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What Is Cask-Conditioned Beer?


Have you ever walked into a beer bar or pub and noticed some of the taps both looked and dispensed beer differently? Or have you ever been to a beer festival, or beer event, where beer was served directly from a spigot in the side of a metal container propped up on a table? If so, then you may have already encountered cask-conditioned beer. If not, then after you read this article, I hope you seek some out.

What Is Cask-Conditioned Beer?

Cask-conditioned beer, or cask ale, is beer that is both conditioned in and served from a cask. Up until the beer is placed in the cask, the brewing process is exactly the same: mash, boil, ferment. After the beer finishes primary fermentation, it is placed in a cask with finings (a substance that causes particles suspended in fluid to drop out of suspension) to help clarify the beer. Often sugar will also be added to the cask to aid with the secondary fermentation, and sometimes even extra hops. The beer is then conditioned in the cask. Conditioning is the penultimate stage in the brewing process when the beer matures, clarifies, and carbonates. In the case of cask-conditioned beer, there is a small amount of yeast remaining in the beer that causes secondary fermentation, which carbonates the beer. The conditioning time depends on the beer style and can last between 24 hours and 16 days. Traditionally, the casks are conditioned at the pub by the publican, but can also be conditioned at the brewery and shipped out when ready. When the cask beer is ready, the yeast and other sediment settles to the bottom, the beer is carbonated, and served directly from the cask. Cask ale is always unfiltered, unpasteurized, and always best fresh.

Some of the most common styles of beer found in a cask are English-styles: bitter, mild, brown, pale, ESB, and so on. However, I have seen other styles, such as American IPA on cask like Ballast Point Sculpin IPA, and I’ve also tried Rogue Chocolate stout on cask.

But what’s the difference? Since cask-conditioned ales are not filtered and not pasteurized, they contain live yeast that continues to add complexity, new flavors, and new aromas to a beer. The exact differences vary from beer to beer. The texture of a cask-conditioned beer on your palette is often more creamy and smooth than its non-cask counterpart. Furthermore, there are a few beers that are only available on cask.

Click here to learn more about cask-condition beers.

— David Jensen, Menuism


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Cask Conditioned Real Ale Recipe?

I was listening to Dr. Charlie Bamforth talking about Real Ale (among other things) on the Sunday Session and decided my next beer was going to be an attempt at a Real Ale. I can figure out a general recipe for an Ordinary or Best Bitter but I still have some specific questions.

Dr. Bamforth said Real Ale was moved out of the primary very young and transfered into the cask along with dry hops, priming sugar and isinglass. Then delivered to the pub where the publican holds on to it for two or three weeks in his celler till he taps it.

1. How much priming sugar? I'm shooting for 1.5 Volumes of CO2.
2. Thinking of using Danstar Nottingham, would that be a suitable yeast?
3. How much hops for Dry hopping? Planning on using EKG's for the kettle and Fuggles for the dry hop.
4. I don't have isinglass can I sub gelitin?
5. Will two or three weeks in the corny keg be sufficient?

I have searched the forum but all Real Ale threads seem to talk mostly about Beer Engines, re-breathers and consuming it within 3 days. I understand all that I just want to focus on the recipe right now. I will be pushing it with CO2, although as little head pressure as possible. (CAMRA be damned).

Oldsock

Well-Known Member

1. Not much. Use a priming calculator (google it) to figure out the amount you will need given your volume of beer, temperature, type of sugar, etc. a local brewpub that specializes in real ale (Oliver&#8217s in Baltimore) doesn't even prime their kegs, he transfers early and the yeast (Ringwood) is kicked back into gear by the small amount of oxygen absorbed. Since you are kegging you can always adjust the carbonation once it is on tap.

2. It would be, although it certainly isn't my favorite strain (I like 1968, accentuates the malty character and is not too fruity.)

