As you may or may not have noticed, there is a serious lack of real hand-pulled cask ales here in so-called British Columbia. While some people dismiss the traditional UK pub-style ale as being “undercarbonated” or “not cold enough” or “low in alcohol,” those people are wrong. I daresay, perhaps our North American beers are overcarbonated and served too cold. But, hey, cask ales are a polarizing style, it’s perfectly understandable if you’re not a fan. I get it.
A real cask ale is different from your traditional kegged beer because it continues to ferment in the cask, carbonating naturally. It’s quite literally a living product, and as a result, it’s a pain in the ass to manage. I used to tend bar in London 20 years ago (like any good Canadian backpacker), and learned firsthand that to change a cask of real ale literally takes a day’s worth of preparation. As a result, many pubs no longer carry them. Here in Canada, they’re rarer than a sunny day in Manchester.
However, a reasonable facsimile does exist. Beers like Guinness use nitrogen to approximate the smooth creamy body of a real ale, providing a stable, kegged product that bars and pubs can tap and pour without having to worry about spoilage, excessive waste. Since nitrogen is far less soluble than CO2, it immediately tries to escape upon pouring, resulting in the characteristic cascade of tiny bubbles and a thick creamy head.
If you enjoy Guinness, you’ll be happy to learn that there is a growing number of locally produced nitro stouts that are every bit as good, if not better. Persephone’s Dry Irish Stout is chief among them.
Not nearly as dry as a Guinness, and with far more depth of flavour, Gibsons’ Persephone Brewing nails the smooth, rich character of the style. The coffee notes are surprisingly complex—we’re not talking about Timmie’s drip here, this is the good stuff you get in tiny cups from aggressively apathetic 20-somethings who dress better than you despite looking like they just rolled out of bed. A kiss of chocolate. Some subtle caramelization. Bear in mind, there’s no actual coffee in this beer.
Notes of roasted barley, toast and oats complement the coffee character, while ample hopping dries out the finish. There’s a touch of sweetness here, too, and while it doesn’t linger long, it does provide a welcome balance.
Since it’s nitrogenated, Persephone’s Dry Irish Stout offers the classic cascade of bubbles when poured. There’s even brief instructions on how to pour it written on the can: “Open, hard pour, enjoy.” If you’re curious about what they mean by a “hard pour,” I’ve made a little video:
The hard pour forces the nitrogen out of suspension, causing the cascade of tiny bubbles and the thick creamy head to form. When poured on draft, there’s a tiny restrictor plate inside the nitro tap that causes the same effect. It’s not the same as a real cask-conditioned ale, but it’s as close as we’re going to get.
Dry Irish Stout by Persephone Brewing
4.5% ABV • 30 IBU • 473 mL tall cans
Appearance: Jet black with a thick, dark tan head you could float a toonie on.
Aroma: Coffee, roasted barley, toast, toffee.
Flavour: Coffee, toast, roasted barley, oats, chocolate, biscuit, caramel, mild hop bitterness. Very smooth.
Body/Finish: Medium bodied with a dry—but not quite bitter—finish.
Pairs with: Espresso, oatmeal cookies, beef stew and nine months of rain.