Holding Out For A Hero
Isn't there a white knight upon a fiery steed?
Late at night I toss and I turn
And I dream of what I need
Cask is dead. Cask is the future. Cask is dead. Cask is the future. Or so we've been hearing over the last 50 years. The latest rival that promised to sound the death knell for cask was evil keg filth. Or craft as its purveors prefer to call it. It was cool, hip, daddio. While cask was old fashioned and for squares. And sold too cheap, apparently, although I'd avoid saying that around Uncle Albert.
Isn't there anyone out there who can save cask from a slow and painful death? Where's the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds? Enter Cloudwater. Who along with Brewdog (they don't count as they seem to be a bit of a joke these days) have gone back to the future and are producing cask once more. This has come as something of a surprise to some crafties who didn't realise that they had ever made the stuff but ho-hum.
Anyway this takes us to the scene of the crime. Manchester on a Monday night. Cloudwater cask being launced at the famous Port St. A chance for newbies to test the hype and a chance for old hands to reacquaint themselves with an old friend. That and the opportunity to pick up some juicy pub and beer gossip. There was a certain symmetry in being at Port St as it was here on a March evening in 2015 that the original Cloudwater launch took place.
First signs were a bit puzzling. Not as busy as you'd expect. The reason soon became apparent. There was only one Cloudwater on despite the publicity that PSBH would be open from 12 selling the full range. And the one that was on; the 5.5% DDH was an eye watering £6.50 a pint. A little rich even for the well heeled patrons of this establishment. Even the staff seemed slightly embarrassed. The 4% Pale duly made an appearance at £4.60 a pint. But by then word had got round that the Knott had the full range on cheaper: so many potential imbibers had already left.
But now to the important bit: the beer. After now having had it in three venues-with no discernible difference in the beer-I think it's fair to pass judgement. Now the original Cloudwater casks were a revelation. As good or better than anything out there. My reviews enthused over the full on hop effect and the deep, bitter, finish that characterised the pales. Would the new lot match up?
The 4% Pale has discernible fruit and bitterness and is a decent option for the dedicated hophead. However, it lacks real crispness and the prickling on the tongue that the best of this type deliver. The general consensus was that it looked and tasted like many other unfined beers: ok but not premier league. The DDH was better. The increase in alcohol and the dry hopping was enough to give a pungent, enticing, aroma and a solid citrus hop kick. However, it was even murkier than the Pale and also lacked real crispness. Opinion was split on if the hit was worth the extra alcohol.
The two dark beers were a whole different kettle of hops. The Brown Ale was treated with caution as it's no one's favourite style and frankly a lot of them are simply poor. This however was a terrific cask interpretation of the American model. Rich, multi-textured and resonating with hop character. A big tick. The India Porter was as good or, indeed, in some ways even better. None of that sweet, cloying, aftertaste that many breweries seem to think a Porter should have. Lovely clean flavours of dark malt balanced by just the right combination of hops. Another winner that drinks lower than its actual strength.
So what's the overall verdict? Well one interesting comment was that it was just like drinking their keg. This was meant as a compliment but it's interesting as for many years the goal was to brew keg that could rival cask. Cloudwater have had to come at it from the opposite end and the result is something of a mixed bag. In a reversal of fortunes, their dark beers are now better than their pales. And whilst the pales didn't seem to gain much from being on cask; the dark beers certainly did and have a claim to be some of the best in their category.
So a rather promising start. But, as always, only time will ultimately deliver the final verdict.