Cask Ales

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billf2112

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I just read an article in the latest edition of Brew Your Own (july-august 2012) called Homebrewing Cask Ales. It looks really cool. Has anyone done anything like this?

For those who are not sure what this is, you make a brew then rack it into a cask (kinda like a keg) just like a big bottle (you add priming sugar and it carbs in the cask) they are later served directly from the cask at about 50°f in tradtional european style.

The brews tend away from malty into bitters and hoppier brews because the higher serving temp will accent the maltier flavors.

It looks really cool, great beer party idea, you get about 40 pints out of one.
 

BootstrapBill

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You better bring some thirsty friends. Once you pop that thing, the shelf life is not that long. I applaud you for wanting to do a cask beer. I love them and think it would be awesome to have my own pull system on a bar.
 

TopherM

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I went to a cask brew festival a few months ago. I thought the concept was awesome too, but once I got to sampling a bunch of cask brews, I found I wasn't a fan. Cask brews have about 1/4 of the carbonation of typical brews. It was kind of like tasting FG wort samples, honestly. I found that I really can't do without healthy doses of carbonation.

Just my opinion!
 

Waynep005

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I read the article aslo and think i is a great idea. would make a great way to do beer for a wedding reception or other large party. Something special since the start up cost would be high.
 

Gameface

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Is it considered cheating if you use nitro or something to push the beer, even if it is conditioned in the cask? It would be awesome as I love ESBs and figure I could use my standard recipe, just don't think I could kill the cask in a day. Maybe something for the next family reunion as I've been tasked with providing the beer.
 

rvklein

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I went to a cask brew festival a few months ago. I thought the concept was awesome too, but once I got to sampling a bunch of cask brews, I found I wasn't a fan. Cask brews have about 1/4 of the carbonation of typical brews. It was kind of like tasting FG wort samples, honestly. I found that I really can't do without healthy doses of carbonation.

Just my opinion!
Yeah but 3x the flavor! :mug:
 

ajbram

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Some people use a CO2 "breather" system that doesn't really carbonate the beer, but helps keep the original CO2 in solution and pushes the beer. I have sometimes primed and keg conditioned and then just used the CO2 to push the beer through the lines and kept it carbed that way... not a real cask ale, but a good compromise.
 

blacksailj

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It's not traditional but you can use cask breathers that replaces the volume of head space from when you draw off beer with co2 making the shelf life longer.

Edit: you beat me to it.
 

mbauer013

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I have also seen this done with mini kegs so you only have to drink 5 litres in a sitting vs5 gallons. Much easier on the liver.
 

TopherM

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I'm just telling you, if you served cask beers at a wedding reception or family reunion, 99% of the people WOULD NOT LIKE IT. Not at all. BAD IDEA!!!

Out of my home brew club of about 40 (we hosted the event, though I didn't participate), only a handful (6 or 7 tops) enjoyed the cask beer festival beers, and we're talking 40 CRAFT BEER BREWERS, let alone a wedding full of BMCers.

Beer just isn't the same without carbonation. You have to trust me on this. Most of you WILL NOT like it! It's fine for a post-fermentation sample, it just doesn't work for many people at all in several 16oz doses.
 

StainlessBrewing

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If I could find a descent pump for a beer engine I would like to try one myself for a summertime BBQ poolside. I can make the faucet and sparkler tip but I don't want to drop $400 on a complete unit.

When searching for beer engines this popped up.
 
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OldWorld

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Very few microbreweries actually serve true cask beers. It is a rarity to have a beer poured from a wooden cask. It's not impossible but it is rarely done...those cask shaped kegs are not real casks and shouldn't be labeled as such...Cask style would be more appropriate.

We were lucky enough to get a real cask from germany at our local beer speciality shop. It was poured out the same day...what fun it was.
 

Gameface

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Very few microbreweries actually serve true cask beers. It is a rarity to have a beer poured from a wooden cask. It's not impossible but it is rarely done...those cask shaped kegs are not real casks and shouldn't be labeled as such...Cask style would be more appropriate.

We were lucky enough to get a real cask from germany at our local beer speciality shop. It was poured out the same day...what fun it was.
Huh, I had read that wood casks were not required in order for it to be considered "real ale." Thought it was more about the process of carbonating and serving it.
 

OldWorld

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No Gameface...you don't need a real wood cask to be real ale...But the traditional method of dispensing beer makes the experience that much more authentic.

