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Crafting A Beer: Cask Time by Bobby Rodriguez (2013)

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This is a first for us here at BLC. We have asked our friend and co-brewing conspirator Bobby Rodriguez to put something together on Cask Ale. The beer we made with him (Fünke a Mint Blueberry Kölsch) for the 2013 Blue Point Brewing Company Cask Ales Festival was, of course, put into a cask. Stop by the Brewer’s East End Revival (B.E.E.R.) table to give it a try if you are attending. Unfortunately we were not there for the process and left the transfer of beer from carboy to cask in the capable hands of Bobby. Since we missed out on the experience we decided to let Bobby talk a bit about his experience and to share some of his knowledge of cask ale with you. So without further rambling from us, here is Bobby Rodriguez’s “Cask Time”.

Cask Time

When I first heard about cask ale I really didn’t know what the heck that meant. Simply put, a Cask is a large barrel like container. Traditionally casks were made of wood; however, the majority of casks these days are metal, Even though there are still some wooden casks around, these are rare. Beer casks come in a number of sizes, but by far the most common in the pub trade are those of 10.8 US gallons which is known as a Firkin.

Cask ale may also be referred to as real ale, a term coined by the Campaign for Real Ale, often now extended to cover bottle-conditioned beer as well. Put simply, cask ale is the original method of storing and serving beer. Cask beers were popular until about 1970 when the change to filtered, pasteurized and force carbonated beer was largely driven by the customer’s dislike of sediment in their beer. In essence the last great stronghold of natural beer was about to be wiped out by the 70’s when the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) stepped in Britain to save what they came to term “Real Ale “which can also be known as cask beers, cask-conditioned ales or even real beer.

The ale beer that is housed inside the firkin is naturally carbonated by its resident yeast and its ingredients have not been processed in any way outside of simple fermentation by the yeast. In essence, firkin-contained Real Ale is comparable to the ale beers that were produced hundreds of years ago, before industrialization subjected them to processes that removed and/or killed the yeast, stripping the beer of many of its inherent vitamins (especially the B vitamins), minerals, and perhaps most importantly, taste.

To serve cask beers you must hammer in a dry soft spile through the middle depression on the large, center bung of the cask. Beer and gas should escape through the soft spile. This is done to check the amount of carbonation and allow excess gas to be vented slowly (so not to dredge up sediment). When it takes three seconds or longer for beer to flow back through the spile, this means the cask is probably ready for a hard spile. Wooden hard spiles will slowly vent excess gas over 1-2 days. A few hours before you are ready to start serving, hammer in your sanitized serving tap into the middle of the sealed, smaller bung at the end of the cask.

Some of the difficulties with cask ales is that it is difficult to keep it fresh tasting in the cask, especially in warmer climates – it has a shelf life of two or three days- before it becomes oxidized and start to sour. The cask should really be kept around 50-55 degrees F for the entire serving time. Cask ale served at room temperature does NOT last long and is NOT usually very pleasant.

Racking (or transferring) a beer into a cask is no different than transferring a beer into a keg. One simply siphons the beer into the cask. To be considered a Real ale, the ale must be naturally carbonated as a byproduct of secondary fermentation in the cask. This can be done quicker by adding small amounts of priming sugar, about 3- 8ounces. After a couple of weeks the beer is usually ready for serving.

References

Camra.org – “About Real Ale”
Alabev.com – “Cask Ale or Real Ale
Classcitybrew.com – “Useful Information on Conditioning and Serving Real Ale (Cask Ale)

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Written by A+K

April 12th, 2013 at 11:30 pm

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