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wdwalter

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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!
 

blackcows

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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?
 

mcspanner

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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?
 

FarmerTed

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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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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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wdwalter

wdwalter

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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.
 

Nugent

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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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wdwalter

wdwalter

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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!
 

malweth

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Damn... HBT loves to get me to spend $$.
This looks like a $312+ proposition (+s/h) at Northern Brewer (w/ CO2 replacement)
Sounds like something that would be good for parties, though! Now if only I had parties, ever...
 
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wdwalter

wdwalter

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Ha a party would be an ideal way to do some cask ale! My goal is to do this on a limited budget. i.e. Homemade beer engine, and smaller kegs vice a full cask.
 

thughes

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5L mini keg with the built-in tap. Fabricate your own spiles from wooden dowels, condition and serve at cellar temps (currently @ 55-60F in my basement for the duration of the winter). No CO2 replacement option at this point but I have no trouble finishing a bit over a gallon of good sessionable cask ale between tapping it Friday night and the final nightcap on Sunday evening. Using stovetop BIAB I knock out at least one new batch every week, allows for lots of experimentation!

 

Nugent

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One other thing that I have done, from advice from ChillWill - an HBT member that works for a brewery in the UK - is to dryhop before putting the beer in the cask.

Avoids the hop bits that the little filters that they sell at NB don't really filter out. Had a problem with consistent pouring when I used whole hops in the cask. This is just my experience.
 
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wdwalter

wdwalter

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Thughes, where did you get the mini casks?
 

thughes

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AnchorBock

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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!
There is a lot of great info out there on all of these topics. I'll ditto what others have said and advise anyone who wants to serve Real Ale to get Cellarmanship, it has all the info you could ever want regarding conditioning and serving cask ales.

I built a homemade beer engine type contraption and it works great for parties, but I don't really like leaving beer to sit in it since the parts within the actual pump were only designed for water (likely made out of brass mostly). I was going to get a separate setup with a LPG regulator to act as a cask breather, but since I'll only be using this occasionally I just expose the beer to air when dispensing. If I was to do it over I might just go the gravity route if not going for a true beer engine like an Angram.

Here is the thread.
 

CaptKiRkLeS

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5L mini keg with the built-in tap. Fabricate your own spiles from wooden dowels, condition and serve at cellar temps (currently @ 55-60F in my basement for the duration of the winter). No CO2 replacement option at this point but I have no trouble finishing a bit over a gallon of good sessionable cask ale between tapping it Friday night and the final nightcap on Sunday evening. Using stovetop BIAB I knock out at least one new batch every week, allows for lots of experimentation!

Thughs, do you have more insight to how you did this? I'd like try it before jumping into buying a pin. Any links, pix or tips would be appreciated.
 

thughes

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I just made it up as I went along.

Carb with a tablespoon of sugar, wait a couple of weeks @ 70F, stick it in the basement and allow to cool to ambient temp (50-55F), vent it Thursday night, drink it throughtout the weeked, rinse, repeat. I would say the important part is venting it at the temp you want to serve at.....the CO2 level will be dependant on the ambient temp....if you want more carbonation you need to store and serve at lower temps. I vent by poking a piece of wooden dowel into the center of the bung where the tap normally gets inserted. I just found a piece of wooden dowel kicking around and shaved a taper on one end with a utility knife. I think is may be soft pine or cedar?

While maybe not truly "cask ale" because I don't tap while the secondary fermentation is still active, I feel it's close enough for me. I suppose you could fashion a hard spile to plug it with during the secondary fermentation/conditioning, continually sampling until it reaches the carbonation level you desire, and then drink it up......too much fussing around for me!
 
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wdwalter

wdwalter

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Bringing this one back up for round 2--With Pics! I am finally getting around to this project after a busy few months. Originally I wanted to build my own beer engine with an RV water pump--which I did, but I wasn't happy with the results. I saved up enough for the real deal-an Angram 1/4 pint beer engine. I got it from UK Brewing in PA, they are great to work with. I am building a small "cask ale bar" to put it on, with it's own refrigerator compartment. I have already started the project so I will update with Pics of that as well. The mini cask bar will be English Pub inspired, so I'm going with a dark hard wood look.

Stand by for photos!
 

shoreman

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Brewing TV did an episode - I think if you have friends that can polish off a keg in a day or two or brew for a cask party than grab a firkin and a beer engine.

Someone on here also built a cool looking beer engine from HD parts.
 

shoreman

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thughes said:
5L mini keg with the built-in tap. Fabricate your own spiles from wooden dowels, condition and serve at cellar temps (currently @ 55-60F in my basement for the duration of the winter). No CO2 replacement option at this point but I have no trouble finishing a bit over a gallon of good sessionable cask ale between tapping it Friday night and the final nightcap on Sunday evening. Using stovetop BIAB I knock out at least one new batch every week, allows for lots of experimentation!
I like this idea alot.
 
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wdwalter

wdwalter

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Reconditioned 1/4 Pint from UK Brewing.

