WESTLAND — “I can’t believe the difference between the two!”
The woman speaking was not alone in her surprise. She was just one of the attendees at an educational seminar demonstrating the more delicate and complex flavors of beer served out of a firkin versus beer served from a conventional draft system. The seminar, led by Certified Cicerone® Annette May, offered a side-by-side comparison of Bell’s Two Hearted Ale and was a part of the Michigan Cask Ale Festival held on Saturday.
For the past eight years Ashley’s Beer & Grill has hosted the festival, which annually attracts hundreds of beer enthusiasts from around the region. This year’s edition marked the largest yet, with more than 40 cask-conditioned ales pouring from several dozen Michigan and out-of-state breweries for the nearly 500 attendees.
“We created this festival to showcase what some aficionados call ‘the craft beer of craft beer,’” said Jeff More, co-owner of Ashley’s. “What makes cask ale so special is it’s not served with extraneous gas like in a conventional tap, but poured right from the vessel it’s fermented in. The result is surprisingly different from what most beer drinkers may be used to.”
More explained large-scale cask events such as this are unusual due to the difficulty inherent in handling the ales, which have a short shelf life, typically lasting no longer than a couple days before they begin to grow stale and undesirable.
“Cask ale is ‘alive’ in the sense that it is unfiltered, with active yeast present naturally carbonating and maturing the beer,” he said. “It requires special handling and has to be served promptly, which is why you see it in relatively fewer places.”
Ashley’s spends months planning for the festival, sending their own firkins to participating breweries, which fill and condition them — usually with specialty or “one-off” beers — before sending them back in time for the event, which is held each year in early May in the enclosed beer garden adjacent to Ashley’s.
Among the featured Michigan breweries and beers were Arbor Brewing (Demetrius Sour Ale and Ryeclops Imperial Rye IPA), Arcadia Ales (Hopmouth Double IPA), Atwater Brewery (Decadent Chocolate Stout), Boatyard Brewing (Rear Admiral Rye Stout), Brewery Vivant (Psychopomp Belgian Strong Dark Ale), Chelsea Alehouse (Hillwalker Scotch Ale), New Holland (Dragon’s Milk Barrel Aged Imperial Stout) and Rochester Mills (Milkshake Stout with Vanilla).
Unique to the festival were a special cask of Founders Mosaic Promise IPA conditioned with raspberries and Thai chilies, Frankenmuth’s Brick Haus Belgian IPA dry-hopped with Citra, Greenbush Retribution Belgian Strong Dark Ale with Honey and Pistachios and Short’s Soft Parade with Vanilla and Lactose.
This year’s festival also included several ciders (from Vander Mill, North Peak, Uncle John’s Cider Mill and the Northville Winery) as well as two homebrewed ales (a Peach Tea Wheat Ale and an Orange Creamsicle Ale). In addition to May’s seminar on the intricacies of cask ale, Vander Mill representative Alexa Seychel conducted an educational session on how cider is made.
For more information, find the Michigan Cask Ale Festival on Facebook or visit micaskale.ashleys.com.

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