Cask ale shouldn't be flat...Carbonation will be much lighter but it should still be carbonated up. It works well for lower gravity beers. I love a good old fashioned bitter.
 

dinnerstick

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We were lucky enough to get a real cask from germany at our local beer speciality shop. It was poured out the same day...what fun it was.
sounds absolutely amazing, but that's german altbier casks! english ones are metal and usually beer engine fed and have been for many many years!

just to throw in another opinion, i love a good cask ale, and hate a bad / old / stale cask ale, really can't stand them, and agree with the person who said that most people (should maybe say most non-british non-males not between the ages of 30 and 130) at the wedding won't go for it. i think most ale lovers will appreciate an appropriate ale (say a nice english style esb) served cask-style eventually, even if they find the first few a bit weird, but then some perfectly reasonable people will always hate them, will find them flat and warm. so it goes, i can see both sides of that one. but the uninitiated rarely love their first cask pint.
but as for what's a 'real ale' according to CAMRA, well personally i think CAMRA can go stuff themselves, telling pubs that they can't use a CO2 rebreather, and if they do they can't advertise they sell real ale. so unless they sell enough to turn over a firkin in a few days all they will sell is crappy lager, or some just keep serving nasty stale ale a week after it's gone bad. screw CAMRA, for all the good they have done bringing back the style that is an idiotic restriction. as for what it means for homebrewers and pubs outside britain- nothing! do whatever you want! rebreathe with co2 and call it a cask ale. a bunch of dumpy dudes in black tshirts and wool sweaters telling you your ale isn't a real ale, really??
ahhhh, rant finished! now, i haven't done this yet but many people on here have, you can use a corny as a gravity feed cask by laying it on its side with a slight downward slope, serving from the CO2 in, and breathing air or low pressure CO2 in the beer out via dip tube!
 

david_42

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My experiences with cask ales have all been negative. I can't force myself to go to a fest to try a range of them.

And I love the Milds and Bitters traditionally served from a cask.
 

Wynne-R

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It’s my understanding that sparklers are favored in north England and deprecated in the south. Found this on Google:

Apparently, once upon a time ale was not vented. The ale would condition in the cask, they’d hammer in a tap and start serving. The ale would be quite lively thanks to the lack of venting off excess c02, so when it poured it would throw a big head of foam. Somewhere along the way, they started venting, but now that head is gone. What to do? Some enterprising publican came up with a way to bring it back, and here we are today with sparkled beer in the North for a reason. Tradition. Appearance. Local taste. And default, through ignorance in the US.
-http://caskaleathome.blogspot.com/p/word-on-sparklers.html
I had a Red Seal out of a cask at Flying Saucer in Fort Worth. The whole deal, wooden cask, hand pump and sparkler. The bartender warned me it was gonna take a while so I ordered a beer to have while waiting. Five pulls and forty five minutes later I had a fresh delicious warm flat amber.

I totally agree about the breather. It’s not even a compromise, it’s an upgrade. Tradition for tradition’s sake is stupid if it means stale, flat beer.
 
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billf2112

billf2112

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I like the idea of using the mini keg and doing 5 liters, be a nice addition to a party. I still think many home brewers would drink one or two just to try it. Face it home brewers are not just beer lovers but beer pioneers.
 

Ghostly

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I've had a lot of cask ales recently (extended trip to England plus many at bars nearby in NYC) and I'm willing to say that I think bottle conditioning is a superior way to serve naturally carbonated beers. I wanted them to have some sort of magic, but there was so much boring coming from most of those casks (English pubs, on the other hand, were delightful as a whole, and I could love cask beers at the right one.) That said, Brewing TV did a couple nice features on cask brewing.
 

mbauer013

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It blows my mind that people say they don't like cask ale. I have a hard time believing that you've had a good one. We have a festival in St. Paul called Firkin Fest each year that has 40 or so breweries serving cask ale and it is amazing. This year my favorite was an old ale (Harviestoun Old Engine Oil) but there were other very good offerings Bourbon Barrel beers, beers with almonds and toasted coconut, Bells was there, as well as Surly, Grand Teton, Rogue, and I think Left Hand. If an appropriate style is served at the appropriate temp and carbonation, very little compares with cask ale in my opinion. If you truly don't like it, fine, but methinks this is like someone saying they don't like dark beers, or craft beers when they have only had one or two examples.
 

motobrewer

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i'll be laughing at all your cask ale haters when i'm standing in the cask ale tent (yes, a whole tent, with nothing but cask ale. last year there were over 70) at the great taste of the midwest this year.
 

afr0byte

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I've had a belgian-style quad (american brewery) from a cask. It was pretty amazing, even though the style is traditionally pretty highly carbonated. It was dangerous, though, since it was warmer/lower carb and thus easier to drink quickly. Cider is also quite nice from a cask.
 

