that can develop from overactive yeast or oxidation.  Lastly, because these beers are served warmer and they are not force carbonated there is not as much CO2 in solution so these beers appear to be “flat” to many and especially Budmiloors drinkers.  The lower carbonation level allows the subtle complexities of the malt in these beers to be experienced.

The beer reviewed in this entry is Island Brewing’s Pumpkin Cask Conditioned Ale.  Whenever I see a cask conditioned ale I always give it a try, even when it has Pumpkin in the title.  My trepidation with fruit or spiced beers is that I want a beer not a slice of pie or berry jam or even a vanilla bean.  Too many times when there is fruit or spice mentioned in the name of a beer then you can expect the beer to be, say, a liquefied piece of pumpkin pie first with some carbonation.  This beer from Island Brewing is NOT that!  Pumpkin Cask Conditioned Ale is a beer first although it does need a shorter name.  My beer was poured with a small white head that left a wonderful lacy pattern on the glass.  It was an opaque (remember it was unfiltered and so there are all kinds of goodies and good for yous suspended in this beer) straw colored ale.  There was just a hint of pumpkin in the aroma covering up an even more distant hop aroma. I discovered on my initial drink a warm (comparatively), smooth and malty beer.  Exhaling after the drink a light pumpkin vapor (not pumpkin pie spice) followed that persisted throughout the beer to remind me that there was something special in this beer. I would order this beer again.

Now, it’s time for me to come clean.  I wasn’t always a fan of cask conditioned beers.  It took awhile and some persistence but mostly because I think we have been so brainwashed that beer should be COLD and FIZZY by bikini clad ladies that it is/may be hard to enjoy a cask conditioned ale right away. However, this would be a good introductory cask beer for anyone. It is full of malty goodness and low to medium body so it won’t fill you up.  If you don’t care for cask ales at first I encourage you to continue trying them when you can and hopefully you will be begin to appreciate if not enjoy this special beer style.