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Sly Fox Beer brewed Chester County Bitter, our first true cask ale, in early September and the first firkin was tapped on Friday, September 18, at the Phoenixville pub.

The tapping marked the beginning of our new, year-round cask ale program which will eventually include more of these special beers as we grow our fleet of firkins. Many of the excellent bars and taverns in the Philadelphia area and the New York City market have been asking for a real ale for their handpumps and we expect most of you reading this will have a chance to try a pint (warning: you will want a second) over the coming weeks and months.

Many of you are probably familiar with the Campaign for Real Ale, better known as CAMRA (after its original name, Campaign for the Revitalization of Ale), the British organization of beer-loving volunteers which was founded in 1971 to stem the tide of mass production and homogenization of the British brewing industry. This is the traditional British style of beer that they fought, successfully, to revive. "Real Ale," as cask ale is often called, is the style in which all of our cask ales will be produced.

The difference between cask ales and other beers is a complex topic. Real Ale, in the simplest terms, is unfiltered draught beer which goes through a second fermentation in the container from which it is served by gravity (firkin on the bartop) or a handpump without the use of gas to deliver it to or push it through a tap. It is usually dry-hopped to give it a special fresh aroma and served at cellar temperature, 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit. The beer is usually fined or clarified with Isinglass, a liquid made from sturgeon fish bladders and is electrostatically charged and attracts yeast and protein so that it will settle and clarify the beer. As the pump empties the cask, air flows in to replace the vacuum and helps develop the unique taste of the beer. It can eventually make the beer taste stale, so casks are intended to be emptied within a few days.

Sly Fox will be preparing extensive documentation on the brewing and handling of cask ales for the benefit of our distributors and publicans and will post that document on its website for those of you who want to become more familiar with the topic.

Sly Fox is starting a new beer program. We are going to produce "real" cask conditioned beer. I guess it is not really new; we have filled firkins in the past, but never a whole dedicated batch. We routinely tap cask beer at our pub in Phoenixville, and we have filled firkins for special events. I guess it's more accurate to say that we will be changing the way we produce and pour cask beer.

One of the ways we will do this is to offer a year-round cask beer. We want people to be able to depend on getting a local cask beer, and the brewers and I are excited to be able to tweak our recipe until it is perfect. It may take quite a few pints between us to reach that lofty goal, but we are up to the challenge. I hope you will enjoy the new Chester County Bitter as much as I will.

We are excited and proud to be producing real cask beer, but I want to admit something: we have faked it a bit in the past. We have offered what I would call "cask style" beer, a beer which did not undergo a secondary fermentation in the keg. Conveniently, our ales have just the right CO2 content before filtration for the hand pump, so these beers were often very tasty - heck, they were usually delicious.

These beers were served from a straight-sided keg, one which does not allow for dry-hopping, which is a crucial element in producing true cask ale. These traditional kegs are also designed to draw beer up from the bottom of the keg first, while real ale should be drawn from the top so that the sediment from the yeast is not disturbed and a clear, enticing pint is produced.

Handling true cask ale will mean more work for taverns and bars carrying our beers. These firkins need to be carefully handled and properly tapped for the beer to be as delicious as it is intended. A straight sided keg is easier for the tavern to deal with and I guess some folks behind the bar will not be happy with this change. On the other hand, some publicans will undoubtedly cheer for the opportunity to provide this great traditional beer for their customers. In fact, one of them, McMenamin's Tavern in Mt. Airy, has been pushing for us to do this for a long time and has already refitted their hand pump line to get ready for the firkins in which Chester County Bitter is conditioned and delivered.

We had to invest lots of money into a fleet of firkins and will be investing more as we add additional cask beers to our portfolio. We are taking this step because we believe that real cask beer can be a special drinking experience. The subtle and incredible nuances can offer a depth of flavor that is unique and we want our customers to have the opportunity to experience that. Cask ale is also the ultimate "session beer," tasty, low-alcohol pints which are perfectly suited for a safe, extended stay at your local or favorite tavern.

3 incubus
On the First Friday of every month, Incubus Tripel goes on tap at Noon, only in Phoenixville.
On the Second Friday of the month, a new Varietal Pale Ale is released at both the Phoenixville and Royersford pubs.
On the Third Friday of the month, a firkin of cask ale goes onto one of the hand pumps in Phoenixville at Noon.

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