Monday, 1 November 2010

Beer from the Wood


You don't really see it that often these days, but once all beer was served from the wood. Wooden casks that is. A few breweries still do it, the most famous being Sam Smith, but for the most part these hugely heavy casks are gone, most of them sawn into two as planters for flowers, or just broken up as firewood. I remember well when Lees sold beer in wood and when they stopped doing so; only around ten years ago - maybe less. In those days publicans had preferences and when ordering they'd say "no wood" or vice versa and yes, you could tell the difference. I preferred metal myself and it was always a good game at the pub to say to the landlord as you sipped a pint, "Wooden cask this one is it?"

I was prompted to think of this by a reference to the SPBW. Who they I hear you ask? The Society for Preservation of Beers from the Wood still exists and being founded in 1963, pre-dates CAMRA by several years. Today it is largely a social organisation, but its aims are similar to CAMRA, though not identical.

Their logo, featured left and above is rather fetching and if so inclined, you can read more about them here.

"Once they used to brew the beer in barrels made of wood
It made you drunk and boy it tasted fine
But now the beer that's made tastes of fizzy lemonade
Give me cask conditioned bitter every time!"

23 comments:

Velky Al said...

Just down the road from here is Williamsburg Alewerks and you can get a sample of one of their beers served from a wooden cask in their tasting room. I am not sure if the beer is primed, the porter I had was somewhat flat, but the difference in flavour was noticeable. Not sure which I preferred to be honest.

Sid Boggle said...

I can remember seeing SPBW at GBBF when it was at Olympia. Did they give up from cost of stalls, or lack of interest, I wonder?

Tyson said...

A lot of the anti-sparkler resistance within CAMRA came from memebers who were in SPBW. Making them highly suspicious in my book.

RedNev said...

I joined SPBW about 20 years ago at the GBBF in Leeds, but didn't get much out of it, so I let it lapse when renewal came up.

Mark, Real-Ale-Reviews.com said...

I would love some planters made of wooden beer casks

Ed said...

The had a few wooden firkins from Wadsworth's at a brewery I worked at. The were a right pain in the arse to handle and didn't do anything good for the beer.

Simon Johnson said...

I saw their aims and got as far as "To denigrate the manufacture and sale of keg beers" before giving up.

It's one thing to be pro-cask and anti-extraneous fizz, but to be actively anti-keg makes them sound antiquated.

Tandleman said...

Er Simon. They are antiquated. That's their point really. Lighten up for goodness sake.

THOMAS 'Tom' CIZAUSKAS said...

There is an active branch of the SPBW in the US, based in Baltimore, Maryland. Begun in the mid 1990s, it organizes an annual Chesapeake Real Ale Festival. Wood not required, although occasionally used.

Ron Pattinson said...

While in Boston for the Pretty Things KK launch, I got to try the beer in four different forms:

top pressure
handpulled
handpulled through a sparkler
gravity from a wooden cask

It was surprising just how different they were. My preference was for the handpull with sparkler.

Tandleman said...

Ron - More proof. The case is building up.

phil55494 said...

Now that brewers are ageing beer in wooden barrels from whisky and other producers, perhaps the SPBW should be making a comeback.

At the SIBA festival, I saw how much of a change using different sparklers (or none) can make, it was quite surprising I found - I know which one I liked the best and that was how the beers were being served there.

Bailey said...

It's like a dissident real ale consumer group which hasn't signed up to the peace process.

Paul Bailey said...

I had a friend at school who joined the SPBW. Both him and his parents were regular pub-goers, and he knew a lot more about beer and pubs than the rest of us sixth formers.

Glad to hear they're still going, even if Sams are the only brewers still supplying their beer in wooden casks, (a nightmare to clean and sterilise, I gather!).

Simon Johnson said...

But when denigrate keg? Why not accentuate the positive about wooden cask rather than slag off the 'opposition'?

I can understand the historical antipathy to keg and the role that both SPBW and CAMRA have played in the cask revolution, but I think arguments such as keg=bad, wood=good are too simplistic nowadays.

Tandleman said...

Simon. Its what they did in 1963 and they see no need to change I assume. And what Bailey said.

You doubly need to lighten up.

PS - On the keg good argument; the jury is still out on that one.

Cooking Lager said...

All this and no comments about "getting wood" ?

Mark said...

"On the keg good argument; the jury is still out on that one."

Maybe so, if "the jury" = Tandleman!

Tandleman said...

Ha. Not so. the infinitesimal amount of so called "quality" keg just doesn't make for a serious argument. Weren't you with me when we tried the Meantime London Pale in keg? Was it good?

Wishing don't make it so!

The Beer Nut said...

They've always had a stall at Pig's Ear when I've been there. I'm fairly sure leather waistcoats were involved.

Paul Bailey said...

What about aprons and rolled up trousers???

Mark said...

Yeah, I agree with you about the Meantime. To be honest though, that beer almost always disappoints, keg or otherwise.

"the infinitesimal amount of so called 'quality' keg just doesn't make for a serious argument."

The point was around keg being good. Surely it doesn’t matter how many (or how few) kegged beers are good, if some are good then (in some instances) keg = good? Looking back at GBBF this year, I think 90% of those American hoppy beers would've been better from a keg than from a cask.

"Wishing don't make it so!"

It's not a case of wishing. For all I care, beer could be dispensed from a badgers arse, if it tastes better that way then do it! It's not like I prefer keg over cask, I just think kegs suit certain beers more than casks do.

Tandleman said...

I actually agree that for really strong beers - say over 7% then cask isn't always the best option.