3. It depends what you are making. For a bitter I wouldn't go over 1 oz, but .5 oz is probably more like it. If you are doing a mild or something like that you would probably skip the dry hops all together. I really like EKG, I&#8217d probably use it for kettle and dry hop.

4. I've never used isinglass, but I believe gelatin has a similar impact. Depending on the strain you use you may not even need it. Low flocculating strains need some help, but many English strains have been selected for quick flocculation (for example 1968 can be done with fermentation and dropped bright in <7 days).

5. Yep, 2-3 weeks should be plenty of time for it to carbonate. I often keg condition my regular beers when there isn&#8217t a free spot in the kegerator, that way when one beer kicks the next is carbonate and ready to go (after 24 hours to cool down.)


The Secrets of British Cask Conditioning

From brewing to serving, pros from the other side of the pond share some of the tricks of the cask-ale trade.

“I can make your beer taste like shit,” grins Pub Manager and Cellarman Robbie Douglas, startling the group of foreign brewers touring his cellar. “But what you’ve got here is beer that’s well looked after,” reassures Douglas, who manages the grand Crosse Keys (cellar pictured above) in central London, a pub that sells 4,000–5,000 pints of cask ale a week.

Although good care at the pub is a vital part of the cask story—poor care in the pub can wipe out the brewer’s hard work—there is a lot more to it than that. Unless the beer is properly brewed and prepared for cask conditioning in the first place, even the best cellar manager will not be able to make it sing.

At the Brewery

The first step is to make sure there are fermentable sugars left in the beer when it goes into the cask, preferably by stopping the fermentation slightly early. “The fermentation proceeds until it is close to final gravity, and then the beer is chilled to arrest yeast activity. I allow the beer to chill to 8–10°C (46–50°F) and stabilize at that temperature for a day or two, then rack to cask,” says Tom Madeiros, who brews at Quercus Devon Ales in southwestern England.

Others work slightly differently. “The beer ends fermentation at about 20°C (68°F), and most yeast used for cask-only beer cannot quite ferment out completely,” says Dave Bailey of Hardknott Brewery in northern England. “The beer is then dropped to about 12°C (54°F), and the yeast goes dormant. The main point here is to consume diacetyl, hence the term ‘diacetyl rest.’ However, we still hope to retain some sugar.”

He adds that since he mainly produces keg and bottled beer, instead of cask-only yeast, he prefers an aggressive West Coast U.S. ale yeast that gets to the limit of attenuation very easily. “We drop out the yeast from the cone and dry hop. If we can then get the beer down to 1°C (34°F), so much the better we also add a mineral-based finings adjunct to clear chill haze. After 3–5 days dry hopping, we then transfer to a bright tank, but without filtering.”

Once the beer is stabilized, brewers have another choice. Some will rack straight to cask while others prefer to part-condition in tanks. “Fuller’s has always done brewery conditioning. Before we had steel tanks installed in the 1970s, it was done in barrels,” says John Keeling, brewing director at London’s cask-focused Fuller’s Brewery. “Our beer was always two weeks old by the time it left the brewery. Some people think that’s cheating, but it’s not—adding CO2 and filtering, that would be cheating!”

He says that however you rack, the key is to “get your yeast count right. It doesn’t need a laboratory, just a microscope. If you have, say, a 5- or 10-barrel plant racking all to cask, first remove as much yeast as you can in the fermentation vessel. Then transfer the beer to a tank that can be roused, rouse it and measure the yeast count. If it’s 0.5 million cells per milliliter [ml] and you think it’s best at 1 ml, add more yeast. We leave ours in the rousing tank for a week—we do a lot of the secondary fermentation ourselves—it makes London Pride easier to look after.

“How long you need for your secondary fermentation depends on your yeast—how viable it is. Our yeast has been well trained for cask it settles easily,” he continues. “You’re not doing a lot of processing with cask beer, so it’s more observing. A good brewer will get [a particular beer] right in three brews—the first not so good, the second not too bad, and the third spot on.”

