On Saturday the Chicago Beer Society hosted its annual Day and Night of the Living Ales at Goose Island Wrigleyville. “Living ale” is another way to refer to “real ale” or “cask ale,” sometimes called cask-conditioned ale, and every one of the 44 beers at the festival was served from a cask or firkin (though not every one was, strictly speaking, an ale—I tried a couple lagers). The term describes unpasteurized, unfiltered beers casked while the yeast is still alive; the last bit of fermentation occurs in the vessel, providing a gentle natural carbonation, and the addition of “finings” (often isinglass, a collagen made from the dried swim bladders of fish, though there are vegetarian options like alginate and activated carbon) helps draw the spent yeast into a mass at the bottom of the cask so the beer won’t appear cloudy. This is as fresh as your adult beverage is going to get, in other words.

Cask ales are traditionally stored and served at cellar temperature—between 52 and 54 degrees—so they can seem oddly tepid if you’re used to chilly draft pours. I tend to let anything that isn’t a lager warm up in the glass anyway, so cellar temperature hits the spot for me. I tasted 25 of the beers on offer, and I regret nothing!

After the jump, this year’s winners and a few personal favorites.

(Apologies for the unspectacular photo—distressingly, the viewfinder in my camera is still fogged up from taking pictures of that snowman last month, and I couldn’t see what I was doing.)

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid and another in 2021 for Leor Galil's history of Neo, and he’s also split three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and two (in 2020 and 2022) for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. You can also follow him on Twitter.