This question has been on my mind for some time: is the CASK! Toronto group still relevant? It feels like a sacrilegious question, mainly because a) the group has done so much to create a community of cask drinkers in Toronto and b) the Ontario beer industry does not like to criticize their own. I do not mean to critique the people who run the group. The mere fact that this question even occurred to me speaks to the popularity of cask beer in Toronto right now, which is partially a result of their work. But it is the popularity that made me wonder if the CASK! group still has an importance to the Toronto craft beer scene.
The CASK! website describes the group as:
a group of people dedicated to raising awareness of local cask conditioned ale and to promote it to a wider audience. CASK! seeks to improve the availability, selection and quality of cask ale in Toronto, and ultimately across Ontario.
The main way of raising awareness has been through the monthly socials they put on at bars that serve cask beer, which has been a great way to get drinkers out to bars that are newly offering cask beers (like Castro’s when they installed four hand pumps). The socials can become quite crowded affairs, both showing the popularity of them and of cask beer. But they also tend to bring out a lot of the same people over and over, which is not exposing cask beer to more people.
I also wonder if cask beer really needs to be promoted to a wider audience anymore. Most new beer bars are serving cask beer at least once a week and increasingly in areas where one might think cask beer would be a tough sell. The Monk’s Kettle, Mugshot Tavern and Morgan’s on the Danforth are all serving cask beer at least one day a week and The Hole in the Wall and the new location of Smokeless Joe have added it as well. Even the new restaurant Chantecler in Parkdale has cask beer.
Then came the #ONcask hashtag on Twitter, which made it much easier to find cask beer and the bars that serve it. The Burger Bar had a pop-up cask party at the beginning of March because they just had so many casks. And of course there is the ever-growing Cask Days, which has morphed from a yearly festival to include an IPA challenge in the spring and a cask supply shop. Is a cask advocacy group still needed to help promote cask beer or has cask beer finally reached a wide section of beer drinkers? I don’t have the answer, but for some reason the question nags at me.
Perhaps CASK! just needs to redefine its objectives in this new era of cask mania. People are clearly drinking more cask beer, but may not necessarily be able to tell the difference between good and bad cask beer. It would be great to have more discussions about cask beer and educate the public. The idea that cask is better seems to be fairly prevalent and people seem reluctant to say that maybe that American-style IPA or imperial stout would be better on tap. More education for the licensees would also be a welcome sign. They did help run some cask education classes along with the Cask Days festival, but year-round support is needed if there is concern for the quality of cask ale in Ontario.
Maybe I’ve thought too much about this and most people just think of CASK! as more of a social group, in which case this incoherent post is for naught. Like I said before, this is not meant as criticism for the group, but the popularity of cask beer in the past couple of months brought all this question to my mind.