The next element—assuming you want clear beer—is finings. “Auxiliary finings are added at chill if the beer is to be racked to cask directly from the fermentation vessel,” explains Quercus Devon Ales’ Tom Madeiros. “If the beer is to be transferred to a conditioning tank, the auxiliary finings can be added during the transfer. Alternatively, during racking into casks, the auxiliary finings can be added before the beer is put in the cask.”

How much fining agent do you add? This is where knowing your yeast count comes in, says John Keeling. “If we didn’t already know, we’d get advice from our finings supplier on how to get it down to 1 ml. For instance, we add three pints of finings per [288 pint]-barrel for 1 ml.”

He adds that Fuller’s controls its yeast count by centrifuging the beer and then reseeding with fresh yeast. Some other brewers argue that this breaks with tradition, but Keeling says it gives a more controlled process overall, adding that even with this and brewery conditioning, the beer will still condition in the pub cellar as well.

If the residual sugar level is too low, you can prime the casks, typically with liquid glucose. “We prime our casks—I can’t stand flat beer!” says Heather MacDonald, brewer at Scotland’s new Wooha Brewing Co. “We chill early instead [of priming], but priming is pretty common in British brewing to get a good secondary fermentation,” agrees Keeling.

MacDonald adds that while she has twenty-four casks, they are only for customers who can look after her beer properly—the rest of what she brews is bottle-conditioned. “I’ve been in too many pubs with badly kept cask beer,” she says. “No way am I putting all that energy in and having it go to waste!”

At the Pub

So how do you take care of cask? Keeping a clean cellar at 10–12°C (50–54°F) is the absolute top priority, brewers say, along with cleaning the pipes regularly—a big pub such as the Crosse Keys will have an automated system, cleaning four times a week.

“Have at least twice the amount of stillage space [a stillage is the device on which a cask is placed for use—e.g., a raised concrete area, a wooden or metal rack] as beers you want to serve at once, so four handpulls, eight stillage positions. Busy pubs might need more,” adds Dave Bailey. He continues, “Give the beer time to settle—if it is real cask beer, it will have sediment. Twenty-four hours [to settle] is quite normal, but don’t be surprised if it takes two to three days.”

Crosse Keys’s Robbie Douglas goes further: “We try to give everything four days,” he says. “Stronger beers [by British standards] at 5–6 percent ABV could use five [days]. To start with, we rest the cask for 24 hours after delivery to get its temperature stable. Then we roll it about vigorously [to rouse the yeast], put it on the stillage and vent and spile it. [A spile is a small wooden or cork peg for stopping a cask.] The beer drops bright in a day. That’s not condition though—for that it needs two or three days more for the secondary conditioning.”

It’s a little different with brewery-conditioned beer, according to John Keeling. “You can leave it on the cellar floor to condition, stillage it for 24 hours to settle, and then serve it,” he says. “We say don’t soft-spile because you lose gas. If you’re soft-spiling, it’s to allow gas out because the beer’s over-conditioned.”

He adds, “How long you leave it on the stillage will affect the flavor—there is a time when it’s just right. Taste it—is it fizzy enough? Leave it a day longer—is it better or worse? The whole reason that cask beer is so interesting is that it has these peaks and troughs. It’s why you can drink the same cask beer in two different pubs and find it tastes different—it’s all down to the publican and what the customers like: in one pub, [customers] might prefer it fresh in the another they might prefer it a little older.”

Knowing which is which is the key, of course. While this ought to be simple, the reality is often sadly different. As Dave Bailey concludes, “The worst thing for a cask drinker is a barkeep who, when asked what a beer is like, replies, ‘Don’t know, don’t drink the stuff myself.’ Also, knowing the beers helps when someone complains. Bar staff who are unable to tell whether a beer is genuinely not right does not do the establishment, the brewer, or the beer any good. This applies to cask and keg—even keg can go wrong.”

How Much Does Cask Waste?

