SweetWater Brewing Co. in Atlanta, GA, held their third annual Brew Your Cask Off festival on Saturday, March 10, outside their expansive and very new brewing facility. Each year, the brewery invites retailers, vendors, beer writers and publishers, homebrewers and charities to make approximately eighty casks, with the help of SweetWater’s brewers, using their own ingredients and a SweetWater base beer. SweetWater brewers also make their own casks for the event, which brought the total number of casks to 130 this year. I made “Beerfest,” All About Beer Magazine‘s cask, a few weeks ago before the brewery’s 15th anniversary party with head brewer Nick Nock.
I made the trip to Atlanta (again) to hang out over a few beers with the good folks at SweetWater, including its Minister of Propaganda, Steve Farace, and Francesca Zeifman, who is behind the brewery’s Libations and Communications. She’s dangerously good at both aspects of her job—I always knew exactly what was going on during the weekend, and my glass never stayed empty for longer than it takes you to say “Exodus Porter, please.”
There were rows and rows of casks with names like “Glazed & Confused,” “Tebow’s Tears,” “In Hops We Trust” and “Drops of Juniper” (Train fan anyone?). Participating civilian brewers showed their creativity in both the cask ales they created and the labels they chose for their libations.
I was fortunate to participate in the festival as a brewer, an attendee and as a judge. I judged the first and final rounds of the casks while sitting among the likes of Reid Ramsey, Founder of Beer Street Journal website and Beverage Project Manager at Tappan Street Restaurant Group (owns Taco Mac) and other Atlanta beer celebrities.
I was also roped into judging the “worst” beers, and some of those first-round beers reappeared. I described one beer as “Ajax-like,” which ended up being appropriate considering the trophy for the worst beer of the festival was a golden toilet seat.
The majority of the beers at Brew Your Cask Off, however, were good. A few of the judges got a taste of Charleston Beer Exchange‘s Nuttin’ Butter before the festival started, and we all had the same surprised reaction to the brown ale with peanut butter, peanut butter extract, raisins, Concord grape juice and lactose. It tasted exactly like those peanut-shaped cookies. Oh, and it also took first place.
All About Beer Magazine‘s “Beerfest” cask, which included Goldings, cinnamon, nutmeg and dextrose wasn’t bad. The spice proportions were right, but the body was a bit too thin. I took notes for next year, and I was happy not to receive that toilet seat.
Perhaps my favorite cask of the festival was “Fred Juice” from The Fred, a speakeasy in the basement of a Taco Mac in Atlanta. Typically, casked IPAs and pale ales feature hops that become too muted when served naturally carbonated and at room to cellar temperature. But the combination of citrus fruits and apricots, delivered in an “aggressively” dry-hopped package of Cascade and Citra, were sublime under what will soon become the hot Georgia sun.
It turns out that enough judges felt the same way that I did because The Fred walked away with second place last weekend. I walked away with my first kiss from the sun of the season in the form of rosy cheeks and a hankering for some Nutter Butters.