Friday Froth: The Cask Republic in New Haven

James Gribbon

How about a little food with our beer this week? After all: drinking on an empty stomach, while entertaining in a "hide the women and children" kind of way, is generally not recommended. So let's travel outside of Fairfield County this week (gasp!), and take a road trip to The Cask Republic in New Haven.   

"The Cask Republic" may sound like early 18th century Tortuga, but owner Christian Burns has forgone rum, anarchy and pirates in favor of more refined surroundings. This point should come as no surprise from the man who also owns The Ginger Man in South Norwalk. The space is mostly wood and leather - a large bar, communal cocktail tables, and booths encourage an atmosphere of fellowship - and then there are the taps. Fifty-three pleasure dispensers line the left wall behind the bar. Fifty-three, plus one cask engine for dispensing cask-conditioned brews and over eighty bottled beers. That gets all six hands of Vishnu clapping furiously.

Tapped kegs are plainly visible past the bar in a temperature controlled room, and those beers are served at varying temperatures - from 30 to over 50 degrees - based on the optimal flavor profile for the individual beer. A vintage room is located in the rear of the dining area where special releases are being carefully aged and monitored. The first of these vintages should start to become available a few months from this writing. 

The first beer I had was Leipziger Gose from Gasthaus & Gosebrauerei Bayerischer Bahnhof. Gose beers are brewed with at least half wheat, and this one pours a cloudy gold, with a good head and mild aroma with slight citrus tones. The taste includes coriander and.. is that.. salt? (looks at bottle) Why, yes. Yes, it is. All these together produce a slightly sour taste, but this is a mild, sessionable beer, and quite easy to drink at 4.6%ABV. I'd recommend one of these with an hors d'oeuvre of oyster sliders with grain mustard aioli. 

Next up was a Trappists Rochefort 6, made by Trappist monks in Belgium at the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy. The brothers only make three kinds of beer: 6, 8 and 10, and the 6 (or "Red Cap") represents a mere 1% of total production. This Belgian strong ale has a rich, malty, almost cakey aroma, and pours a ruby amber with a medium head. The malts and Belgian yeasts produce a decadent herbal flavor with an almost chocolaty finish. I had mine with pan-seared Arctic Char over barley, caramelized onions, roasted Brussels sprouts and asparagus with arugula pesto and a shallot emulsion. That's right. It should be mentioned at this point that Cask Republic executive chef Carl Carrion is a graduate of the New York Restaurant School and has cooked under Rocco DiSpirito at Union Pacific. 

Pan-seared scallops over eggplant caponata, duck leg confit over braised mustard greens, and crispy duck skin salad followed, along with Unibroue Maudite. Maudite has a strong aroma of Belgian yeast so pungent it's almost spicy. The pour is reddish and slightly cloudy, and this beer's head melts down to a pleasant film. The flavor is herbal and sweet, but with a distinct alcohol bite at 8%ABV. Huge malt and yeast ester notes come through in the flavor and aroma - those Belgian yeasts again. Unibroue beers simply will not be ignored. A sip was enough to break my concentration during conversation, although my concentration is fragile as egg shells at the best of times, granted. 

Every new BrewDog beer I try is a revelation, but I don't want to write about them, for fear of over saturation in this column. Is that a paradox? I don't know - but this BewDog was: Paradox Isle of Arran, to be specific. This imperial stout has huge malt and yeast aromas, those esters this time producing banana overtones. The pour produces a thick head, and the mouth feel is ultra smooth: with roasted grain flavors balanced by a sweetness reminiscent of dried fruit. The finish can leave a bitter, dark chocolate flavor on the tongue. The BrewDog Paradox was turned into a glaze by our chef and included with vanilla oil, onion puree, and a house cured, smoked, brown sugar glazed pork belly that I will literally fight you for. That's not a recommendation so much as it's a warning: I would gnaw through steel bars for this pork.

Speaking of beer added to meat, chef Carrion marinated a rib eye in Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Grand Cru and served it up over Vermont's own Shelburne cheddar cheese (in polenta) with crisp spinach and a mustard gastrique, along with the aforementioned beer. This celebration beer from the Chico, California brewery is spicy and fruity, with a tiny lavender hint right at the beginning, all significantly butched up with a good hop profile. This complex beer may not be an easy find, but it's worth the search 

Lambics are a very different type of beer. Brewed in the Senne valley southwest of Brussels, this style is brewed from barley and wheat, and then left to cool in open-air coolships where it is inoculated with wild yeast spores that float in through louvered walls. The unique yeasts of this region produce a spontaneous fermentation which continues through a maturation process in wine barrels for a year or two, and can usually be found in this country having been re-fermented with fruits. A Cherish Kriek (cherry) lambic was served with whipped cream, next to a peanut butter and jelly cheesecake with cassis (blackcurrant) glaze and a cassis lambic from Lindeman's. Third on the dessert plate was coconut rice pudding with apple marmalade and Faro lambic: a simple lambic sweetened with sugar and tasting of honeysuckle. 

The Cask Republic experience reminds you just about every step of the way that its proprietor, chef and cicerones (or beer sommeliers) Get It. In a town with a fantastic culinary culture, it joins Delaney's and Prime 16 in a triumvirate of taste for the beer aficionado. 

The Cask Republic 179 Crown Street, New Haven. 203.238.8335

[Photography c/o Tom McGovern Photography]