Wow. Ten years already. I was at, if not the first, definitely the second Cask Ale Festival put on by the Washington Brewer’s Guild. In fact, I think this festival was among the earlier ventures the Guild took on after forming in the late 1990s. The first cask festival had a couple dozen breweries participating and they quenched the thirst of about 400 beer lovers. The first year I went with a pal who’d done some homebrewing in the past (which describes about 1/3 of the Seattle population, right?). Much as I loved the chance to sip, savor and contemplate the wonderful cask-conditioned ales, I could tell he was getting an even bigger kick out of having a couple dozen brewers on hand to chat with about the finer points of beer craft.

This isn’t just an average beer festival, not like any “beer garden” you may pop into at a big festival. This is special beer. In many cases, it’s beer that is made just for this event. Any beer lover worth their weight in hops and barley should make a point of getting to this event!

Cask-conditioned ales are considered by many in the world of beer to be the “real ales.” For the first two-thirds or so of the beer making process, all beers are made in pretty much the same way. But that last third”final fermentation and the conditions under which it is served”are what gives a beer much of its character. Cask ales go through second fermentation in the cask and because of the active yeasts in these casks, the beer requires special care in how it is handled and served. It’s why you won’t see cask-conditioned beers at every corner tavern. But when you do come across one, know you’re in for something special.

In addition to the casks that individual breweries bring to the festival, there are special commemorative casks made in honor of Washington brewing legend Bert Grant, who founded Grant’s Ales in Spokane at the forefront of the 1980s microbrewery evolution. Grant passed away in 2001 and his colleagues salute his contributions each year by collaborating on a special cask to remember all he contributed to their craft and their business. In fact, this 10th anniversary year has spawned 10 different casks of Herbert’s Legendary Cask Festival Ale, a treat indeed for attendees.

This year’s eventwill be held on March 28 at the Seattle Center. There are two sessions of four hours each (that’s plenty of beer-drinking time, don’t you think?). The one at noon is showing “sold out” online, another starting at 6:00. The web site shows brewery locations selling tickets as well, it’s possible some of them have noon tickets available. Definitely best to not  count on a last-minute entry at the door. I see the event’s got a handful more brewers on tap, about 36, than in the first years. But I bet it’s every bit as much the low-key, relaxed, sip-and-swap-stories kind of event. One thing about brewers, they’re hands down some of the best folks to share time with. I may be rubbing elbows with them myself!