I learned a new word this week. Firkin. My first guess, when I heard this word, was that it was a kind of pickle. Gherkin, Firkin. Maybe instead of being pickled with dill, this kind is a small cucumber seasoned with fennel. A fennel gherkin. A firkin. Sounds delicious. And we pickle everything in Pennsylvania… so it’s a decent guess, right?
Well, I was wrong. All the beer enthusiasts out there probably know already that a firkin is a small barrel, which used to be used for butter or lard (and maybe for pickles too) but can also be used for cask-conditioned ale. And cask-conditioned ale has a whole host of merits that bottled brew can only dream of. It’s more “real,” like the kind of ale you’d have expected to find in Colonial American taverns: less fizzy, more complexly flavored, and slightly cloudy since it is unfiltered.
These are the merits the Pottstown Firkin Fest describes. I believe them, because if it weren’t for the Pottstown Firkin Fest, I wouldn’t have known this new word at all. So I’ll take them as my authority. But you can check it out for yourself on April 30th, when you will not only be able to choose from 40+ kinds of Firkin ales but also try your favorite kinds of Conebella Farm Cheddar, Colby and spreads alongside this ale!
In the meanwhile, we’ll need to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. And for a delicious celebratory St. Patrick’s Day meal, I recommend finding your favorite ale (cask-conditioned or bottled) and making this Easy Cheddar Beer Soup. It’s delicious. I had never made Cheddar Beer Soup before, but now that I have, I feel like making it once a week in March because reserving it for St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t sound like enough to satisfy my cravings.
Cheddar Beer Soup reminds me of a treat my mother used to make for us whenever my dad was traveling: Welsh Rarebit, or, in our less classy childhood name for it, “Melted Cheese on Bread.” My childhood treat and this complex grown-up soup share many of the same ingredients, starting of course with a rich, savory sharp cheddar.
- 2 well-washed leeks, white and green parts diced (about 2 cups' worth), tough outer leaves discarded
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 celery ribs, diced
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 1 bay leaf
- 3-4 tablespoons butter
- ⅓ cup flour
- 2 cups milk
- 1¾ cups water
- 2 bullion cubes
- 1 bottle Irish ale
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 4 cups Conebella Farm Sharp cheddar
- salt and pepper to taste
- diced ham and/or green onions for topping
- In a heavy saucepan, cook leeks, carrots, celery, garlic and bay leaf in the butter over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables soften. Stir occasionally.
- Reduce heat to low. Dust the vegetables with the flour and cook and stir them for about 3 minutes.
- Grab a whisk and add milk, water and ale while whisking. Simmer for 5 minutes, continuing to whisk occasionally. Add Worcestershire sauce, mustard, bullion, salt and pepper and stir.
- Add cheese a little at a time, stirring constantly over low heat so that the soup does not boil at this point. Cook 3-4 minutes, or until melted. Discard bay leaf and top your soup as desired.