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Old 11-16-2012, 01:07 AM   #1
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Default Cask Ale Mission

I've seen several threads on the subject of Cask Ale (long time reader first time poster). However, I have never been able to find one that was complete from start to finish and with good pictures and/or video. After recently taking a trip to England I am on a mission to recreate the authentic Cask Ale experience at home. In this thread I hope to cover everything from brewing to serving, thoroughly covering each aspect. Hopefully everyone can chime in and this can be a valuable thread for future use.

I will hit all of these throughout:
-Brewing authentic English bitter
-Conditioning phase of the ale after casking
-Serving temperatures
-Gravity vs Beer Engine dispensing
-Homemade Beer Engine (building and performance)

I am by no means an expert on any of these topics but hopefully between all the knowledge on this forum we can get some good info. I will provide the pictures and step by step updates as I go through all of this.

Soon be pulling pints of Real Ale!

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Old 11-16-2012, 10:37 AM   #2
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I will be interested to follow the thread, I have considered doing this many times but haven't ever gotten around to getting it done. Like you I have read a lot but never ended up with a good plan. There are two things that have kept me from moving forward, first and foremost is temperature control, I already have a kegerator and a chest freezer that I used for fermentation so I don't know that I have room or a desire to add another large appliance in my home so how do I maintain cellar temps? The second thing is a suitable container for the ale...I know I would never get through 5 gallons, so what do I use for storage and serving?

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Old 11-16-2012, 11:07 AM   #3
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Sounds interesting. Even though some fantastic beers come out of kegs I always prefer a well kept and expertly pulled pint of cask real ale.

I'd be interested to see how you get past the volume/shelf life issue. The smallest casks most breweries in the UK do are nines ( as in nine imperial gallons or 72 imperial pints at 19 fluid oz us) with a shelf life once tapped and vented of around 5 days is a LOT of beer to drink quickly.

From my point of view the prep and conditioning are no more complex than kegs but the drawback is that short shelf life.

What size of cask are you planning on using?

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Old 11-16-2012, 04:04 PM   #4
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There are some good podcasts on cask ales on the brewing network. I'd start by listening to the Fuller's episodes on Can You Brew It, particularly the second London Pride one where Justin goes to the brewery. I think the tricky part will be knowing when to cool down the fermentation, to leave some sugars in the beer so you get a secondary fermentation in the cask. Also, there was a recent Sunday Session on cask ales, where they had a local supplier/expert on cask ale equipment.

If I were you, I'd not get too hung up on all the CAMRA bs, and i'd set up a cask-breather so you can serve your ale for more than a few days without it going off. I personally love cask ale, but it's way too much of a PITA for me to even think about it.

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Old 11-16-2012, 04:52 PM   #5
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The first question is what you think "authentic" is. If authentic is a specific kind of beer that goes in the cask before fermentation completes and only served through a beer engine at a specific temperature in a specific kind of vessel with no CO2 backstop to keep the beer fresh you have a long way to go in terms of equipment and testing your beer to reach that very specific goal. I'd probably say that's a slightly limited view of cask ale although not a dishonest view.

If you have the ability to set up a beer engine and work that way, **** it, go for it. Unless you think you can down an entire cask in a few days you probably need to use a cask-breather or one of the other ways of maintaining a layer of CO2 in the cask to keep the beer fresh -- but not for pushing the beer out of the cask. Otherwise, there's nothing un-cask ale about pouring on gravity. It's not entirely uncommon to see beer served out of a cask at room temperature on gravity. It's a little different from the beer engine because it's warmer and slightly less creamy but still an excellent way to serve. That's an easier and certainly cheaper way to have "real" cask ale. Of course, bottle conditioning your beer with low carbonation and serving at warmer temperature is "real ale" just like a cask.

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Old 11-16-2012, 04:53 PM   #6
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I found on a thread somewhere that you can get poly pins as small as 1 gallon.

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Old 11-17-2012, 04:38 PM   #7
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Going through some of the questions that have come up:

1. Temp Control-I will be getting either a wine refrigerator or a chest freezer (I have a temp controller already I would just have to hook it up to the freezer) to keep the temp 50-55 degrees. Since I am operating on a budget, I may use a cooler with a single bag of ice to chill the beer down to cellar temp until I get the fridge. Another option is to just keep the beer in a normal fridge and take it out till it warms to desired temp, however this is a little too much hassle for a beer or 2. Maybe if I plan to empty the keg that day that would be an option.

2. Cask Size- Right now I have a 2.5 gallon keg. I am not too worried about getting a no kidding "cask" for this project. Correct me if I'm wrong, but a cask is designed so the yeast collects in the center when the cask is laying on its side. When the beer is drawn, it is drawn over the yeast at the bottom, which contributes to the flavor of the beer. I will have the same affect by drawing beer from the bottom of the keg where the yeast has collected. With this keg, I can bleed pressure off just like using a soft spile.

3. Keeping Freshness-I do plan on setting something up that will back fill the keg with CO2. I agree with FarmerTed, I don't think it is necessary to get too hung up with the CAMRA guidelines. If you can't tell which beer is which in a side by side test then who cares if one of them had a layer of CO2 added. I would like to try it both ways, as I know they say the oxidation contributes to the flavor profile. Of course a cask breather would be the ideal set up, but I have also heard about people using beach balls filled with CO2 to replace the O2 being pulled in. Again, I would like to compare/contrast these different methods.

4. I use the term "authentic" loosely. I guess my definition of "authentic" would be the ale I was drinking at most pubs in England. I was able to get to about 25 different pubs in a couple different areas of the country and sampled the cask ale. While different breweries made a different beer, the same characteristics were there no matter where I was drinking it: Cellar temp(50-55), very fresh, smooth creamy texture, smooth head like a nitro pour, and a much more complex flavor than most bottled ales I have had.

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Old 11-17-2012, 05:30 PM   #8
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Old 11-18-2012, 12:37 AM   #9
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Pick up a copy of 'Cellarmanship' by Patrick O'Neill.

The vids that organ posted and this book have made my cask ale very successsful - in terms of preparing and serving.

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Old 11-18-2012, 01:08 PM   #10
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I actually got a copy of cellarmanship a few months back and have been through it a couple times. Those are pretty good videos, I found the brewing TV series a few months back as well, thanks for posting! I also have a copy of Brew Your Own British Ale by Graham Wheeler which is a pretty decent book, it has a lot of good close recipes for British Ales/Stouts. Like I said, I feel like I have picked apart every bit of information that is out there online, and most published stuff, I am more or less in the execution phase at this point.

Thanks for the input so far!

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