On the Trail

Freewheelin' in Redwood City

David Driscoll

In what's been both a heavenly blessing and at times a dreadful curse, the luxury of real, cask-conditioned, English-style ales on tap is just down the street from our Redwood City store. Head south on Middlefield, make a left on Marsh and you're pretty much there: 3736 Florence Street. The Freewheel Brewing Company is a locally-owned pub, restaurant, and functioning brewery that has eschewed the ubiquitous keg-style taps in favor of the traditional British pump. Don’t know the difference between cask ale and gas-pumped keg beer? Whereas 99.9% of beer you get in a bar is from keg—a container that requires the beer to be filtered or refined to remove sediment in order to function properly—cask ales are unfiltered and pumped out by hand. Keg beers also require pressurized carbon dioxide or gas to move the liquid through the tube, which can add additional carbonation. Whereas cask beer isn’t as bubbly or often as cold, it’s almost always more flavorful and fresh. Much like the bubbles in Champagne are always finer than those in an artificially carbonated sparkling wine, the creamy head of a cask-conditioned ale is that much more delicate. It takes a firm bicep rather than a blast of gas to move these beers out from the cask and into your glass. 

I went over to grab a beer and a burger with our beer buyer Jim Boyce and authentic Brit (and Freewheel fanatic) Ryan Woodhouse—our adventurous Southern Hemisphere specialist. "People like to talk about food miles, about how far the food travels before it's consumed," Ryan said to me as we scanned the menu. "Well, I like to talk about beer miles. This beer only ever travels twelve feet in its entire life. It's made right back there behind the bar then pumped directly into my glass!" Whereas we're living in an age of 8.5% alcohol IPAs and 10% imperial stouts, Freewheel specializes in what Ryan might call "session ales"—beers you can actually consume without falling asleep in between sips. We all immediately went for the FSB bitter—a sub-5% fresh-tasting ale with incredible texture. "That tastes like home, duhn't it? That's some incredible sessionability!"

Freewheel was started about three years ago by head brewer Malcolm McGinnis and a few partners, one originally from Liverpool, who longed to recreate the authentic British cask-ale experience here in Silicon Valley. They'd been doing home-brews long before establishing their current location, but they've been open to the public since 2012. The brewery today is run by an enthusiastic group of youngsters—Devin Roberts and Alisha Blue—who are now on a first-name basis with just about all of our staff members. In fact, if you head over to Freewheel and you don't see a K&L employee drinking at the bar then there's probably something wrong. We've actually been working with Freewheel for years (as tasters) to get the proper cask-ale formula into a ready-to-drink bottle form that we could sell in the store. Thank goodness that day has finally come!

If you can't make it over to eat and drink at Freewheel then you can at least grab a bottle from our fridge (or order online!). Malcolm and the gang have gone out of their way to make sure the experience from the glass is as accurate as possible. We also routinely partner with Freewheel to make special cask-aged editions. Every now and again we'll send our empty Bourbon barrels over to the facility for maturation purposes and to add a little richness to their stout. Those limited edition expressions tend to sell out in nanoseconds so make sure you check back with us often. But your best bet is to just head over to the brewery yourself. You'll get the first-hand experience that way and, in all likelihood, you'll probably run into one of us while you're there. For a full look at their in-house selection click here.

-David Driscoll