jimswms

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It’s my understanding that sparklers are favored in north England and deprecated in the south. Found this on Google:Quote:
Apparently, once upon a time ale was not vented. The ale would condition in the cask, they’d hammer in a tap and start serving. The ale would be quite lively thanks to the lack of venting off excess c02, so when it poured it would throw a big head of foam. Somewhere along the way, they started venting, but now that head is gone. What to do? Some enterprising publican came up with a way to bring it back, and here we are today with sparkled beer in the North for a reason. Tradition. Appearance. Local taste. And default, through ignorance in the US.
-http://caskaleathome.blogspot.com/p/word-on-sparklers.html
Hey! That is taken from my blog that I started then didin't do anything with:rockin:

Keep in mind, the above quote was an opinion, not fact. I have no idea how sparklers evolved, but it makes sense to me.

Along those lines, I'm hardly an expert on this subject beyond lots of trips to the UK, and regularly using casks in my home brewery. That said, there a lot of mistruths in this thread, which is unfortunate. Just to clear up a few things: a cask is container of a certain shape with two holes in it. One to dram beer out of. One to fill/vent through. They can be made of any metal, but nowadays they are likely stainless. Wood went away a long time ago, and those "wood" german casks that the altbier breweries are using is likely stainless with a wood exterior. I've been to Dusseldorf, spoke to one of the brewers at Zum Eurige. That isn't cask conditioned beer folks. It's regular old filtered, force carbonated (with recovered c02) beer put into a cask shaped container.

CAsk ale is not flat. If it is, send it back! It won't be carbonated like many of us are used to either, but somewhere in between. You should be able to swirl the pint and see tons of gas in the ale, but there shouldn't be any bubbles rising from the bottom of the glass either. The art of cask conditioning is venting, but not over venting!

Breathers? Yeah, there is a time and place for one. My homebrewery is a good place for a breather! I can keep a cask in good condition for around 4 weeks.

What I find a shame is the default use of the sparkler in the US. I don't see any rhyme or reason for it either. It is the utmost form of ignorance. If you have tried the ale side by side, and prefer the sparkler that is one thing, but otherwise it's just ignorance. To my taste, the same beer pummeled through a sparkler tastes flat, lifeless, stale but with a great hoppy aroma. The non sparkled beer is lively, bursting with condition and hop flavor, but less on the nose. Real ale should never appear flat. There should always be a thin ring of foam on the glass. Of course, the best pint will be the one straight from the cask with no agitation whatsoever.

Here's the blog. Someday, I'll update it. Please don't hesitate contacting me anytime with questions on getting started. Cask beer at home is very doable, and highly rewarding!
 

mbauer013

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Jim, I'll have to take you up on that, maybe you could start a thread on how to achieve good cask ale at home. I used to work in the UK and after leaving, the quest for real ale is what led me to homebrewing 7 years ago. Since I brew mainly english styles, this would be a great help to me, and I am sure others.
 

jimswms

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Jim, I'll have to take you up on that, maybe you could start a thread on how to achieve good cask ale at home. I used to work in the UK and after leaving, the quest for real ale is what led me to homebrewing 7 years ago. Since I brew mainly english styles, this would be a great help to me, and I am sure others.
Might seem obvious, but the best thing to do is get the gear and just do it. My first cask was flat because I over conditioned, but I learned from it! Northern Brewer has cask stuff now, but I get my stuff from Paul at Ukbrewing.com

I'm in the middle of building a house. I'll have a dedicated cask cellar in it. Currently, we're in a rental and I can't brew now. Once we move, I'll happily start a step by step thread on how to do it.

Do you have any specific questions?
 

Wynne-R

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Hey Jim, nice to hear from you.

I’ve never been to jolly old England, likely never will. Two quick questions;

Do they use sparklers in London? I know it’s in the south, but it’s kind of in it’s own orbit.

Is the sparkler easily removable? Can I ask the bartender to remove the stupid sparkler?
 

jimswms

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Hey Jim, nice to hear from you.

I’ve never been to jolly old England, likely never will. Two quick questions;

Do they use sparklers in London? I know it’s in the south, but it’s kind of in it’s own orbit.

Is the sparkler easily removable? Can I ask the bartender to remove the stupid sparkler?
I've been to London 8 or 9 times over the course of the last 20 years. Started drinking beer while in college for a semester abroad. I didn't like beer until I tasted Brakspear Bitter. a game changer! I've never seen a sparkler on a pump in London! Ever! Well, that's not true. The Northern breweries at the Great British Beer Festival use sparklers on their beers.

