No surprises at Cask Fest this year. Well, okay, maybe a few.

It’s no surprise that the Washington Cask Beer Festival, held Saturday at Seattle Center, was the biggest ever. More people, more breweries, and more beer. Each year it just gets better and better, and this year that trend continued. There were two sold out sessions, one in the afternoon and the other in the evening. We attended the first session only, which was packed to capacity as expected. No surprise.

On Sunday, Lisa Miyashita, Marketing Director for the Washington Beer Commission, told us, “This year’s event was the biggest Cask Fest in a few ways. About 1,500 people attended the festival which is just slightly up from last year and is the room’s capacity. There were 37 breweries, up from 34 last year. There were about 90 different beers, up from about 70 last year.”

Washington Cask Beer Festival crowd
Seattle Center's Fischer Pavillion at capacity.

Lisa also commented on the changing nature of the beers at Cask Fest, acknowledging the remarkable fact that each brewery brought two or three different beers. Some even brought more. “You might recall that until four or five years ago each brewery brought only one style, so that’s a pretty big jump. I personally like letting the brewers bring multiple styles so they can bring more traditional styles (some say they are more appropriate for cask) and crazy, funky ones too.”

Nothing shocking, just good beer

For those of you new to the Washington beer festival scene, let me clue you in to something. The most popular beer at any given beer festival is often a beer produced by a new brewery. Highly-creative, funky beers also tend to do well at these events. In that way, it was not surprising that Black Raven Brewing and Fremont Brewing were the buzz of the day at Cask Fest this year. Both are pretty new breweries on the scene and both of them funked it up pretty good for this event.

Washington Cask Beer Festival, Black Raven Brewing
There was still a line when the cask went dry. (Andy Lapworth, Black Raven Brewing.)

In no way do I mean to belittle the brewers, the beers they brought, or the fest-goers who fill the ballot boxes with People’s Choice votes. At any beer festival the geekiest of us look for new and interesting brews. It is what makes it a more entertaining experience for those of us who sample a lot of suds. Furthermore, I think that maybe these younger breweries have a stronger tendency to really stick there necks out and serve up something daring at festivals. They want to knock our socks off. It’s a risk and reward thing.

Whatever the case, it is not surprising that two of Washington’s newest breweries all but dominated the People’s Choice awards with funky beers. It’s a pretty consistent theme at beer festivals. (Complete People’s Choice results are below.)

washington cask beer festival
That's Kim (Mrs. Beer Blog) with Chris Miller from Snipes Mountain Brewing.

A few surprises

  • Surprise One: We volunteered as part of the setup and check-in crew this year. It is surprising how early people show up and get in line. We noticed them earlier, but I believe it was 10:30 a.m. when we realized that the people hanging around outside were actually the beginning of the line. Also, we were surprised how intimidating it is to be on the inside of those glass doors at 12:00 when there are 750 thirsty people outside clamoring to get in. Although some people in line griped a little bit about the process, you have no idea what a great job the festival organizers do putting on these events. I applaud everyone who helped make this happen. Lisa Miyashita, Eric Radovich, and their entire crew deserve a lot more credit than they get.
  • Surprise Two: Silver City Brewing had one of the most sought after beers of the day. At the first session, I think that the Silver City WTF (Wild Tart Fat) Sour Scotch Ale was the first beer to go missing in action. They ended up taking home third place in the People’s Choice voting for the first session. Silver City has been on the scene for a long time. I cannot remember the last time that they were the subject of this much buzz at one of the brew fests. Cheers to Don Spencer and his crew at Silver City Brewing!
  • Surprise Three: There was a line at the Redhook booth. Yep, you heard me. I would like to believe that the public’s interest in Redhook’s two offerings (Big Ballard Imperial IPA and 841 Strong Ale) was all due to the flattering article I wrote about those beers on Friday, but I know better. As a Washington native, it just makes me feel good to know that Redhook is pumping out great beer. Not surprising that, but the line at the booth caught me off guard.
  • Surprise Four: Oh my God you people are nuts for cask beer! Back in 2003, I wrote a story about a new trend that was just emerging around Seattle (read it here). It’s like opening a time capsule, for sure. I’m surprised that we’ve come so far. This year there were 90 different beers at Cask Fest. That’s an amazing number.
  • Surprise Five: We are not alone. As one of the official ticket-takers, I had access to the will call list. When I first looked at it, I thought there was a misprint. One person bought 45 tickets. She came all the way from Canada and she brought 44 fellow members of CAMRA Vancouver with her. The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) started in England back in the 70s and how has firmly planted its flag on North American soil. Cheers to that, eh.

People’s Choice

Session 1
1st Place: Black Raven Wisdom Seeker Double IPA
2nd Place: Black Raven Jerked Brown Spiced Scotch (said Porter in the program, but they brought a Scotch instead)
3rd Place: Silver City WTF

Session 2
1st Place: Fremont Brewing Totonac Bbomb Barrel-Aged Strong Ale
2nd Place: Black Raven Wisdom Seeker Double IPA
3rd Place: Big Al Sourlicious

More photos

washington cask beer festival

washington cask beer festival

washington cask beer festival

washington cask beer festival

washington cask beer festival

 

washington cask beer festival
Gird thy liver. Seattle Beer Week approaches (May 13-23)

 

washington cask beer festival

so it’s not surprising that this was the biggest Cask Fest ever.


Cheers to our sponsors, like...

4 comments

  1. We were pleased that the event organisers had taken to heart the ire that last year’s door fiasco evoked, and had so very much improved on that experience for the 2010 event.

    But I can think of one big nasty surprise – the change to token format – a change that was not mentioned on the event web site or posters. (Yes, they had tickets/tokens last year, but you could get extras for no fee). It was also disappointing that so many of the beers (including the so-called “exclusive WABL beer”) were available elsewhere, often even before the event.

    The stars of the show for me (in alphabetical order, not order of preference) were:
    Big Al Sourlicious Sour Beer
    Black Raven Jerked Scotch Ale
    Elliott Bay’s Tabasco Stout
    Silver City’s WTF

  2. We were pleased that the event organisers had taken to heart the ire that last year’s door fiasco evoked, and had so very much improved on that experience for the 2010 event.

    But I can think of one big nasty surprise – the change to token format – a change that was not mentioned on the event web site or posters. (Yes, they had tickets/tokens last year, but you could get extras for no fee). It was also disappointing that so many of the beers (including the so-called “exclusive WABL beer”) were available elsewhere, often even before the event.

    The stars of the show for me (in alphabetical order, not order of preference) were:
    Big Al Sourlicious Sour Beer
    Black Raven Jerked Scotch Ale
    Elliott Bay’s Tabasco Stout
    Silver City’s WTF

  3. While the door situation was much improved from last year, I thought WABL members got certain extras – such as early entry or entry first? They did that last year if you were in the WABL line.

    This year, both lines went at the same time – through two different doors.

    Minor gripe is all….

    Kudos on the free H2O though!!!

  4. While the door situation was much improved from last year, I thought WABL members got certain extras – such as early entry or entry first? They did that last year if you were in the WABL line.

    This year, both lines went at the same time – through two different doors.

    Minor gripe is all….

    Kudos on the free H2O though!!!

Comments are closed.