Searching For (and Finding!) UK Style Cask Ale in California #BrewedAwakening

By / Wine + Drinks / September 15th, 2017 / 14

I have been going to California on a semi regular basis for 25 years. In the early years I was always thrilled to drink their citrus laden, hoppy pale ales, a style which was new to me at the time. On ensuing trips the popular style changed to IPA, with even more intense hopping. I remember going to Toronado, an excellent beer bar in San Fran, where they had a half dozen or so IPAs on cask. That’s when I learned that cask conditioning makes IPA worse, not better. They are much fresher tasting with the proper carbonation and colder temperature.

With the recent proliferation of ridiculously hoppy beers in Canada, including where I live in Atlantic Canada, I’m no longer excited about the west coast hopped beers of California, although I drank a few pints at various bars and pubs on my recent trip to Napa. Someone was raving to me that Pliny The Elder was on tap at a bar not far from my hotel. It was over 40 degrees outside. Do you really think an 8% alcohol, 100 IBU beer is appropriate for that weather, or anytime before supper? I’m not much interested in that style ever, really, except maybe for a quick taste to confirm that yes, there are lots of hops in it. I have had Pliny once, which was enough. It’s a good example, but overhyped.

I was looking for something different, and lower alcohol, and I found it at what might be the perfect California microbrewery for me, East Cliff Brewing Company, in Santa Cruz.

When I was there they had 7 cask ales, all British style, using Maris Otter malt and English hop varieties. You could order fish and chips and other tasty fare from a restaurant nearby to be delivered to their tap room.

Their ales were fantastic. My favourite was their EOB, essentially an Ordinary Bitter. The EOB is dead on in the English style that you’ll find on the hand pump in good pubs in England. It was only 3.6% alc and 32 IBU, but full of texture, malt and hop flavour, and complexity.


You could drink 2 pints and drive, no problem, and you’d still be able to taste whatever drink you chose next, because your palate won’t be fried by excessive IBUs.

If this is what’s radical in California these days, Californian beer that doesn’t taste like Californian beer, then I’m radical, dude.


Craig Pinhey discovered good drink circa 1985 at Ginger’s Tavern/Granite Brewery in Halifax and has been writing about beer, wine and spirits for 25 years. A Certified Sommelier and BJCP judge, Craig lives in New Brunswick where he runs his own writing and consulting business and is the beverage columnist for Brunswick News. He is the only person to have judged all of the national wine, spirits and beer awards of Canada.

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