If you’re lucky when you stop by Brewer’s Union in Oakridge, Ted Sobel will take a break from his 12-hour day and have a pint with you --- anything’s great, he says – and talk to you about beer. Not the kind of beer you sniff and swirl, he said, with a note of disdain. What Sobel means by “real beer” (and his Real Ale movement co-horts) is that this beer has been brewed and especially finished and served without adding synthetic carbonation. The beers are generally unfiltered and unpasteurized, kept at 50 to 55 degrees in the cellar behind the bar, and pulled or pumped directly from the cask into your glass. They are served until the cask is empty or the beer goes flat.
We were lucky the day we drove into the paradise that is the upper Willamette River’s middle fork, all heavy with mountains and early summer cool sunshine, because Ted had a Wocha in his hand, the latest incarnation of his most popular beer, so he began with the story of how this former New Yorker came to feature the very English cask ales in the tiny Oregon mountain town of Oakridge. Ted landed here with his wife Patti in 1992. But he was a software engineer with a mission: First, get to England to taste their beers. And second, get out of New York.
“Arrr,” he growls, pirate-style, possibly English pirate-style. Early on, Ted said he was an Anglophile, and now calls himself “inveterate Anglophile,” mostly because he loves their beer, but also because he loves the English pub culture.
It’s not like you’ll see the queen’s picture on the wall, or tea cups in the display case, but you might hear a little background on cask beers. Casked beers (which include the 9-gallon “firkin”) are most often “pulled” by hand directly from the cask through a hand-operated pump engine. Carbonation occurs in the cask or in the bottle as a result of yeast interacting with ingredients, not because of added carbonation. These are lower alcohol than most beers – generally under 5 % ABV. “You can drink a lot of them!” Said Ted. The storage temperature (50 to 55 degrees) is generally cellar temperature.
His beer was meant to be brought to the pub’s table, shared with friends (and one of the friends should be the publican), and then someone should buy the next round, and the next, said Ted.
“Tickers,” he called the people who taste and don’t drink a reasonable pint. “That’s what the English called them.”
The advent of adding nitrogen or carbon dioxide to the finished beer in the 1970s prompted the “Campaign for Real Ale,” founded in Ireland by drinkers who were opposed to the promotion and sale of keg-based beers that require carbonation and wanted to promote instead the pubs where real ales are drunk. The movement is gaining a toe-hold in Oregon, Northwest innovations notwithstanding.