About five years ago, O.C.’s most notable beer writer (and an inspiration and mentor for yours truly) Greg Nagel came up with an idea. Imagine a beer festival focusing on cask beers. I’ll admit, I did not think it would work. But after a successful first show in 2014, Firkfest it is the last true and honest beer festival left in Orange County.
There has been an evolution of beer festivals turning into combinations of concerts and sporting events. And further still, aside from a couple of breweries, anniversary parties for breweries are turning into the same type of one-day concerts with “beer tasting” thrown in. They can be a lot of fun, no argument there. However, they are no longer considered “beer festivals” as we remember them. Firkfest is your cask-focused answer for the overcrowded, musical-performance focused, “give me the highest ABV-beer” tasting festivals.
What is a cask? Essentially, it’s a keg that has a to be tapped for dispensing real ale directly from the tap. The most common sizes are called pins (5.4 U.S gallons) and firkins (10.8 U.S gallons). Real ale is defined as: “a beer brewed from traditional ingredients (malted barley, hops, water, and yeast), matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide.” The world wars, taxes, and then the Pilsner shaped the British beer scene. A group of loyal pub-goers took notice and started a campaign to bring back what they eventually coined “real ale.” The Campaign for Real Ale, or CAMRA, was born and has helped revive the tradition of cask-conditioned beers that were basically on their last breath.
Cask ales are generally less carbonated and allow a brewer to get artistic by adding extra ingredients into an existing beer. The set-up is great for brewers: no gas, no extra serving equipment. Aside from the expectation of a “beer engine” (attend to see how one works!), beers are served via gravity directly from the cask. Brewers love how easy it is to set up, and drinkers will enjoy the creative beers. In fact, some beers might become an actual production beer. The Bruery is one example with Sourrento, a Limoncello sour ale first experimented with at the inaugural Firkfest. What beers might turn into a production product this year? Time will tell.
This year’s theme is a fiesta. There will be food vendors making imaginative renditions of nachos for your enjoyment. There will be music, sure. There will be games, of course. Theme or no theme, the cask ales are the focus and the purpose. Be on the look out for some tickling beer names, usually with some form of wordplay on Greg’s name or other general cheekiness. I recently asked Greg if he could be one of the past beers, which would he be. “Probably Tustin Brewing Company’s Dole Hole (IPA with pineapple) a couple years back. That way if some orders it they have a taste of Greg’s Dole … never mind.” Much laughter ensued.
My favorite memory of Firkfest happened a couple of years ago when Bravery’s Pink Lemonade brought me to tears. Aromas of Agua de Jamaica with lime triggered olfactory memories of when my grandma would make some Agua de Jamaica (hibiscus water) and fresh lemonade during the summer. Since a much-younger me didn’t enjoy Agua de Jamaica on its own, my grandma would mix the two drinks for me. Bravery’s Pink Lemonade’s aroma was so comparable to the Jamaica-Lemonade that I heard my grandma’s voice. I had to walk away to cry some happy tears.
That’s what beer is all about: the experience. And that’s the one experience I’ll never forget.
At the Packing House in Anaheim on June 29, this intimate, beer-focused gathering of friends is a great time. Bring a blanket to lay out on the grass. Talk to the brewers and reps. Enjoy some tasty food. Make new friends. Enjoy some creative, expressive, cask ales with some traditional ales in between. Let’s make some memories and get our firk on!
See you there, and cheers!
Editor’s note: Charlie Perez is an Advanced Cicerone® who covers the Orange County beer scene for the Booze Blog.