There was no game at Chicago's Wrigley Field the last weekend in March, but inside the brick walls of nearby Goose Island Wrigleyville the home team was giving 1600 fans what they wanted, Real Beer. It came in firkins of one size and it came in bottles of all sizes. It came "alive", ready to serve directly from the vessel it was naturally carbonated in. With surroundings of colorful murals depicting America's second favorite pastime, the impressive collection of cask-conditioned ales stood beckoning appreciative beer lovers. Assembled in rows on open racks, the temperature-jacketed firkins laid poised to bring forth four-ounce samples of delight, propelled only by the natural force of gravity. A few dozen manually operated "beer engines" used a slow pull on their decorated white ceramic handles to pump out a bubbling spray of cellar-temperature ale.
Now in its fourth year, the Real Ale Festival (RAF) has become America's premiere event for showcasing U.S. bottle- and cask-conditioned beers. Attendees even got to contrast these American craft brews with some well-respected British cask ales. Ten distinct styles of cask ale were accompanied by five groups of bottle-conditioned beer to offer the crowd a broad sensory experience. Custom refrigeration equipment, along with some early morning ice packs, held the beer at cellar temperature even as Chicago experienced late spring temperatures in the high sixties. The volunteers from the Chicago Beer Society and others from across the country once again acted as a knowledgeable team, dispensing beer and background information on the "brews under test." Finances are always a serious concern for such a specialized event and only through the assistance of host Goose Island Brewing Company and corporate sponsors like Crisp Malting, Brewin' Beagle and Wyeast Laboratories is the Real Ale Festival able to continue and enhance its offerings. This year nearly two dozen homebrewers submitted 19 beers for the tasting pleasure of RAF organizers and contributors. Voted most popular by that knowledgeable crowd were the beers from: Scott Boeke - Old No. 34 Barley Wine, Art Beall - BS XXX Bitter Strong/Pale Ale and Jeff Sparrow - Kentish Upstart Strong Bitter/Pale Ale. Look for a repeat of this popular event at next year's festival.
A Great Firkin Beer Festival, the RAF is the largest cask ale event outside of Great Britain. Organized by Ray Daniels, this event doesn't strive to overshadow other American "real ale" events but actually encourages and supports them. Specialized equipment is made available to clubs and other organizers of events that seek to bring this new dimension of beer to the tasting public. This year 81 American brewers entered beers in the National Real Ale Competition. The public got a chance to sample over 200 brands of beer; 11 cask British, 55 bottle-conditioned American and the remainder cask American. Look for even broader participation from micros and brewpubs across the country next year as the Real Ale Festival solidifies its reputation as a world class event for cask ale. Mark your calendars for March 1 through 3, 2001 at Goose Island Wrigleyville, Chicago, Illinois.
Real Ale Festival 2000
Goose Island Wrigleyville
Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - March 2000
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