“Cask ale is also known as real ale, cask-conditioned beer, or ‘hand-pulled’ beer. We like to call it the ‘craft beer of craft beer.’ It differs from conventional draft or keg beer in that it’s alive. That is to say, it is not filtered or pasteurized in any way, so it contains live, active yeast that have been left to ferment and mature the beer naturally. This process results in a gentle, natural carbonation and complex, delicate flavors that simply don’t exist in filtered keg beer.”  – Ashley’s 2013 Cask Ale Festival Program

This past Saturday marked the sixth annual Michigan Cask Ale Festival at Ashley’s in Westland.

Ashley’s created the festival a few years ago to showcase this unique kind of beer, and it has continued to grow ever since. The event is the largest of its kind anywhere in Michigan, and this year’s installment was likely the best yet thanks to the 32 different casks — courtesy of 26 different brewers.

Festival attendees were greeted with plentiful sunshine and temperatures in the mid-60s — conditions which played a rather significant role this year, as it was the first time the ales were dispensed entirely outdoors. The grassy area of property adjacent to the Ashley’s building played host and featured a main tent (with seating and live music) along with ten different tables where the various casks were tapped and poured.

Before the actual event got underway, brewers and members of the press were once again invited to arrive early and participate in a ‘meet & greet’ hosted by Ashley’s co-owner Roy More. This provided a great opportunity to catch-up, talk about the participating cask ales and also receive a pleasant “atta boy!” from Roy via his trademark pep talk from atop a barstool.

At noon, the gates were opened to the ticket-holding public, who began lining up outside well in advance. Soon afterwards, you could hear the joyous sound of mallets tapping the first five firkins and the event was officially underway.  New casks were then individually tapped every 10-15 minutes in order to help preserve freshness.

The quality and variety of beer this year was truly remarkable, and ran the gamut from imperial IPA to cask cider.  Of particular note was Short’s Admiral Ashley’s Imperial Fugglelicious Ale, a beer brewed especially for Ashley’s to commemorate their 30th Anniversary.

Other Michigan breweries participating included:

  • Arbor Brewing
  • Arcadia Ales
  • Bell’s Brewery
  • Brewery Vivant
  • Dragonmead
  • Founders Brewing Co.
  • Greenbush Brewing
  • Kuhnhenn Brewing
  • Liberty Street Brewing Company
  • The Livery
  • Midland Brewing Company
  • New Holland Brewing
  • Northville Winery
  • Saugatuck Brewing Company

In honor of the event coinciding with National Homebrew Day, two different homebrewed casks were also available for sampling. Matt Cole’s Double Dry Hop Head Hunter made the trip up from Ohio, while Michigan was represented by the Brendan Williamson Summer Nort’ Belgian Spring Ale.

This year’s Michigan Cask Ale Festival featured fantastic weather, great live music, a bunch of great beer-loving people and a whole lotta firkins of extraordinary craft brew. All in all, if you could think of a better way to spend a spring afternoon, I’d love to hear it.