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It's the end of an era. An era of scarcity for drinkers in search of cask beer. Referred to in the brewing industry as "real ale," unfiltered, unpasteurized beers that are conditioned in and served from wooden barrels used to be very hard to come by up until several short years ago.

The lack of cask beer offerings around town inspired former Pizza Port brewers, Tom Nickel (now owner and head brewer at Julian Brewing Company) and Tomme Arthur (now director of brewery operations at The Lost Abbey), to set up a festival devoted to serving as many casks as they could get their paws on.

The first Pizza Port Real Ale Festival was held in 1998. Since then, Nickel has continued to work with Arthur and fellow former Pizza Porter Jeff Bagby (currently consulting as he looks for a site at which to open his own brewpub) to up the number of casks and fine beers within them each year.

Now, with the 15th annual Real Ale Festival staring down the barrel at him, Nickel has decided its time to retire this brewfest. Not because he's tired.

This constantly busy co-owner of three pubs and a brewery, and organizer of multiple local beer festivals has been winning the war against exhaustion for some time.

No, the Real Ale Festival is being nixed for the best of reasons - San Diego's scene features so much cask beer that there's no longer a need to create a once-a-year place to enjoy it.

Dozens of bars and restaurants keep it real by carrying special oak-contained beers on a regular basis.

Still, this annual event was a big step in educating the public about an important slice of the craft beer pie that, for way too long, was but a hardly visible sliver hardly worth digging into. Parting will be sweet sorrow, but also a lot of fun.

The 15th and final Real Ale Festival will take place 4 to 11 p.m. on April 13 and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on April 14 at Pizza Port's Carlsbad brewpub located at 571 Carlsbad Village Drive.

Tickets for either session are $30 and include eight four-ounce tasters. Additional tasters will be available for a dollar each. There is also a VIP session featuring special beers from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 13. Tickets for the VIP session are $40 and can be purchased at www.ticketderby.com.

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