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Cask Ale 101

12-11-2014

You’re enjoy an evening out and are happy to celebrate it with a night out. Your beer arrives. Its near room temperature and flat…and perfect. It’s a cask ale and it’s becoming increasingly popular in craft bars around the country.

 

 

The cask ale hails back to days of yore in England when placing beer in a cask for secondary fermentation was the norm. Cask ale, also called real ale, is beer that is placed into a cask after primary fermentation to undergo secondary fermentation before being directly pulled from the cask or firkin. It usually is usually stored for just a few days to rest and allow solid particles to drop. Because the beer undergoes secondary fermentation in the container it can take on the characteristics of the wooden cask or of any additional flavorings added to the cask (cacao nibs and hops are examples) for secondary fermentation. This means that the final product is sort of like those mystery suckers you used to get at the bank…you know it’s going to be typical sucker sweet but the actual flavor profile isn’t revealed until you unwrap it, or in this case, tap the firkin. These ales generally are stored and served at a warmer temperature in order to ensure the yeast does not go dormant.

 

 

Additionally, firkins are not hooked up to a bar system in the same way as your typical keg. Instead, you have to use a hammer to punch in the bunghole, which is the horizontal spout located on the side of the firkin to draw out the beer. There is no separate tank to provide extra carbonation. To draw the beer out of the firkin, either a special hand pump system is used, with the firkin being stored in the cellar, or it is laid out at the bar and directly served using a simple gravity tap. With such a system, the cask is susceptible to oxygenation, which means the cask ale’s shelf life is shortened, although the oxygen can provide a nice softening effect on the beer.

 

Cask ales are a fantastic way to continuously explore the world of beer and all of its varying components. Make sure to try out a taste next time you see a firkin up at the bar. 

 

 

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