Cask-conditioned beer, also known as Real Ale, is beer that has gone through a second fermentation process, is unpasteurized and served from a cask keg with no added nitrogen or CO2. Instead, co2 builds up naturally in the cask during fermentation. Once it is fermented, it is then served straight from the cask. This gives it a distinct and incredibly fresh taste that has a much gentler level of carbonation and usually features a bit more complex flavor and aromatic profile. Cask kegs are best enjoyed over a day or two and are not intended for long term storage. They are ideal for local tastings and popular cask nights where they are expected to be emptied in one evening. In order to begin the brewing process, you will need a few different tools.
A cask, also known as a firkin (10.8 gallons) or a pin (5.4 gallons), is a traditionally barrel shaped container that stores and ferments beer. It has a 2 inch hole on the side for the shive (plug), and a one inch hole at the end for the keystone (where you tap the beer). Casks date back to the Iron Age, when the Celts developed wooden barrels with iron hoops to store goods. Over the years, this developed into a method of preserving and storing beer. A cask can be made of plastic or wood but typically it is made of stainless steel. This is the most important part of cask brewing, so if you need a cask, click here.
A spile is basically a small wooden peg that is nailed into the shive to stop the keg or “air” the keg. A hard spile is inserted into the keg after the conditioning process has ended in order to maintain carbonation levels. Once the beer is tapped the soft spile replaces the hard spile. A soft spile is inserted in order to release excess CO2. This allows for equalization prior to serving. Beverage factory offers both hard and soft spiles here.
This is the spout that is pounded into the keystone using a mallet in order to tap the beer. The beer then lets gravity take over to get the beer flowing. If you ever want to get the beer out of your cask, we have spigots available here.
If you want to get fancy, you can pump directly from the cask using a beer engine. This directly draws up beer from the cask through a beer line. A cask ale hand pump is normally manually operated, but can also be gas or electrically operated. They normally hide under the bar counter with the handles sticking up. Most beer engines include a sparkler. This attaches to the nozzle and acts like a showerhead. When beer pours from it, it froths the beer and gives it a nice head. Beer engines are available for purchase here.
The trouble with Cask brewing is sometimes you can’t finish a whole cask of beer in 2 days before it spoils. A cask breather replaces head space with CO2 at atmospheric pressure, allowing you to extend the life of your cask ale. If you don’t think you can finish a whole cask of beer within 2 days, cask breathers are available with our other cask ale supplies here.
The cask needs to stay absolutely still during the clearing process. During this process yeast and finings start sticking to the inside of the keg. If the keg is not kept absolutely still, it will dislodge this sediment from the sides of the cask and go into the beer. This clouds the beer and as every brewer knows, cask beer is not supposed to be cloudy. This is where the stillage comes in. A stillage keeps the cask keg still and is also angled to make pouring and dispensing easier. This is incredibly important in the cask keg dispensing and brewing process. If you need a stillage they are available right here.