Firkin Fest returns to the Happy Gnome

Cask-conditioned beer enjoyed under a tent on an early spring afternoon; this can only be Firkin Fest at the Happy Gnome. The annual celebration of British-style real ale returns to the St. Paul beer bar on March 24. Cask-conditioned beer is naturally carbonated by refermentation in the keg. The result is a brew with less fizz but richer flavor and creamier texture. Cask-conditioning also allows brewers to make unique versions of their regular beers by adding ingredients--hops, wood, fruit, nuts, flowers, and even mushrooms--directly into the keg.

While March 24 may seem like a long way off, tickets are already over 50 percent sold, so don't dawdle if you want to attend.

Happy Gnome General Manager Catherine Pflueger says they expect over 70 firkins this year. She is encouraging brewers to push boundaries, moving beyond simply pouring cask versions of their standard brews. She says local favorites will be represented. She has commitments from Fulton, Summit, Surly, Lift Bridge, and others. She's also hoping to bring in some of the state's newest brewers like Harriet, Boom Island, Lucid, and Steel Toe. If you're reading, guys, get on it. We want you there too.

In addition to the locals, you will find firkins from well-known regional and national brewers. These will include Left Hand, Avery, Lucette, Capital, Great Divide, and New Belgium among others. Bell's Hop Slam will be there, and there is rumored to be a bubble-gum infused cask of Furthermore's Fatty Boombalatty in the works. Also look for a couple of international entries, including a rare cask of Harviestoun Ola Dubh.

One thing that sets Firkin Fest apart is the Happy Gnome's handling of the firkins. Casks have to be put in place at least a day before the event in order to let yeast settle to the bottom of the keg. Failure to do so results in murky beer with muddled flavors. The Gnome sacrifices its parking lot a few days in advance so that they are able to get their kegs in a row.

The festival hasn't been without its problems. For the past couple of years it has been marred by too many people crammed into a tent that was too small. Attempts by the Gnome to alleviate the problem have met with only limited success. But they continue to learn as they go. Pflueger says they are selling 30 percent fewer tickets this year, limiting the number of attendees to 1,000. I suspect the tent will still be crowded, but you should at least be able to move from one end to the other.

Another change this year is that proceeds from the event will be donated to Habitat for Humanity. Ticket prices are a little higher this year, which apparently has caused no small amount of fuss among beer nerds on the internet forums, but as Pflueger says, "This festival is truly about the beer and giving back to the craft-beer community and our community."

Early entry VIP tickets are sold out, but general admission tickets are still available at Tempo Tickets. Admission is $50. It gets you a complimentary sample glass and unlimited samples. The tent opens at 1 p.m. for general admission, and the festival lasts until 5 p.m. or the beer runs out, whichever comes first. It's a 21+ event, so don't forget to bring an ID. The Happy Gnome is located at 498 Selby Avenue in St. Paul.

Cheers, Michael Agnew Certified Cicerone A Perfect Pint

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The Happy Gnome

498 Selby Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55102


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