Beer Style: Cask Ale
One of the oldest styles of beer, cask ale (also referred to as ‘real ale’) is beer in it’s rawest form. It was originally brewed by monks to replace poor water supplies, and when it is well handled, a cask ale can be some of the best draught beers on the market.
What Makes a Real Ale?
Most beers are filtered, pasteurized, and preserved with additives— in order to extend shelf life; whereas cask ale is straight out of the barrel. Unlike most draught beer that are now served in aluminum kegs, cask beer is still kept in a wooden barrel (also known as a cask).
Cask ale is unfiltered when it is racked (transferred) into casks, and then it is krausened (carbonated) before sealing. Once the beer is contained, it undergoes a natural conditioning process, as the yeast ferments. Essentially, it is one of the only beers one could consider “alive.”
Unlike aluminum kegs, casks do not have a place for the yeast to settle in the bottom, and thus clarifying agents are often added to help the beer “drop bright.” This is simply a beer term that means the yeast will clump and settle at the bottom of the cask, for easier pouring.
When cask ale is served properly, most people will notice a major difference in taste between a casked and a kegged beer. When it is not properly stored, many will say it is flat and lacks body.
Real ale has a much gentler level of carbonation, than any other craft beer. It is not “flat,” but rather, naturally conditioned. Since it is unfiltered, it has a rounder mouthfeel and a robust and complex taste. Because there is yeast sediment in the cask, it is considered a “live” beer.
Once tapped, cask ale must be served within 48 hours, lest it go flat and spoil. Unlike most craft beer, it is best served rather warm, at 55°F, and should be cellared, when stored. Cask ale usually pours slightly cloudy, with a strong aromatic profile.
One of the reasons many bar and restaurant owners do not stock cask beer, is because of the means by which it is served. Normal beer in a keg is carbonated to 2.4 volumes of CO2 and dispensed through tubes by forced carbon dioxide. Cask beer is pumped out using what is known as a “beer engine” (which is just another fancy term for a manual pump).
Since there is no CO2 to push the beer out, air is allowed to enter the cask, and thus it must be emptied and served quickly.
Cask beer can also be dispensed using what is known as a “cask tap.” This is basically a fancy faucet that is literally hammered into the side of the barrel, thus letting gravity do it’s job in dispensing.
With this method, air is allowed in through what is known as a “spile” which is just another term for a wooden peg, plugging a hole in the front of the cask. This version of dispensing is usually best for festivals and events, as the beer never lasts longer than a day or so.
Casks can come in a range of sizes, including:
- Pin: 5.4 Gallons
- Firkin: 10.8 Gallons (the most popular)
- Kilderkin: 21.6 Gallons
Although highly perishable, the delicate and robust flavors of cask ale still make it a popular choice among beer enthusiasts.
Where to Find Cask Ale
Brewpubs typically have the easiest time with cask ale, as they have the ability to constantly change out casks. Brewing cask ale also requires specific cellaring and temperature conditions, so it’s never an easy task.
Real ale festivals can be found in almost every major city in America, year round. In other areas, “Firkin Fridays” is a popular nod to cask ales, and a way to go through a barrel or two in one evening.
Market Your Cask Ale
If you’re a bar or restaurant owner and you want to venture into the territory of cask ales, your marketing efforts should be on point. This is one of the most highly perishable beers on the market, and a cask shouldn’t be tapped, unless you have a crowd begging to consume it.
Since this is a high risk brew to serve, you need some reliable marketing technology on your hands. Taphunter is a company that can help you mitigate the risk of this refined ale, by providing you with a program to help get the word out. With a simple dashboard, you can send real-time updates to your social media channels, and let them know, the cask is in the house!
Although producing and serving cask ale is quite a process, the pay-off can be big. When done right, “real” ale has a robust and complex flavor that’s unparalleled in the world of craft beer.
Bars and Restaurants – Want to save hours daily, drive thirsty patrons through your door and create an engaging experience for your customers? Learn more about how TapHunter can help your business today!