Up in Oregon’s Cascade Mountains is a tiny brewery called Brewers Union Local 180 in a tiny town called Oakridge. Here, owner/brewer Ted Sobel stands behind his bar with nary a tap line. In lieu of carbonated kegs there are six hand pumps. That’s right. His brewery has no draft beer. No bottled or canned beer for that matter, either. Ted’s ales are conditioned in firkins—which look like kegs, but sound cooler and hold 40 liters, or 72 imperial pints, of cask ale. Hand pumps, not forced carbonation, draw the beer into the waiting glass. As the firkin empties, the space left over fills with oxygen. While such “contamination” is a common no-no for most beers, this is, in fact, real ale. It’s surprisingly rare in America but this being Oregon, of course Brewers Union Local 180 was the first brewery on this side of the pond to exclusively make "real ale."

If driving out to Oakridge sounds too far to go for delicious firkins full of beer, hit up the Green Dragon this Saturday, February 20, for the ninth annual Firkin Fest . There will be some 30 firkins from Oregon breweries near and far. The list includes, of course, the house Buckman Botanical Brewery (brewed by the Green Dragon Brew Crew) and Buckman’s parent company Rogue Ales. Portland area breweries include Baerlic, Coalition, and Montavilla. From Newport where Rogue brews there's Bier One and from neighboring Toledo there's Twisted Snout, who make the pilgrimage from Portland to the coast worthwhile for their smoked barbecue alone.

What IS real ale? Britons call it that to distinguish it from draft beer that’s kegged, tapped, and dispensed with the aid of added CO2, hence making it fake. Okay, maybe not “fake,” but somehow unreal—still tasty but somehow residing more in the realm of false than true—and they’re really big on things being proper. What real als is not, however, despite the popular misconception, is “flat and warm.” That’s only the case when compared to the more prevalent ice-cold beer jacked-up on carbonation. The key is that industrial beers are only palatable when chilled down to the 30s, while real ale is its best when served at cellar-temperature. Think mid-50s.

A British beer-writing friend named Mark Dredge, winner of several British Guild of Beer Writers awards, enlightened me: “A good cask beer is almost impossible to better.” He added that real ale’s “subtlety of aroma, flavour, and texture combine magnificently... There’s a sort of teasing aroma that a draft beer just obliterates with its coldness and carbonation. [In Britain] we like to go out and have a few pints and catch up with friends. For that reason a lot of people want simple, tasty beers that... keep the conversation sensible. Returning to the bar every 16 minutes to get a half pint of kegged IPA just doesn't fit that.”

WHEN: Saturday, February 20, 11 am-6 pm
WHERE: The Green Dragon (928 SE 9th)
ADMISSION: $10, includes souvenir glass and five taster tickets. Additional taster tickets $1 each. Tickets to the VIF session (Very Impressive Firkin) from 2-4 pm in the Barrel Room are $25 and include general admission plus complimentary sausages and oysters.
BENEFITTING: The Buckman Arts Focus Elementary School