Back before I swirled, sniffed and savored every sip of my beer, some of my close friends and I frequented Karl Strauss Brewing Company’s Sorrento Mesa brewery restaurant (9675 Scranton Road, Sorrento Mesa). Back then, I would order taster flights to try as many of their seasonal or non-bottled offerings while my buddies would do pint after pint of Amber Lager or Red Trolley Ale. It was there I had the first local versions of beer styles like dopplebock and saison. I thought it was very cool that, although many of the beers tasted quite similar, Karl Strauss offered so many different brews and types I hadn’t seen on tap around town.
One night, between our second and third beers, a member of the restaurant’s staff summoned the attention of the packed house on the outdoor patio and announced it was time to tap the firkin. A confused look overtook my drinking buddies’ faces. I explained to them that a firkin was a Dutch term to describe beer casks. At that point, they asked me what a cask was. Quite pleased with myself, I explained casks are wooden vessels into which unfiltered beers are funneled and left to ferment, often with additional ingredients that impart unique flavors. Samples of beer served from the freshly tapped firkin were passed around and my friends gained an instant appreciation for cask-conditioned beers.
Over the years since that first encounter with Uncle Karl’s firkin, cask-conditioned brews have become more and more popular in San Diego. Numerous bars and restaurants are equipped to accommodate casks, enough so that Pizza Port’s Real Ale Festival, an annual celebration featuring dozens of casks, was discontinued when organizers deemed it no longer necessary. Even with casks embraced, Karl Strauss remains at the forefront in this realm. Last month, they announced the introduction of a line of bottled beers dubbed the “Cask Series.”
Sold in 22-ounce bottles, the Cask Series was developed to introduce specialty beers served from firkins at Karl Strauss’ restaurants to consumers throughout their distribution line. In the future, this may include Karl Strauss’ Big Barrel Double IPA with fresh green chilies or Red Trolley with Grand Marnier orange peels. Right now, the first batch from the Cask Series—barrel-aged Wreck Alley Imperial Stout—is on store shelves. Brewed with cold-steeped Ethiopian coffee roasted at Bird Rock Coffee Roasters and cocoa nibs from San Francisco’s TCHO, the beer has been aged in Bourbon whiskey barrels procured from Heaven Hill Distillery and comes in at 10% ABV.
The original Wreck Alley is one of the best beers Karl Strauss has produced in the past few years, so this barrel-aged version should be as good if not better. Aside from high odds on the brew’s tastiness, it’s nice to see the company that’s been tapping firkins for years harnessing this strength and bringing it to more of the beer-drinking public.