There’s more than one way to enjoy a beer. This week I tried the same beer ways: Boxcar’s Endless IPA served on cask at the taproom, then again from the can at home. Endless is suitable for vegans and contains gluten.
What’s the best way to serve a beer?
For some, the answer is obvious. CAMRA will tell you it’s all about cask conditioned real ale, served cellar cool and ideally in a dimple mug. A gentleman with unusual facial hair and a predilection for German techno music might insist on drinking from a mason jar.
I remain undecided. Which is why I jumped at the chance to taste the same beer served two different ways to see exactly what all the fuss is about.
Endless is a heavily hopped IPA.
It’s not the sort of beer you might expect to see on cask. Normally that position is reserved for far more traditional styles of beer: a best bitter or a porter, for instance. With a whopping 20 grams of hops per litre of liquid, Endless is anything but traditional.
It comes from Boxcar, which regulars on the blog will recognise from before. Their offerings range from older beer styles such as dark mild and golden ales, right through to experiments with brand new hop varieties. They’ve kept busy through lockdown, and now their taproom is open again serving eight beers on draft and a brand new hand pump for a rotating cask beer.
By that I mean the beers change every so often. Though perhaps the cask is on a turntable.
The case for cask
Serving cask beer is difficult. Keeping live beer happy means the temperature needs to be kept in delicate balance. Each new cask needs time to settle, which means changing barrels can take hours of patient waiting.
The reward for that careful work is a living, changing beer whose character evolves as the day goes on.
But it’s not just about the beer itself. Part of the beauty of cask ale is what it tells you about where you’re drinking it. That care and attention to detail needed to keep cask beer well carries across to the service and surroundings you’re likely to get too. It’s more likely the person serving you has a great understanding of beer, which means they’ll be better able to guide you to the best drink to try next.
Served in a tall, glass tankard, Endless looks gorgeous: pale orange and hazey with a thick, fluffy head. The aroma is fruity and complex, mixing sweet nectarine, white grape, and the barest hint of red berries.
The vanilla, apricot, and orange on the palate make this beer almost sickly sweet. That effect is intensified by the thick mouthfeel and low carbonation. Dry, peach skin bitterness helps balance the flavours on the finish.
It’s a lovely beer. I’m very grateful that I’m able to try this beer on cask for the first time. But deep down, I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll prefer the can I’ve bought to bring home.
The case for cans
Cans are much easier.
That’s not to say canning beers is simple or cheap – a quick search suggests the machinery you need to seal beer cans at scale costs several thousand pounds. But having made that initial investment, getting the beer from fermenter into cans and then into drinkers’ hands is a pretty simple process.
For the most part, cans are single servings. At the very least, you wouldn’t expect to leave a can half full planning to finish it off the next day. That means whenever you crack open a can you can be fairly confident it’s at its freshest. Cask beer is alive and unpredictable; canned beer is immutable and reliable.
Endless looks very similar whether its poured from a cask or a can. But the aroma is completely different: syrupy pineapple and orange juice dominate, while the white grape and apricot so prominent in the cask beer took a back seat.
Those orange and pineapple notes continue to lead on the palate, supported with a little vanilla and grassy dankness. The carbonation is much stronger in the canned beer, a much better foil to the wheaty, oaty mouthfeel and vanilla sweetness.
On balance, I prefer Boxcar’s Endless IPA served from a can. The beer retains its carbonation better, which balances nicely with its sweetness. Served from cask it’s a very different beer, but left unchecked the sweetness was a little overwhelming.
But that’s just for this particular beer. For other styles the cask treatment may well be far superior. I’m especially looking forward to when the time comes to try cask-conditioned Dark Mild.
This was a fun experiment, and one I’d like to repeat. Did you find this comparison useful or interesting? Are there more beers you think I should try served on cask vs from a can or bottle? Let me know in the comments below!