One of the arguments sometimes used against cask is that it results in waste. That’s because no matter how well you look after the beer, you have to throw some away with the yeast that settles to the bottom, into the belly of the cask. Along with wastage from line cleaning, sampling and so on, the rule of thumb is you can expect a 72-pint firkin to yield only 66 drinkable pints.

Tilt the cask to get more out at the end, and you risk stirring up the sediment—and hardly anyone wants the resulting murky pint and the upset stomach he/she fears it will bring! Pubs get around this problem by using auto-tilts, which gradually and gently tip the cask as it empties and lightens, leaving as little as 2 pints of sediment remaining.


A great way to try many cask conditioned beers at the same time is to attend a festival like Casks and Quesos or Festival of Firkins, which take place during San Francisco Beer Week each year.

If you seek out cask ale at your local beer bar or pub, be sure to find a place that both has high turnover on their cask conditioned beer and stores and handles it properly. In San Francisco, try Magnolia Pub and Brewery, Toronado, or Public House. In Denver, try Falling Rock Taphouse. In New York City, try The Ginger Man or The Blind Tiger. In Toronto, try barVolo, who is also encouraging other Toronto bars to serve and properly handle cask ale. If you're having trouble finding a spot with cask ale, just send me a message on Twitter and I'll try to find somebody to help you out.

David Jensen is based out of San Francisco and is the primary writer and photographer for Beer 47, a blog focused on craft beer, beer events, cooking with beer and homebrewing. In addition to the blog, you can frequently find David on Twitter as @beer47, tweeting interesting news and sparking up conversations about craft beer while sipping his favorite Double IPA. By day David is a software engineer for a small Internet company.


Conclusion

Although the air-vented cask was preferred 4 to 3 (4 to 4 if we include Joe’s opinion), the differences between the two were very slight, with judges siding with the air-vented cask and non-judges siding with the breather. The difference in the judges’ scoring was only 1.4 percent, hardly an overwhelming victory for the air-vented cask.

In conclusion, I would say that the average homebrewer would not be sacrificing much, if anything, by using a breather to extend the life of their cask-conditioned ale.


CASK CONDITIONED BEER – THE NEXT BIG THING

So, you’ve managed to produce Yeasty McYeastface New England IPA. Baby, I’m a Star Fruit Star Anise Gose was the belle of the ball at the most recent beer fest. The bourbon barrel-aged Kvass is showing all signs of a world-class beverage as far as you know. The yoga studio collaboration: VrikSaisona is a runaway hit. The pork-themed food truck, The Hambulance, is scheduled for the next two weekends at the tap room. Even the glycol chiller appears to be working properly. You’re wondering, “What’s the next program we can assemble and launch?” The answer is cask-conditioned beer.

(If you are already producing cask-conditioned beer, please proceed to the gift shop. We have some lovely British malts from Bairds Malt and Thomas Fawcett & Sons that will certainly pique your interest. Let’s not forget our friends at Loughran Family Malt who hail from the Emerald Isle, either.)

If you would like to produce cask beer there are a few things that you should know. Cask beer is not filtered, it is not pasteurized, it contains live yeast, and it contains residual fermentable sugar. At first glance, it resembles a lot of craft beer that is being produced today. The purpose of cask conditioning is to clarify the beer, impart flavor and aroma through dry-hopping, increase CO2 by way of secondary fermentation, and improve flavor through the transformation of diacetyl by the yeast. These features add up to a unique beer that allows brewers and the men and women of the cellar to let their creativity and craft really shine. The process is fairly straightforward, but be aware of a few specifications. The Institute of Brewing & Distilling in London recommends that the beer be racked into casks when it is 0.5 degrees Plato above the final attenuation. If racked with too much fermentable sugar remaining the secondary fermentation will be too active. If below, adequate CO2 will not be produced, yielding flat beer. The yeast in suspension should be at about 0.5 million cells/ml to 2 million cells/ml to ensure that there are enough cells to consume those residual sugars and have a proper secondary fermentation. If you missed that window and the beer has attenuated, no problem! You can also add priming sugar to stimulate the yeast into the secondary fermentation stage. The cask should be conditioned at 12-14 degrees C or about 53 – 57 degrees F for about 2 to 3 weeks. This obviously depends on the residual sugar level and the characteristics of the yeast employed.

