Kelley McClain - June 2011
A bottle aging room, cask conditioned ale, and sophisticated tavern fare make this restaurant more than your average beer bar.
The Cask Republic is an American tavern in the most inclusive sense of the term. Its international selection of beers is a celebration of brewing across the United States as well as in countless regions and countries around the globe. The menu draws on traditions of tavern fare, with sophisticated flourishes and finishing touches.
Recently opened in New Haven, Connecticut, The Cask Republic is the third sibling in a family of beer-centric restaurants founded by owner Christian Burns. The first two are iterations of The Ginger Man, in Greenwich and Norwalk. Andrew Hoenig, beer manager for the group, has curated a collection of brews to satisfy even the most discerning aficionado. In addition to 53 taps with a rotating roster of craft brews from the United States, Belgium, Germany, and beyond, there is always one cask conditioned ale on tap. This is all supplemented by a bottle collection of 80-plus labels.
The polished mahogany paneling begins at the front door. Inside, the mahogany bar and mirrored back bar are echoed on the opposite wall with leather-clad booths. A series of tall communal walnut wood tables run down the center of the hardwood floor, encouraging an air of conviviality among the intermingling of students, faculty, and medical staff of Yale University and Yale-New Haven Hospital. Toward the back of the room, traditional four- and two-tops nestle between the glassed-in beer cooler and the Vintage Room.
The restaurant has 108 seats, 30 of which are at those beautiful walnut bar tables. The private dining room houses an additional 30 and can accommodate up to 40. Three small lounge areas feature soft chairs and couches, adding a dozen more seats to the floor. The bar accommodates 22 to 24 comfortably.
The Vintage Room, outside which one might settle into comfy armchairs to watch the beers mature, holds special bottlings at 55˚F for aging. The cooler, set at 37˚F, houses an assortment of kegs, casks, and bottles. Five warm lines are maintained at a pour temperature slightly over 50˚F for selections such as many stouts and Belgian, to fully reveal their flavors and aroma.
The Cask team takes great pride in their knowledge of classic international beers and styles and brewing techniques, while at the same time seeking out new brewers, styles, and trends. Hip trends may bring in the next generation, but a solid footing in all things brewed fosters a continuing education and appreciation for tradition. On site, manager Matt Bacco ensures that seasoned sippers as well as newly persuaded quaffers are satisfied. Historically food-friendly, Belgian beers—Chimay, Lindemans, Orval, Westmalle—seem to dominate the list, but there’s also an impressive gaggle of American upstarts—Abita, Brooklyn, Samuel Adams, Captain Lawrence, Long Trail, even Rheingold. Bacco, who’s got his heart set on brewing his own some day, embraces and encourages the challenge of organizing flights according to similar styles or to demonstrate different approaches to food pairing.
The drinks menu rounds out with a healthy selection of whiskeys, single malts, Bourbons, Tequilas, and Cognacs. A list of artisan spirits from beer houses includes Rogue Dead Guy Whiskey, made from the same grains used to brew Dead Guy Ale, Schneider Edelster Aventinus Distilled from Schneider Aventinus Weizen Doppelbock, and Uerige Stickum Plus Distilled from Uerige Doppel-Sticke Altbier and matured in Remy Martin Cognac barrels.
As Bacco enthusiastically seeks to please the personal preferences of his clientele, he gives equal attention to marrying the beers to the menu created by executive chef Carl Carrion. Even putting together cheese and charcuterie platters piques Bacco’s passion: “I love Smuttynose Farmhouse Ale in a bottle with all of our cheeses. The subtle barnyard character from Belgian/Saison yeast complements the cheese, and its 9.3 percent ABV provides a cleansing heat that breaks up even the funkiest Stilton and washes the cheese off your mouth and tongue.” For the meats, he suggests, “Do yourself a favor and try the smoky Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Urbock, a bottled German brew that features traditionally smoked malts. It’s an outstanding beer on its own, and is only enhanced by the bold flavors of our charcuterie selections.” With the Prince Edward Island mussels, which are steamed in Blue Point Belgian Pale Ale with chorizo, caramelized shallots, cherry peppers, and garlic, hints of smoke in the Helles Schlenkerla Lagerbier play off the chorizo. Carrion, for his part, doesn’t settle for offering basic pub grub and enjoys regular team meetings where he gets to confer with his Ginger Man counterparts.
Even a cold, soaking spring rain couldn’t keep the crowds at bay in the first months of the Cask’s launch. Despite the three-deep crush at the bar and continual turnover at the tables, Carrion’s kitchen turned out a consistent menu and turned on the culinary charm. For an unexpected amuse-bouche of salmon crudo presented with apple/cilantro slaw, red onion, and potato crisp, Bacco deftly chose a malty and spicy Liefmans Goudenband to pour alongside. Brooklyn Local 1, a Belgian-inspired strong golden ale, danced with the pan-seared sea scallops plated with roasted eggplant with fresh ginger and cumin and an enlivening charred tomato vinaigrette.
New England Brewing Co.’s Wet Willy Scotch Ale was a natural with a cherry wood smoked cured pork belly that Carrion then braised in a mixture of Isle of Aran Paradox with brown sugar and ginger that became a glaze for the meat. He served it with caramelized onion pureed with chicken stock and cream and a salad of red onion and parsley simply dressed with lemon and olive oil. Carrion’s pan-seared Atlantic salmon was served over an unassuming fennel risotto that belies its provenance: he confits the fennel to release the juice, then braises it in butter, extra-virgin olive oil, and stock. It’s finished with fennel fronds and a bit of Pernod or anisette or a beer with those flavors, pureed, and then folded into the risotto just before pickup.
Carrion also handles dessert. Bacco pairs the rich and creamy chocolate malted crème brûlée with Rogue Chocolate Stout, while the Lindemans Cassis Lambic perfectly accentuates its counterpart in the jelly that tops a deceptively light peanut butter cheesecake.
This team is already as well crafted, conditioned, and matured as the beers they’re serving.