Ashley’s 2016 Cask Ale Festival Review

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On a rainy and windy 2nd Saturday in May, Ashley’s Westland was the setting for the Cask Ale Festival. The Cask Ale Festival featured 32 different cask beers from Michigan Breweries and several others from around the country. Arriving shortly before 1pm, I found a full parking lot and a line of about 60 other beer enthusiasts ready to get their cask on. Parking is no issue in the area, as Ashley’s Westland is located in the middle of a mall parking lot. Shortly after arriving and getting in line, we soon got the green light and entered the Beer Garden.

When I entered, there was no one to scan tickets and give out tasting glasses. It had me a little worried at that moment that maybe this was not all very well coordinated. The rest of the festival proved to me that first impression was incorrect. I was big fan of how the Beer Garden was set up for the event. All 4 tents were situated at the far end of the beer garden, opposite the Ashley’s restaurant. The beer garden featured plenty of picnic tables, a nice seating area under a tent with couches and chairs, 2 sets of corn hole, and a granite table with a fire roaring in the middle for patrons to warm up to with their beers. Good call by Ashley’s to have that fire going with the cold weather. I only noticed one or a few port-a-johns, but with the restaurant right there, this was not a concern like at other festivals. The restaurant was also quite nice and spacious, featuring plenty of seating and 2 bars in separate areas of the building.

For the price of admission, you could sample as many cask beers as you wanted, no beer tokens needed. I thought this was a nice touch and probably helped make the lines move faster with no one fishing for tokens in their pockets. In my time at the festival, I never waited in line more than a minute or two for a beer refill. They also had water dispensers and dump buckets to help attendees wash out their tasting glasses between beers. Did I say tasting glass? Yes, I loved the commemorative tasting glass that everyone received, not your normal cheap plastic festival taster.

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I thought the price for the ticket was a little steep for only 32 beers, but Ashley’s has always been on the higher end of the price spectrum for their beers in my opinion. I did not hear anyone complaining about the price while at the festival itself. The only complaint I heard was over the abundance of IPA’s in the beer list, comprising 10 of the 32 of the offerings. I thought it was a well-rounded list of beers and gave a good variety of different styles to be had. My big hits of the day were Oddside Sour Wheat, Witches Hat Night Fury (aged on bourbon chips), ABC Treebeard, and Liberty Street Cinnamon Sift. My big misses of the day were Brewery Vivant Brewers Reserve Tripel, Shorts Chocolate Giddyup, and Homebrew Mead. There were many other beers had at the festival, but ended up somewhere in the middle of the enjoyment spectrum for me. Not great, but not terrible either.

While tasting beers outside, all of the attendees and volunteers I met were down to earth nice people and very passionate about beer. One attendee was in full Scottish regalia, complete with a kilt that was a wee bit too short. A few of the volunteers were having issues with too much foam in their cask and had to pour into pitchers. I have seen this happen at other places, but it is never a great thing to see before trying a beer. Another volunteer beer pourer was having issues with stopping the pour and led to some very generous samples. No complaints here!

After sampling beer for a bit outside, I decided it was time to head into the restaurant for a bite to eat and a few more beers. Bellying up to the bar, I was happy to see Bells Hopsolution DIPA and Sierra Nevada BA Narwhal on the tap list along with many other great options. It was all fairly standard bar food and hit the spot for some fried goodness. While looking over the beer menu, I couldn’t help but overhear a couple sitting next to me at the bar from Akron, Ohio. They were looking for other craft beer bars to go to in Westland. Not knowing the area very well myself, I was of little assistance. The friendly and helpful bar tender was able to refer them to a nearby beer store that apparently had some bottles of Perrin No Rules. At the time of the festival, 12% and over ABV beers were still banned in Ohio, so high ABV beers was on their list of wants from their trip up north. That law has since been overturned, congrats Ohio!

While conversing with the couple from Ohio, they couldn’t stop talking about how much they loved coming up for the festival, but would like to be in an area with more other craft beer options to check out within a reasonable Uber ride. I recommended they come back in July for the MBG Summer Beer Festival in Ypsilanti. “The festival is in Ypsilanti, right next to Ann Arbor. That area will definitely have quite a few more options as far as craft beer and a nice downtown area. I can show you around if you want!” “Oh Ann Arbor, the land of Yoga pants and Priuses, right? Not sure if we want to go there”. It was probably the only snobbish thing I heard all day, which is impressive for a beer festival in Michigan. That snobbish comment aside, great couple to go along all the other great down to earth people at the Cask Ale Festival.

Soon after finishing my meal and beer, family life came calling again. On my way out I was able to ask one of the volunteers for an additional taster glass for a friend. The volunteer ended up giving me 2! While the beer list wasn’t as big as I have experienced at other festivals, it was still a great smaller-scale event to attend. The lines were always short and all of the beers were virtually right next to one another. It also gave me a new appreciation for cask ale, “Real Ale”. Looking forward to next year Westland!

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My big hits of the day:
Oddside Sour Wheat – For as much heat as Oddside has taken for their infection issues, this sour was spot on and the only of its style. Nice and funky!
Witches Hat Night Fury –  aged on bourbon oak chips, this beer packed a light barrel aged stout punch. Witches Hat does a great job with its barrel aging program and is constantly getting better.
Arbor Brewing Treebeard Strong Pale – Normally not a fan of ABC, this was a winner in my book. Smell and flavor are piney and rich.
Liberty Street Cinnamon Sift – Great cinnamon porter, bringing back memories of Perrin No Rules. 

My big misses of the day were:
Shorts Chocolate Giddyup – A stout with chocolate and coffee is something I usually a fan of. This tasted like it had an old worn shoe in the cask with it. Shorts is slowly but surely losing me as a fan.
Brewery Vivant Brewers Reserve Tripel – I like a tripel and visiting Brewery Vivant from time to time, but this just had me at a loss. Every great brewery has some hits and misses.
Homebrew Meads – Not sure where this came from or who the brewer was, but it was cloyingly sweet and a dump after a few sips.

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A craft beer fan since 19, used to look for your non-regular beers on frequent trips to downtown Windsor with friends, at 21 Ken basically took over an entire refrigerator with monthly visits to Merchants. With 5 years of podcasting prior, Ken decided to create the brand and show Better on Draft in the spring of 2015, and began creating his dream of a beer-centric website that wasn't too full of itself. He now runs the board and does a lot of the back office stuff while the show goes on, keeping everyone in line, and the beer flowing!

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