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Real Ale Invitational Boasts Impressive Cask of Characters

26 March 2012

Sunday, March 26th marked Yards Brewing Company’s fifth annual Real Ale Invitational, an event that celebrates beer the way many think it was meant to be served: in casks.  Cask-conditioned ale has been around almost as long as ale itself, and no city in America celebrates the style like Philadelphia.  And in Philadelphia, no one does cask beer better than Yards’ Tom Kehoe.  This love of real ale is what makes the yearly Real Ale Invitational such a success, and one of the most in-demand beer festivals in the city.

This year’s event, which featured 24 breweries and 28 cask beers (29 if you count Yards’ special VIP-only Alt Bier), was as well-run smoothly operating as any event in Philadelphia.  By this point, Yards knows how many people they can comfortably fit inside their space and they don’t try to overdo it to sell a few more tickets—which wouldn’t be hard for this event.  A few firkins and a port-a-potty were even set up outside to facilitate the crowd, lessening the strain on the inside of the brewery.

The beer at Real Ale 2012 was top-notch, especially Manayunk Brewing’s Philadelphia Porter (always a favorite), Stewart’s Brewing Company’s Oyster Stout, and Yards’ own Bourbon Barrel Old Bartholomew Barleywine, an intensely smooth, yet subtly boozy way to start off the festival. Also a standout was Forest and Main Brewing Company’s Kinch IPA, a half-and-half between American and English IPAs that hoppy, yet balanced enough to please everyone who tried it. This is truly a brewery to look out for when they open soon.

Those able to procure VIP tickets found the extra expense well worth it, due in great part to Yards’ Alt Bier, a smooth, malty ale that fit perfectly in a cask environment.  VIPs were also treated to an extra hour of trying beer with a lighter crowd or, if they so chose, a behind-the-scenes tour of the back rooms of the brewery with founder and brewmaster Tom Kehoe.

The crowd, though, was apparently not big enough to dissuade the people behind the tables from giving extremely generous pours, which was a pro and a con of the event.  While it’s nice to be able to get a better taste of some beers, being poured a full mug of something like Fegley’s BrewworksExploitation 3x (11.5% ABV), Brooklyn’s Blast 2x IPA (9.5%) or Victory’s Ranch R Double IPA (9%) did not bode well for keeping a clear head throughout the event.  Which directly relates to the Invitational’s only other downfall: only one table of food.  This caused the line for food to stretch across the room, dissuading many people who should have been tempering their beer intake with food from standing in line and waiting.

Minor complaints aside—if you can consider generous pours a complaint–the rest of the event went perfectly. For any fan of cask beer, the event is a must-attend, and VIP access should be high on the list.  Though the event sells out every year—and quickly—there is never an issue with overcrowding and lines to the firkins of beer are minimal, making for a pleasant and enjoyable Sunday afternoon drinking beer the way it was meant to be drunk. The beers are always delicious and you’re sure to find some rarities and experiments in the generous pours, making the Real Ale Invitational a real treat for any beer fan.

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