Hops and hop products are added to the cask to impart hop aroma and give another layer of complexity. There are many hop products out there that could be used at this stage, including YCH’s CryoHops, that would really give a punch of flavor and aroma to the cask. This can also serve as a point of experimentation through the trial of hops that are unfamiliar in a familiar house beer you are currently producing. Most of the hop conventions have been shattered these days, but do keep in mind that you are attempting to process a beer that will have commercial appeal. Steve Hamburg of Cask Marque has said, “Even though there is a hole in the side of a cask, it’s not a trash can,” or something along those lines. Experimentation is great, but some flavors just don’t work out. Be honest with yourself and don’t be afraid to admit an adjunct combination missed the mark.

Finings are an integral component of producing bright, or nearly bright, cask beer. We carry forms of isinglass and Nalco 1072, a SiO2 fining agent. If you are looking for a vegan or vegetarian-friendly fining option, Nalco 1072 is for you. There are a few things to keep in mind about finings. They will not remove colloidal hazes from metallic contamination, bacterial contamination, dead yeast cells, and wild yeast cells. There are optimal usage rates, and it may take a few trials to figure out what works best for your brewery. More is not always better, as sometimes an excess of finings can also cause the sediments to become loose, resulting in cloudy beer.

Cask beer dispense can be a nuanced topic. CAMRA – the campaign for Real Ale and Cask Marque do a remarkable job on the topic. For a thorough understanding, be sure to visit their websites. Generally speaking, it should be served cool, 10 – 14 degrees C or 50 to 57 degrees F. Ideally, position the cask where it will dispense 24 hours before service this will allow sediments to settle and compact. The last piece of advice — the cask should be consumed within a 2 -3 day period for best results.

There are several great cask beer events around the Midwest including: Day of the Living Ales in Chicago, IL the Isthmus Cask Ale Fest in Madison WI the Michigan Cask Ale Festival and the Brewers of Indiana Guild Microbrewers Fest, which features a cask ale tent within the festival–a fest within a fest no less–brilliant!

If you’re interested in doing this at your brewery, Country Malt Group has malt and hops from around the world. We have everything you need from casks and pins through our partners at NDL Keg, Oregon Fruit Products, keystones, and Cholaca: pure liquid cacao. We have all that is needed for you to sculpt the cask of Cherry Wood Chocolate Cherry Robust Porter that stands out and demands attention from recent craft beer converts to the stingiest of reviewers on Untappd.


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What The Hell Is a Cream Ale?

You might get the impression that we, the beer gurus of ACB, understand all there is to know about beer, yet we&rsquore still learning, just like anybody else. And it&rsquos this thirst for knowledge that drives us to dig deeper into the stories behind the beers we drink, thus protecting you from the embarrassment of not knowing what exactly it is you&rsquove decided to pour in your mouth.

As the days and blades of grass grow longer, so too grows our need to stay hydrated whilst pushing heavy machines across the yard. Yet having a beer called a Cream Ale doesn&rsquot exactly sound like the best option to satisfy that thirst. Or does it?

Good thing you&rsquove tuned into the latest episode of our ongoing series (drum roll please&hellip) &ldquoWhat the Hell Is a Cream Ale?&rdquo

With the huge influx of German immigrants in the late 19 th century, the popularity of lager and pilsner styles exploded, especially throughout mid-America. Due to generally colder temps and local preference, Northeastern brewers were predominantly ale brewers, so they hatched a strategy to keep up.

