It’s fairly easy to take an annual event like Cask Days for granted, but since this is the eighth anniversary, I thought I’d show you something pretty neat about the development of the festival. It’s mostly interesting because it mirrors the development of the Ontario beer scene almost directly.
Cask Days starts up. Initial online buzz suggests that there will be 12 casks. This rapidly expands to 21 as brewers realize that they can get in on the action. All of the beers are from Ontario, which is not surprising. Looking at the list, the most adventurous offerings are Scotch Irish Sgt Major and barrel aged versions of Black Oak Nut Brown and Granite Peculiar. There was also a Trafalgar Abbey Ale.
It was pretty representative of what was happening in Ontario at the time. This is to say that while there were some solid offerings from F&M and Wellington and a number of the usual suspects, no one was really breaking any ground, except for the fact that there were a lot of casks in one place. That was novel.
Timeframe: 2 days, 1 session each day
This is where things start to happen. Those shocking new upstarts from Beau’s are in attendance. It’s the first year that homebrewers are involved in the form of Biergotter. It’s also the first time that Dieu Du Ciel is available on cask in Ontario.
In terms of Ontario breweries, it gets slightly more interesting. George Eagleson made a Pear Ginger Oatmeal Stout I wish I had gotten to try (George makes some great stuff when he gets weird.) The event features an Imperial IPA from Scotch Irish and a couple of Imperial Stouts.
While it is getting more interesting, there are still only 25 casks. Clearly, it hasn’t quite caught on yet in the public imagination. You’d still be happy with the lineup today if it were at any other pub.
Timeframe: 1 day, split into 2 sessions
The year mirrors 2005 more closely than 2006. For the first time, a beer from another country is served in the form of Fuller’s ESB. There are 29 casks, but this is partially because there are now more breweries. Grand River makes its debut (worth mentioning because Mill Race Mild is a great cask beer). A solid event, but no one is crushing the ball.
Timeframe: 2 days, split into 4 sessions
Bigger than the previous year by half, we’re back into adventurous territory. Church Key has a Purple Loosestrife Mead, which hits like a hammer and a Tobacco Road version of their Holy Smoke that I remember swilling in some quantity. There are a number of breweries participating for the first time, including Amsterdam, Barley Days and others. Great Lakes is starting to produce a number of casks. Fuller’s remains a constant. 44 casks.
Timeframe: 3 days, split into 5 sessions
This is the first year that the branding takes on its now iconic look, which is due to the design expertise of Tomas Morana (seriously, go back and look at the event materials over the last five years and tell me the guy hasn’t developed a unique style.) No longer content with merely having some casks on a patio on the weekend, Cask Days stretches to a week. While the main event still takes place Friday-Sunday, there is a pregame event throughout the week with 22 casks and a Thursday night recap of the first IPA Challenge. This brings the total number of casks to 72.
The selection has grown to the point that it now has to be separated on the patio into Ontario regions. While there are many highlights from Ontario, the key feature is the addition of casks from Benelux, Dieu Du Ciel and Hopfenstark (with Fred in attendance, looking a bit swashbuckler-y.)
Timeframe: Oct 26-Nov 2
No longer content with a single week, Cask Days expands to a month long moveable feast which roams from Vankleek Hill to Cambridge. The pre-event features 19 casks in the English style. The Thursday features the two previous winners of the IPA challenge. The main event features 53 casks.
High on their success as a nanobrewery, Volo has 8 beers (this was before the House Ales branding) all of which are more interesting than anything offered in 2005. In addition, there are now five participating Quebec breweries. The highlight is Mike Lackey’s Triple IPA, which I seem to remember being called Tennish Anyone. My friend Vanessa threatens him with violence if he doesn’t brew it again.
Timeframe: Oct 1- Nov 1
No longer content with the space available at Bar Volo, Cask Days relocates to Hart House, which is a much larger venue, capable of holding something like 500 people. More breweries than ever before take part as a result of the increased space.
The pre-event lineup during the week has 19 casks and six Fuller’s beers are featured on the Friday night. The country is represented from coast to coast, making this the first truly national beer festival. Quebec ‘s section has expanded to include almost as many beers as the entirety of 2005’s entire festival. Fuller’s has a booth of their own, as does Niagara College.
The total number of beers available exceeds 100
No longer content with the space available at Hart House, Cask Days relocates to The Brickworks, which is a much larger venue, capable of holding a small army.
The pre-event lineup is legitimately the size of the 2005 version of cask days. Half Pints has its own event on Thursday night (Humulus Ludicrous, people. Go get it.) The main event features 110 casks from across the country including three gluten free options. There is an entire section for Pumpkin beers. There is an entire section for Collaboration beers. Authors will be signing books. There will be DJs. At this point, it’s a face-painting booth away from graduating from beer fest to carnival
Total number of casks is 132
Look at this graph:
Cask Days has average growth of about a third (1.32011) since it started in 2005. This means, if I am extrapolating correctly, that by the year 2017 Cask Days will last the entire season of autumn, feature 544 casks including some from upstart brewers in Venezuela, and will take place in the newly annexed borough of Morana Downs (formerly East York).
I, for one, welcome our new Cask beer overlords. If you haven’t bought a ticket for this year’s event yet, you should. You want to stay on Ralph’s good side.