I might as well quote from that old review, since the definition of "living ale" (another way to refer to "real ale" or "cask ale") hasn't changed in the past three years. "The term describes unpasteurized, unfiltered beers casked while the yeast is still alive," I wrote. "The last bit of fermentation occurs in the vessel, providing a gentle natural carbonation, and the addition of 'finings' (often isinglass, a collagen made from the dried swim bladders of fish, though there are vegetarian options like alginate and activated carbon) helps draw the spent yeast into a mass at the bottom of the cask so the beer won't appear cloudy. This is as fresh as your adult beverage is going to get, in other words."
Do you want to know who won? I won't tease. Let's start there.
Every year guests at the Day and Night of the Living Ales vote for their favorites, and the organizers give a Cellarmen's Award (nicknamed the Golden Tut, after the stopper that's pushed through the top of a cask when it's vented) to the beer that best exemplifies what "real ale" is supposed to be. It's a necessarily conservative, even orthodox award, and acts as something of a counterbalance to the popularity contest of the general ballot. It's intended to reward excellence in the unsexy aspects of real ale—among them cask handling, conditioning, and clarity (when appropriate to the beer style). "Conditioning" refers to the time the beer spends in the cask, and it's often used as shorthand for the quality and feel of the natural carbonation that results.
This year the festival had two voting categories for the first time: one for beers at 6 percent alcohol or below, one for beers above 6 percent. The organizers hoped to encourage brewers to bring more sessionable stuff, rather than the monster stouts that have tended to dominate the popular results (and incapacitate the attendees).
In the 6-percent-and-below category, Off Color Brewing won with Jasminesome, a gose casked with green tea, white tea, and jasmine. The runner-up was the Boxcar Porter with coffee from Tighthead Brewing in Mundelein.
Among the stronger beers, the Goose Island pubs took first place with Pineapple Brettanomite, a sour wheat ale conditioned with pineapples. Off Color, clearly a crowd favorite, came in second with Violets, a Belgian beer aged in gin barrels with lemon and its namesake flower.
And the Golden Tut? It went to Half Acre's English brown ale the Hammer, the Bullet, and the Vise.
Longtime CBS member Steve Hamburg, who's something of a board member emeritus, connected me with this information on Sunday evening, when it was still hard to find online. Thanks, Steve!
I'm on the record as a fan of Off Color, but these wins surprised me—in both cases the adjuncts imparted such aggressive flavors that the end products barely tasted like beer. Violets was more or less indistinguishable from a subtly botanical lemon radler, with two big exceptions—its plush, creamy texture and the lovely whiff of flowers that came forward as it warmed. Jasminesome smelled, according to practically everybody I talked to, like hair conditioner or some sort of frou-frou beauty bar—it was hugely, improbably perfumy. The taste added a gentle astringency, presumably from the tea, that reminded me of cedar or persimmon—a great complement to its ludicrous detonation of jasmine blossoms. It's not that I didn't like Jasminesome—I'm a sucker for over-the-top weirdness. I'm just saying that you if you let it go flat, heated it up a bit, and poured three ounces of it into a tiny Chinese teacup, nobody would realize it was a beer.
Also in the top three? Metropolitan's Cherry Generator, a choice that won't surprise anybody who's read my review of the civilian version of this splendid doppelbock. The cherries underlined its lush, slightly fruity malts and added a subtle tartness, and nothing of the original beer was lost—it was like regular Generator through a cherry-colored lens.
After that, the competition gets a lot tighter. Solemn Oath brought a delicious Belgian-style red ale called Less Than Three With Tea, which was richly floral and pleasantly spicy, balancing caramel and fragrant osmanthus against black pepper and cardamom. I finally got to try Forbidden Root's namesake beer (aged in Hungarian oak, a relatively new tweak to the recipe), and it was frankly astonishing, its 27 botanicals adding up to something startlingly like root beer or sarsaparilla, except without the overbearing carbonation and ruinous sweetness.
Rock Bottom made a good showing too. The Chicago pub added orange zest and black pepper to a Belgian-style gran cru and called it, inexplicably, "Nifty Galifty"; it reminded me pleasantly of one of those holiday-season smell-good grenades that people make by Pinheading an orange with cloves. The Warrenville location contributed Allons-y, a frothy, frosty French-style saison infused with fresh ginger, lemongrass, and mint; I didn't happen to write down anything coherent about that one, but I remember digging it.
Three Floyds brought my favorite pale ale of the day, Space Station Middle Finger, and Revolution's Red Skull took extremely well to the cask treatment. Saugatuck's two beers—the Mandarina IPA and a barrel-aged version of their Neapolitan stout—deserve special mention for their beautiful conditioning, which gave them fine, silky, generous heads.
If you think "cask beer" means "flat, warm, and funny tasting," what you've had is some seriously fucked-up cask beer—a cask is a lot easier to mishandle than a keg. Keep trying. When experts are involved, this is a damn fine way to do your drinking.
And no, I will not entertain any discussion as to whether the Misfits are metal. I think as grown-ups we're all aware that metal, like punk, is also a way of being.
Anyhow. Toronto thrashers Infernäl Mäjesty are definitely metal in both senses of the word. Their "Night of the Living Dead" (an entirely unrelated song) appears on the 1987 full-length None Shall Defy.