Thursday, October 8, 2009

On Cask: Two Brothers Heavy Handed IPA

Smoke Daddy, a small Chicago BBQ/Bar joint, had a special tapping last Tuesday. They had scored a "pin" cask (5.4 gallons) of Heavy Handed IPA. Cask beer is also called "Real Ale" - because before the days of being able to force-carbonate beer with CO2, beer was naturally carbonated in the cask by adding some sugar to the still active yeast, and allowing the beer to undergo a secondary fermentation inside the cask. CO2 is released during fermentation, which was mostly trapped in the cask - thus carbonating the beer inside (this is a very simplified version of what really happens, it's similar to bottle-conditioned beer). Cask beer has a much different mouthfeel to it - it's creamier, and the flavors are more rounded, and tend to blend together. It's "soft" - for lack of a better word, and served warmer than typical beers. I find strong, hoppy beers to be especially good on cask because the flavors transform in very interesting ways.

Anyways, being cask beer fiends, Meg and I were sure to be there - here's a picture of the cute little pin-cask:

We landed a table, and promptly ordered 2 glasses.

Notice the creamy white foam on top - it's lovely and a sure sign of cask ale. The first taste - yummers. Smelled great too. The beer went well with our dinner (Smoke Daddy has awesome pulled pork sandwiches, and great sides like mac n' cheese, pork 'n beans, even the slaw is great. Our friends had a good looking veggie burger.) A Two Brothers rep was there, and provided us with samples of the bottled version or this beer (which is force-carbonated) - it was very interesting to compare the beers side-by-side, you can really see how the cask rounds the edges and blends the flavors.

I ordered a second beer, and sort of wished I didn't. Many IPAs use Caramel (or Crystal) malt. This is a a sweet malt that adds to the body and head-retention of the beer, as well as color and sweetness. IPAs use it to balance out the hop-blast. I don't like it much, and when I use it in my own brews, I like to barely notice it. On my second glass, all the sweetness seemed to start building up in my mouth, so I didn't taste much else. IPAs need to be all about the hops, and this beer left me wanting more hops and less sweetness.*

*As a general disclosure, I tend to prefer Two Brothers' darker beers, like their Northwind Imperial Stout (available November through February) and Red Eye porter (coming in February).

If you're interested in learning more about cask beers, here are some great resources:


  1. I agree with the overuse of crystal/caramel malts in IPAs. I have really had a "lupilin" shift in my preference for beers the last 8 months to a year or so. I am working on a hop bomb recipe where the grist is 98% 2 row, 2 % crystal 120L. I am now trying to figure out how to layer hops in the brew. Nice blog by the way, I am glad you followed mine because it resulted in me finding yours. Cheers.

  2. Cheers hopshead - I'm looking at brewing Jamil's "Hoppiness is an IPA" recipe, but am having 2nd thoughts because it's like 10% crystal. But it does mash at 149F, so I'm hoping if I do it, much of that will ferment out (and I'll probably cut some the crystal & use more finishing hops anyways).