The sparkler is a threaded plastic bit. It screws off in seconds. I always ask that it be removed, and usually get bad looks:ban:
 

TopherM

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It blows my mind that people say they don't like cask ale.
LOL..."blows my mind" is a bit strong. Lightly carbonated, warmish beer? It's just not for everyone. Kinda like candy corn or clowns.

Does it "blow your mind" that not everyone likes clowns? :D I saw a clown couple making out in the poultry section of a grocery store when I was 18 and have been scarred ever since.

Taste is always subjective!!
 

Gameface

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I would really like to taste a proper real ale. Can't say as that I've ever had the occasion to pass one up, though. I'd make one but I would never know if what I was making had any resemblance to what people consider good real ale.
 

mbauer013

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LOL..."blows my mind" is a bit strong. Lightly carbonated, warmish beer? It's just not for everyone. Kinda like candy corn or clowns.

Does it "blow your mind" that not everyone likes clowns? :D I saw a clown couple making out in the poultry section of a grocery store when I was 18 and have been scarred ever since.

Taste is always subjective!!
Not really since clowns are a pretty specific thing, how many different kinds of clowns can you think of - Sad ones, Happy ones, ones that cut you off in traffic, but that's pretty much it. Cask ale, well that covers any beer served in a cask. Warmish, BS, it is cellar temp, just because it is not ice cold doesn't mean it is warm. Tastes great on an autumn day when it's 60 out. Sure when its 90 cold cold beer may be more refreshing. I stand by blows my mind. I had hundreds of very different beer out of casks while I was in the UK, I doubt I couldn't find one that would satisfy a person who claimed to not like them.
 

mbauer013

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Might seem obvious, but the best thing to do is get the gear and just do it. My first cask was flat because I over conditioned, but I learned from it! Northern Brewer has cask stuff now, but I get my stuff from Paul at Ukbrewing.com

I'm in the middle of building a house. I'll have a dedicated cask cellar in it. Currently, we're in a rental and I can't brew now. Once we move, I'll happily start a step by step thread on how to do it.

Do you have any specific questions?
So you mean beer engine, breather, pin? dang that'd be an investment. No real specific questions, but if you have used a breather, do you find it doesn't have the same charachter as a cask open to atmosphere?
 

jimswms

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So you mean beer engine, breather, pin? dang that'd be an investment. No real specific questions, but if you have used a breather, do you find it doesn't have the same charachter as a cask open to atmosphere?
Yep. That's what you need! You don't need a pump though. Those are a tool to pull the beer out, not required beyond the fun factor and impressing your friends.
Do you have a corny set up? If so, you need this + this and you're good to go. I don't see breathers on the NB site, which is a shame really. Finally, someone brings in the gear at the homebrew level, but they don't offer the tools that will truly get it off the ground? I don't have a problem with breathers, but if I had a pub I might not use one. If you're going to do this at home, you need to make concessions!

That NB link will give you what you need, but I post that more for ease. I'd break it down and get it from Ukbrewing.com just because Paul is a cool guy, and I've been a customer for awhile. He's the US source for all things cask.
 

cfonnes

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A Irish themed pub near me has cask ale. When I take my wife out for dinner half the time I go there the other half is divided between all of the other restaurants, just because the cask is so wonderful.

I noticed that the carbonation seems to be finer bubbles, the small head is like shaving soap foam due to the tiny bubbles. Is this normal?
 

jerryteague

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Back in the early 90's, I was stationed in germany, and got to do a good deal of traveling. I got to try cask ale in Berlin at a tiny pub near downtown, and I loved it. I've tried other cask ales since then, but none have measured up to my first pint. I'll drink it when it's available, but I doubt I'll ever brew a cask ale. To me, it's not worth the expense. Just my .02.
 

mbauer013

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A Irish themed pub near me has cask ale. When I take my wife out for dinner half the time I go there the other half is divided between all of the other restaurants, just because the cask is so wonderful.

I noticed that the carbonation seems to be finer bubbles, the small head is like shaving soap foam due to the tiny bubbles. Is this normal?
Yep normal!
 

Gameface

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A Irish themed pub near me has cask ale. When I take my wife out for dinner half the time I go there the other half is divided between all of the other restaurants, just because the cask is so wonderful.

I noticed that the carbonation seems to be finer bubbles, the small head is like shaving soap foam due to the tiny bubbles. Is this normal?
Where's this place you're talking about?
 

chucke

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I cask condition and gravity pour some of my home brewed beer.



An LPG regulator serves as a cask breather.

 

makomachine

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chucke said:
I cask condition and gravity pour some of my home brewed beer.

An LPG regulator serves as a cask breather.
Tell us more as I'm intrigued. LP regulator hooked to CO2? What pressure? Where did you get that container?
 
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