Real ale is the name coined by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in 1973 for a type of beer defined as “beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide”.
Visit camra.org.uk for more info.
We create our cask beer using beer that has undergone primary fermentation as usual. A “keystone” is put in place and we carefully fill the casks with beer and a small amount of sugar. Once full the cask is sealed up with a shive and the sugar starts the secondary fermentation. This secondary fermentation produces the CO2 present in the beer. Dry hopping and/or wood aging starts at this time also. Technically a cask can be stainless steel, wood or plastic. The different size casks have different names, i.e. firkin, pin, etc. The slow secondary fermentation can take 14-20 days at 55-65°F. Depending on the “condition” of the beer, a hard or soft “spile” is driven into the “shive” pushing out the ”tut”.
Serving Temperature and Age: Cask beer tastes the best around 50-55°F and is at it’s peak flavor for 3-5 days. A cask “breather” may extend the life of a cask by putting a breath of CO2 in the headspace of the cask during dispense.
Dispensing: Getting that cask beer into a glass can happen a couple different ways, here are two of the most common.Again, cask beer is served without CO2 pushing it out, both of these examples assume the cask is “spiled” or vented to atmosphere-
Gravity: Simple gravity taps allow beer to flow out of the cask through a valve. Casks are dispensed at bar height or higher for this crazy gravity effect to happen.
Beer Engine: A hand pump that draws the beer out of the cask and gently pushes it out of a “swanneck” designed to fill from the bottom of the glass. It may or may not have a “sparkler” attached. Sparklers help create some foam and are a matter of personal preference.
KEYSTONE: The small round bung on the front of a cask where the tap is driven in.
TUT: The stopper in the centre of the shive that is pushed through when a cask is vented.
Firkin: 9 Imperial gallon cask
Pin: 4.5 Imperial gallon cask
Kilderkin: 18 Imperial gallon cask
LEES, SEDIMENT: The yeast and protein contained in cask beer once it has dropped to form a layer in the belly of the container.
HOGSHEAD: A 54 imperial gallon cask .
HARD SPILE: Long, thin, non-porous wooden peg used to broach the shive and to prevent natural condition escaping out of the beer.
DRY HOPPED/TEA-BAGGED: Cask beer that has fresh hop leaves or pellets added on racking.
CONDITION: The amount of dissolved CO2 in the beer.
CONDITIONING: The time that the beer is maturing in the cask.
CASK BREATHER: Device that adds low pressure gas into a cask to replace dispensed beer, this prolongs the life of the beer but may affect the conditioning process slightly.
CAMRA: Acronym for the Campaign for Real Ale, boasting about 100,000 members in the U.K.
CASK: Traditional vessel of varying sizes used to contain real ale and allow it to have a secondary fermentation. It can be made of stainless steel, wood or plastic.
BEER ENGINE, HANDPUMP: Manual pump used to draw from the cask to the point of dispense.