Last week, I had the opportunity to try one of the greatest American India Pale Ales on the market in three different formats. Bottle, keg and cask. I'll explain the difference on those last two in a moment.
Firestone Walker Brewing Company began in the mid-1990's on a vineyard in Santa Barbara, California before purchasing an old brewery in Paso Robles. Their Union Jack is an India Pale Ale, which is basically a hopped-up version of a classic British Pale Ale. Back in the day, those wacky Brits would add more hops to their beers to survive the trip to India and the Far East. Because hops act as a type of preservative, ya see. The resulting brew is bitter and has a complex fruit aroma that will remind you of pineapples, citrus and maybe banana. Depends on the nose and the actual brew.
This particular IPA has a huge pineapple aroma from all those hops. The best IPAs have all the bitterness and citrus character from the hops, but a delicate balance of malt in the background. And Union Jack is one of those great IPAs. Especially considering the somewhat high alcohol content of 7.50% ABV. Surprisingly drinkable for all that alcohol. Bordering on dangerous.
So I've tried it in the bottle (delicious) and on draft, but the other day we also got to try it in a cask. That's old-school brewing. No pasteurization or added carbonation. It's all conditioned and fermented in a cask and served in that same vessel. You pop a spigot in the front and let the active yeasts control the carbonation and gravity assist with the pour. Read more about cask ale here, if you are interested.
I could definitely tell it was the same IPA that I loved in the bottle and on draft, but the lack of added carbonation made it seem sweeter to the tongue. I don't think that it actually was, but the bitterness seemed to be a bit higher in the carbonated keg or bottle format. It's all about mouth feel at that point, I guess.
Either way, this is a sold IPA and a must for anyone who truly loves hoppy brews. It's mostly available on the West Coast, and I've heard rumors that they may want to slow their expansion East. But if you can get your hands on it and you like IPAs, then go for it!