For this month's Session, Simon Johnson of The Reluctant Scooper asks the simple question: Cask, Keg, Can, Bottle: Does dispense matter?.
What do Teletubbies, David Beckham, and Cask Ale have in common? Do I dare say they're three things in held in high acclaim from the United Kingdom which many Americans find quite underwhelming?
Of course, if our friends on the other side of the pond wanted to claim a reasonable microcosm of American society could be found in any episode of The Jerry Springer Show, our national pastime of baseball involves a bizarrely complex set of rules and the players mostly standing around for several minutes at a time only to be interrupted by a second or two of action, and that the only thing sillier than The Teletubbies was American religious conservative leader Jerry Falwell denouncing Teletubbie Tinky Winky as a immoral gay influence, I'd say they've made three excellent points.
Sure I'm being confrontational. But one path to cultural understanding is acknowledging things about our respective cultures the other doesn't understand. The Teletubbies earned lots of awards in the UK for children's television, but like most American parents, I got down on my knees and praised the Lord when my kids outgrew them. David Beckham has hardly set our second-rate soccer league on fire, and owes his notoriety in the United State more to Posh Spice than anything he's done on the soccer field. And when I'm out with family and friends who are genuinely interested in craft beer and cask ale is available, I'm greeted by confused looks and indifference whenever I explain its significance. I've found there's far more interest in the taste and origins of craft beer, than the method of how the beer is stored or dispensed. Usually someone will order a pint from the cask, and when I ask them how they like it, rather than raving about the unique qualities cask conditioning imparts to the beer, the most likely response is a polite, but unenthusiastic "it's nice" to cask conditioned ale.
Yes, all things being equal, I will order something on cask rather than from a keg. But what style beers are available as well as any past experiences I've had with them, combined with what I'm in the mood for, factor far more into my decision on what beer to order than what happens to be on cask, or from a can or bottle for that matter. Perhaps my feelings about cask ale can be summed up from the time I found myself in a brewpub where the beers, in my opinion, were quite ordinary, but the porter happened to be on cask, so I ordered it. The feathery lightness injected into this mediocre porter by the cask conditioning magically and wondrously transformed it into something slightly better than mediocre.
The fact that the Real Cask Ale movement has never really gathered much traction in the United States suggests to me a certain craft beer cultural disconnect between the United Kingdom and the United States echoed in this month's session question. Sure, there are studies indicating sensory differences between beer dispensed by forced carbonation, cask conditioning, bottles, cans and what not, but it seems most Americans are far more focused on the content and origin of the beer, than how it actually gets into the glass. Taking a stab at where this cultural disconnect lies, the American craft brewing community seems more focused on the brewing methods, ingredients, and the American entrepreneurial spirit of the craft brewing industry where home brewers turn their passions into a business. Our friends in the United Kingdom seem to concentrate more on the context of how the beer is consumed and enjoyed, with more focus on pubs and tradition, with this month's Session topic a natural extension of this emphasis.
Which means I'm really not the right person to be answering this month's Session question. I'm afraid a more lucid answer would come from Tinky Winky.