Damn it Jim! I’m a Cask! Not a Randall!

It’s not often I drag out a soap box

Noooooo…

Thank you…and voice some harshness towards something in the beer world that has me scratching my head.  No, I’ve kind of taken a “live and let live” approach as I see the craft beer scene explode with all kinds of fad-type, crazed hysteria that a new boy band would covet.

I believe the craft beer scene has gotten old enough where a generation gap has formed and I’ve likened these trends to the requisite argument most parents have with their children about their taste in music.  Let’s face it, if you’re a father most likely your kid’s music “stinks”, “isn’t music”, and “couldn’t hold a candle to the bands I grew up with”.  And if you’re a kid, your parent’s music is “out dated”, “elevator music”, and “belongs on an oldies station”.  The young beer crowd is jumping into things like overly hopped beers, randalls, beer cocktails, and high ABV, while I believe that a well crafted 4.2% bitter blows all that stuff out of the water.  I’m just not interested in spending the energy to argue the point (and in truth, it’s not ALL bad).

After all if I tell my daughter that the Beatles were WAY better than that Katy Perry stuff she listens to, well it’s hard for her to accept that considering she’s watching Katy break record after record held by the fab four (for the record, my daughter likes the Beatles over Ms Perry).  So if I say that the new beer to hit the scene is unbalanced and doesn’t have the malt to support its hop, but everyone is falling in love with it, who’s right?   Like Jimmy Buffett sang, “I’m just an old man, I’ll probably get sore….”

But something happened this week that caused me to actually go downstairs and pull the soapbox up from the basement.  So if you’ll permit me…

[SOAPBOX] Beer lovers, brewers, and pub denizens, why in the name of God (or whoever) are you insisting on trying turning a cask into a randall!

Cask beer is in my mind one of the greatest achievements in beer.  At its purest, cask beer is unfiltered, unpasteurised ale that gets what carbonation it has from a secondary fermentation in the cask.  As beer is drawn off the cask, air replaces it and comes in contact with the beer unless a blanket of CO2 is entered into the cask to push the air out.  This causes the beer to change over the course of the cask, as more beer gets pulled out and more air goes in.

In England, enjoying the subtle changes in the beer this process creates is part of the real enjoyment of cask, or real, ale.  And indeed, when cask beer first started making its way over to the US, there was a little bit of that, but Americans tend not to stop at their local “pub” as often as the British, so some of that charm was lost over here.  But that didn’t mean you couldn’t enjoy the differences that cask beer offer verse their kegged brethren.  And most people did.  But apparently that wasn’t enough.

Not to long ago the guys over at Two Stones Pub went to Maryland based brewery Heavy Seas to “get a cask”.  Apparently Heavy Seas has a program where you can arrange for a cask of their beer, and they’ll gladly put just about anything in it you want, kinda like ordering oreos, gummy bears and reese’s cup in your Marble Slab Creamery ice cream.  When they posted pictures from their trip, this is what caught me eye:

The Picture was Captioned : Cask Flavors Table

Really?  Cask flavors?  What the hell?  I’ve got fewer ingredients than this in my pantry. Heck, I think there are fewer ingredients than this in the pantry of Food Network’s “Chopped”!   Now I will state as a bit of a back off that I don’t have as much of an issue if you’re going to throw some hops in the beer.  Dry hopping in the cask is not unknown.  But to me, some of this stuff is just off the wall.

Then this week it came to my attention that local bar Tyler Fitzgeralds had also gone down to Heavy Seas (apparently they’re big enablers in this trend) and put together a cask.  Here is their Facebook announcement:

They managed to throw everything in there they could. Even a hop variety that to my knowledge doesn’t exist.

Again, what the hell?  That’s almost DFH worthy right there, and I don’t mean that in a good way!  I’m sorry, I don’t get it.  A cask is NOT a randall, and I don’t get why some in the current beer scene seem hell bent in treating it as such.[/SOAPBOX]

Jimmy was right.  I am sore….

Time for another beer.

Ed this is Randall, Randall this is Ed. You two should get along…

Last night I had the pleasure of hanging out with some friends (along with the co-founder of tDoB, Chuck!) at Two Stones Pub in Newark, Delaware for what has become a Wednesday night tradition.  The place was packed (nice business for a Wed) and the beer choices were excellent as usual.  But that’s not what brought us in – it was Randall.

Now Randall isn’t the cook, the beer buyer or the pretty bartender with the sweet smile (but if she was that would be funny), no randall is a little contraption dreamt up by the boys at Dogfish Head.   This little device allows you to infuse any beer from your tap system with anything you want.  And I do mean anything. If you can get it into the first chamber it’s fair game!  From what I have read and  heard the unit started from humble enough beginnings as a way to put an extra hop kick into a beer as it was being poured into the glass.  But beer drinkers being the creative bunch that they are, it wasn’t long before other things began to sneak their way into it.

The system itself seems simple enough (although since you’re dealing with liquid under pressure I’m sure it’s not), the first chamber holds what ever you wish to infuse into your beer while the second chamber gives the infused beer time to settle to reduce foaming when poured.  A cylinder around the second chamber allows ice to be added to keep the beer in it chilled until it is dispensed.  And there’s a filter between to the two chambers – no floaties please!

Randall "the enamel animal" set up at Two Stones Pub

I watched the bartender from my envious vantage point of  “right in front of it” pour several glasses throughout the night and I can tell you that those baristas who make your coffee in the morning had nothing on this guy.  He was working the system like a champ and the rewards were excellent.

Last night was Dogfish Head’s Theobroma (a beer brewed with Aztec cocoa powder and nibs, honey, chilies and annatto) over strawberries, shaved chocolate and vanilla beans creating what Two Stones called “a napoleon” after the popular ice cream trio.  The shaved chocolate really popped the already chocolate tones in the Theobroma and the vanilla seemed to pull everything together.  The strawberries were subtle but there, possibly over powered a bit by the already big brew.  One of the interesting things about the randall is, depending on what you put into it and how well or how quickly it infuses into the beer – the beer can change throughout the night.  The beer you get at 9pm might be completely different from the one you had at 7. Or if your timing is right, order the beer before it is installed and then save it (tough, I know) to compare with the beer coming out of the randall.

Past randall nights at Two Stones have seen:

  • 21st Amendment Hop Crisis over Hawaiian Pinapple and Tahitian Vanilla Beans
  • Victory Brewing Old Horizontal over brandied figs and dates.
  • Dogfish Head Festina Peche over local peaches and (yes, no kidding) Sour Patch Kids.
  • Victory Brewing Golden Monkey over bananas and walnuts.

As you can see you’re only limited by the beer you have on tap, and your own imagination.  So next time you’re  on a pub run, keep an eye out for my buddy randall hanging out around the bar.  And if he’s there forget all that nonsense the commercials used to try and tell you about “not fruiting your beer” and give him a try.  Maybe if you’re lucky after a few beers he’ll tell you how he got his nickname “the enamel animal”.  Oh, and tell him I’ll see him next Wednesday will you? Thanks.

Have you had a beer through a randall before?  And if so, what’s your favorite beer/randall combination?