Firkin Fest at the Happy Gnome March 26

What the firk is a firkin, you ask? A firkin is an English quarter-barrel of beer. These days when we talk about firkins, though, we're usually talking about the traditional, cask-conditioned ales that are served from them. Hearkening back to the days before forced carbonation, cask-conditioned beers are unfiltered and naturally carbonated by re-fermentation in the keg. They are typically poured by gravity or pulled to the tap with pumps rather than being pushed with CO2. This yields a beer with a creamier texture, enhanced by typically lower, less prickly carbonation. Cask-conditioned beers are living beers that continue to develop with time. But their time is short: Let them sit too long after tapping and they will spoil. Cask-conditioning is a revered and ancient art in the world of brewing, and it will be righteously celebrated on March 26 at the Happy Gnome's Firkin Fest.

This is the fourth annual Firkin Fest at the Happy Gnome in St. Paul, and this year's event looks to be the biggest yet, with more beer, a bigger tent, and most importantly, more porta-potties. The popularity of last year's fest took everyone by surprise, leading to some unpleasant logistical issues. There were too many people under the small tent. The beer ran out long before the scheduled end, leaving latecomers high-and-dry. The lines for the five porta-potties were so long that people were cheered when they opted to relieve themselves in the trees behind them. This year the Gnome is taking steps to resolve all of that.

I spoke to Catherine Pflueger, Happy Gnome general manager, about the event and the changes they are making for this year. The first big improvement is to limit the number of tickets sold. While the 1,600 ticket limit is still large, it is considerably fewer than were sold last year and should do a lot to ease the crowding. They are putting up a larger tent this year, which will also help. Another big change for this year is the elimination of sample tickets. In previous years there had been a lower admittance, but once inside you had to purchase tickets to exchange for beer samples. This year the $35 admission buys unlimited samples. But Pflueger warns that they won't tolerate any "tomfoolery." If you get too drunk, you will be removed.

Inside that bigger tent will be a bigger fest. Last year set a Firkin Fest record with 64 firkins. This year they are looking to top 80. There will be cask-conditioned beers from a large selection of breweries, local, national, and international. Pflueger says they are aiming to get a wide variety of beers. There will be big and bitter beers to please the hop-heads, along with lighter options for the less lupulin inclined. As always, attendees can vote for the best-of-fest beer. The winner will take home the Golden Firkin award, an actual shiny golden firkin. There is talk of last year's winner, Lift Bridge's Chestnut Hill ala Nutsack, being poured from the trophy.

If you are a fan of cask beer or just want to learn what it is, Firkin Fest happens on March 26 from 1 to 5:00 p.m. at the Happy Gnome, 498 Selby Avenue, St. Paul. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased by going to the Happy Gnome events page. Tickets are still available, but they will likely sell out. I'm told they will be reserving a small number for sale at the door. Doors will close at 5:00, but the fest will continue until the beer is gone. I'd get there early.

Cheers, Michael Agnew Certified Cicerone A Perfect Pint

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