11 AUG 044.jpg
 

shoreman

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brewmaster12 said:
Just picked this one up from total wine today.
Can these be reused a bunch of times? I've seen Newcastle ones locally - I'm about to start brewing some small batch stuff and looking into getting a couple of these.
 

Zamial

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Reconditioned 1/4 Pint from UK Brewing.
That looks exactly like the ones we have in the brewery! and now I will give you the missing info to finish this the right way.

If you take a corny keg and cut or use a short dip tube or possibly a gas tube, you can order a stainless steel ball float from McCaster that will fit in the corny opening. Now silver solder a nut or washer onto it so you can secure a zip tie to it. Next get some silicon tubing that will slip over the extra short dip tube and secure it with a zip tie and trim off the tail. Secure the other end to the nut or washer you added to the float and trim the tail off.

The float will now hold the tube about 1 inch under the surface of any liquid inside it.

Ferment, add sugar and unfiltered beer to the modded cask/keg like you would normally then after it is carbed up chill it to desired temp and vent all the extra gas out of the corny pressure relief.

Attach a regulator that is set as low as possible. (We ordered a special one that allows gas to be pulled through it as the beer is drawn out.) While this is not CAMRA approved it works better than you are imagining. Beauty is you can just let atmosphere in if you like but that may get rough to kill a 5 gallon batch in a day or 2.

(Not for use in oxygen draw systems/ Must use a CO2 blanket!!!)

Want to dry hop like a pro? Drill a hole that is big enough for the smallest zip tie you can find to pass through it in the bottom edge of the gas tube. Get a 1 gallon paint strainer bag (or small hop bag if that scares you.) and put in an ounce of hops, spices, wood or what have you into the bag and tie it to the gas tube with a zip tie. When the cask is full it will stay in contact with whatever it is you have in the bag, as the level drops the bag is suspended above the beer so you never "over dry hop" your casked ale! (Unless you drink it REALLY slow.)

Every bit of this other than the zip ties can be sterilized in a pressure cooker. The silicon lines only need replaced when they are visibly soiled (3-6) batches if you do not sterilize them.
 

shoreman

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thughes said:
5L mini keg with the built-in tap. Fabricate your own spiles from wooden dowels, condition and serve at cellar temps (currently @ 55-60F in my basement for the duration of the winter). No CO2 replacement option at this point but I have no trouble finishing a bit over a gallon of good sessionable cask ale between tapping it Friday night and the final nightcap on Sunday evening. Using stovetop BIAB I knock out at least one new batch every week, allows for lots of experimentation!
What's the longest you've had one of these going without getting oxidated beer? 3-4 days?
 
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wdwalter

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Building a small mini-bar that has the "feel" of an English pub. Top will be unfinished walnut. The bottom compartment is temp controlled so I can maintain a "cellar temp" of 50-55.

11 AUG 038.jpg


11 AUG 037.jpg
 
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wdwalter

wdwalter

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I want the bar top to look like its old--solid walnut, unfinished, with tung oil to protect it.

11 AUG 036.jpg
 

Henry22

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This is great. Looking forward to seeing it complete.

Also interested in this mini kegs.
 

laughingboysbrew

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How to make friends in your neighborhood... I have a monthly party called "Cask & Comrades" and we drink a 5gal pin in a couple hours. Odd, women seem to love it more than men. No complaints here. (have too many cheap beer, high carb lager guy friends...I know...I know)

WP_20130606_006.jpg
 

shoreman

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Are you still making the 5l cask ales - how many times can you reuse one of these? I have a full keg setup but would be nice to put my bitters in these little kegs for a weekend if cask.


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Gadjobrinus

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I know this is a really old thread but OP, or others, this build is exactly what I'm looking to do. I can't tell whether this was a bought cabinet or totally fashioned from bought wood but call me seriously impressed, and yes, I'd like to hint at a good old English pub bar as well. So OP, if you're still around for some questions, greatly appreciated.

I plan on making enough room inside to house two firkins, whether on stillage or on vertical draw with a widge. I also plan on 2" R13 Rigid foam for insulation everywhere. So these dimensions include room for the insulation, gaps, etc.

Depth, 25", L, 64", H, 37". Plus a 2" solid piece of wood as you have, for the bar top. I have the guts ripped out from a dorm fridge through the kind help from another member, and can figure out how to install them. Curious on yours - seems your compressor is interior, if you have specifics on venting, that would be great. Don't see your coil, also would be great.

I'm also considering just doing a coolbot with a low-btu A/C.

I was planning on a 2x4 skeleton, OSP overall, and perhaps a nice veneer. Or, a more rustic look with antiqued wood as the exterior.

Anyway, just didn't know if you're around. Have found nothing in the way of a piece of cabinetry already there - everything is too shallow for a cask. Frustrating as I can do carpentry, but not that great at it and I'd prefer to convert something ready made - hence my question to you. It does look like you built from scratch, and again, congratulations.

FInal solution is to just keep looking for a reasonable, used back bar cooler and build a bar around it.
 
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