Prior to prohibition many NE brewers brewed a light bodied ale known as a &ldquopresent use&rdquo ale (it was not made to sit on the shelf), which is effectively what a Cream Ale is: a cold fermented ale. Much like the cold-fermented kölsch ale brewed in Cologne, Germany, the top fermenting Cream Ale is light bodied, has fewer fruity esters and neither malt nor hops prevail.

Though a cream ale differs from the kölsch in one major way: the addition of rice and/or corn adjuncts to lighten the body. Historically, the dominant cream ales of the Northeast have been Narragansett from Rhode Island and Genesee from Rochester, NY, yet since prohibition they&rsquore brewed nationwide with Rainier, Olympia, Old Style and even Natural Ice technically fitting the definition.

So, if you bought a cream ale in the hopes that it would be creamy or maybe even a dark malted beer, you&rsquore probably not the first or last to do so. We get this disappointment, yet as we speak, those brewing cream ales are changing the style as we know it.

Cream Ales We Like and You Should Try:

Spotted Cow , New Glarus Brewing (New Glarus, WI) &ndash We love this beer because it doesn&rsquot seem like a traditional cream ale. Though it is brewed with corn, it&rsquos also unfiltered, cask-conditioned and weighs in at a crushable 4.8%.

Cali Creamin&rsquo Vanilla Cream Ale , Mother Earth Brew Co. (Vista, CA) &ndash This North San Diego County brewer has seized on the cream ale style and amped up the cream quotient. More like a cream soda, it&rsquos got a subtle vanilla flavor at a mellow 5.2% octane which pairs perfectly with a trip to the beach.

Regular Coffee , Carton Brewing (Atlantic Highlands, NJ) &ndash While an imperial coffee cream ale isn&rsquot exactly in line with the BJCP Style Guide , we were blown away by their line of three 12% ale varieties. The Regular Coffee (a Jersey &ldquomilk + 2 sugars&rdquo), Irish Coffee (Regular finished on Irish wood + peppermint) and Café Y&rsquo Churro (Regular with vanilla + cinnamon) are not to be missed if you can get your hands on them.

Kiwanda Cream Ale , Pelican Brewing (Pacific City, OR) &ndash Residing just adjacent to Cape Kiwanda, Pelican&rsquos location on the Oregon coast is something to behold. So too is their 5.1% cream ale of the same name, which has single-handedly raked in 8 GABF medals, including four golds.

When one looks at the history and the general disregard many have paid to what has traditionally been an inexpensive, mass produced style, it&rsquos now all the more impressive to see our artisanal brewers taking on the style without abandon. So, whether you prefer a light, cold and inexpensive ale that breaks from the lager mold or many of the great new options arriving daily on the craft scene, you&rsquore sure to be surprised by this uniquely American, cold fermented ale.


What is cask-conditioned beer?

For the first thirty years of CAMRA’s story, most of the better flavoured beer in the UK were the type of ‘real ale’ that is served from a type of barrel called a “cask”. While stored in a pub’s cellar, the beer inside these casks develops its character, or “condition”, for up to a week, thanks to the presence of live yeast in the beer. It is then served without the injection of carbon dioxide gas.

This additional maturation should add elegance to the beer’s character, while the absence of gas injection makes its carbonation gentler.

Major efforts by CAMRA, including publicising the best outlets for such “cask-conditioned” beers and running hundreds of beer festivals each year that served them, promoted them ahead of the industrial brands that had come to dominate the UK beer trade in the late 20th century.

The term “real ale” became associated with beer served from a pub’s cellar via tall, hand-pulled pumps mounted on the bar, with the make of beer named on a clip attached around the narrowest part of the handle. A few would be served directly from the cask, through a simple tap.

Like any artisan product, a cask-conditioned beer requires special handling and storage to be consumed at its best. The cellar temperature needs to be fairly consistent and neither too hot or too cold the cask should lie undisturbed and its keeping time respected and the pipes through which it flows to the bar must be kept thoroughly clean. A cask-conditioned beer served in a British pub remains an essential part of British culture.