Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Pioneers of Beers: ATL Cask Ale Tasting Founder Owen Ogletree

See why the ACAT is one of the best annual beer events in Georgia’s capital.

Owen Ogletree sippin'.Photo courtesy of Owen Ogletree
There’s no mystery that I love featuring fellow beer lovers on this site who are pioneers, brewers, visionaries and simply folks who truly appreciate the craft of brewing. With that being said, I want you to meet Owen Ogletree, one of the main reasons behind Georgia’s growth as a legitimate craft beer supporter and provider. Owen’s a beer writer, a beer traveler who annually hosts kickass beer tours in Europe, a BJCP National beer judge, and the editor for www.Brewtopia.info. And if that’s not enough, he is the founder and director of two beer sippin’ events that sell out every year: the Classic City BrewFest and Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting. With the latter just around the corner (Saturday, January 26th from 3 to 6 pm to be exact), I thought it would be awesome to interview “Double O” and pick his brain regarding casks, why everyone goes crazy over them, and what to expect with the upcoming Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting that will be held at the Prado in Sandy Springs between the patios of 5 SeasonsBrewery and Taco Mac. Trust me, it’s a blast so try and snatch a ticket before it sells out again! You know I will be there!
Without further ado, here’s Owen kicking it with your homey, Ale!

Ale: How did the Cask Ale Tasting start?
Owen Ogletree: I fell in love with cask conditioned ale on my many trips to the UK and made the trek back in the '90s to the Chicago Real Ale Festival. I wanted to introduce cask ales to Georgia, so I purchased some used firkins from a supplier in England and spread these around to local brewers in the Southeast to fill for a small event held in the brewery at SweetWater nine years ago. The event was packed and turned out to be a smash hit.

A cask ale pumped at the Wrecking Bar.
I can dig it. What is the best thing about the Cask Tasting that people love? 
It’s a fun, very social event that allows everyone to taste cask ales that have several special, one-off ingredients or processes. Attendees also enjoy walking from 5 Seasons to Taco Mac and seeing how the casks compare in our different locations.

What are the basic differences with a cask and regular kegs?
Kegged beer is filtered, heat pasteurized and carbonated with artificial CO2 gas; it’s basically "dead" beer. Real ale or cask-conditioned beer is a natural, living product. At the end of fermentation, the beer is not filtered, pasteurized or artificially carbonated. It's placed into casks (called firkins)—often with extra hops for aroma—and delivered in unfinished form to pubs. Here, the beer enjoys a secondary fermentation in a cask that creates a soft carbonation sparkle and wonderful, subtle complexities. In UK pubs, when the yeast has settled, the beer is drawn by a hand-pump attached to a suction pump known as a beer engine. Some pubs without cellars still serve beer straight from the cask using a simple gravity tap. The Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting uses simple gravity taps to serve its real ales.

Yeah, they definitely take pride in serving from the casks in particularly the UK. I had a blast trying them when in London. Places like the Wrecking Bar, 5 Seasons, The Porter, Brick Store and a few others keep it real with the hand pump, but there are still some haters out there. What are some of the misconceptions? 
Some people think that cask ale is warm, murky and flat. Not true. Great cask ales should be served at cool cellar temperatures (around 50 degrees F), be almost clear, and have a soft, natural carbonation that doesn't interfere with the subtle complexities of the malt, hops and fermentation character.

Owen hard at work during
Max Larger's 2012 Homebrew Competition
Which brings us to your awesome event. How has the Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting grown throughout the years?
We've kept ACAT on the small side to allow attendees to have space to relax and enjoy the beers without having to wait in lines. What has grown is the number of casks available. 15 real ales were on tap the first year, and our 2013 event will include almost 40.

Well damn!
Yep! In the beginning, we tried to allow brewers to donate the cask ales as experimental homebrews and allow attendees in for free—with the option of making a donation to the Atlanta Humane Society. Georgia told us that all homebrews must, by law, be consumed in the home, and microbreweries could not allow tasting of beers not made in the brewery. These restrictions forced us to arrange the purchase of all our cask ales through distributors and move ACAT to 5 Seasons Sandy Springs and Taco Mac Prado. I contact the breweries months in advance and ship out empty casks for filling with extra special brews for the event.

There’s always some crazy law hating on brew. Oh well. I still appreciate the dedication. What is the best beer you have ever had at the Cask Ale Tasting and what was the worst?
I love classic beer styles that have been cask conditioned. We had a cask of Heavy Seas Loose Cannon one year that was absolutely amazing— tons of crisp hops, perfect carbonation and clean malt. Yummy! The worst casks are the ones that brewers often put in the firkin too early with too much residual sugar and murky yeast. This does not happen often, but it leads to a very fizzy, foamy, muddy cask ale. Not pleasant.

What can we expect this year?
Almost 40 amazing cask ales from the best craft breweries in the USA and UK. Everything from light golden ales to oak-aged imperial stouts will be up for sampling. In the morning, a team of dedicated beer judges taste all the casks to award prizes that will be announced at the public event.

And the last question I am sure you will love: How can people get tickets?
For tickets and full information, simply head to www.ClassicCityBrew.com/acat.html. We hope to see everyone at ACAT on January 26!

You know I’m in the house! See you there, Double O!
Thanks go out to you, Ale, for taking the time to help spread the joy of cask ale!


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