At the sold-out Firkfest, on March 21 at Farmer’s Park in Anaheim, SoCal breweries will bring their cask-ale A game, with creative interpretations ranging from hop infusions to local fruit and herb additions. The fest and its lineup are well worth the drive across the Orange Curtain (as long as you already bought your tickets).
Traditionally, cask beer has undergone secondary fermentation in a cask vessel — for example, the 10-gallon firkin from which the festival takes its name. Any carbonation in the unpasteurized, unfiltered beer is a natural byproduct of the yeast and not added carbon dioxide. Compared with keg beer, it can have a more complex flavor and lighter carbonation, and is considered by some to be a finer specimen of draught.
Navigating the lineup of unusual ales might be a little daunting, so here are our recommendations for which L.A.-brewed beers are not to be missed. Taste in order of ascending alcohol content and move fast — last year casks kicked quickly.
Denver Jackhammer DIPA, 9.3% ABV; Beachwood BBQ & Brewing (Long Beach)
This West Coast–style double IPA infused with Chinook hop flowers from Beachwood takes the cake for biggest hop bomb of the fest. The dry-hop lineup will “bulldoze your olfactory senses with aromas of fresh resin, bright tangerines and herbal dankness,” according to the brewery. Consider yourself warned.
Hammerland DIPA, 8.6%; El Segundo Brewing (El Segundo)
Firkfest founder Greg Nagel calls Hammerland an “insta-whale” for its rarity and rising cult status. (“Whales” refer to beers that are sought after and hard to find.) This double IPA brewed with Simcoe and Mosaic hops recently won a coveted first place and best in show at the 15th annual Bistro Double IPA Festival in Hayward. Recently available in bottles, it’s our newest L.A. beer obsession.
Alpha Wolf IPA, 8% ABV; Golden Road Brewing (Los Angeles)
Golden Road takes its core beer, Wolf Among Weeds, and triple dry-hops it to make this palate-busting IPA. With a combination of Columbus, Chinook, Simcoe and Cascade hops, it’s a contender for the most aromatic selection at the fest. Also try Princesa Peach, a Berliner Weisse aged in tequila barrels with peaches.
PhoTonic IPA, 7.3% ABV; Smog City Brewing (Torrance)
Hoptonic IPA gets an exotic makeover with the addition of kaffir lime and Thai basil. Infusions and fruit additions are becoming a specialty hobby for this Torrance brewery, which often embarks on urban foraging adventures to procure citrus. No kumquat tree in the city is off-limits.
Selah Saison, 6.8% ABV; Monkish Brewing (Torrance)
There aren’t many saisons at Firkfest, so trying Monkish’s elegant farmhouse ale with brettanomyces should be a priority. The dry-hopped beer gets even more enticing with an infusion of chamomile and lavender. Shaolin Kick, a take off the brewery’s Shaolin Fist with Sichuan peppercorns, also will be making a reappearance.
Yankee Mick American Brown, 5.3% ABV; MacLeod Ale Company (Van Nuys)
Firkfest is MacLeod’s time to shine, as it’s the only local brewery that exclusively produces traditional British cask ales. Yankee Mick, dry-hopped with Cascade and Chinook hops, is a great beer to start the day and bridges the gap between American and British beer. MacLeod’s will pour six beers.