uncapping beer

Cask and You Shall Receive

By Ian Drew | November 25, 2016
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Cask ale at Laser Wolf, Fort Lauderdale (Photo: Ian Drew)

The English love their cask ales, served at cellar temperature – about 55º. The tradition extends far outside of the UK’s borders as American craft brewers have embraced these unique beers.

A cask ale or “real ale” is a living product. Where most conventional draft beers are carbonated in a large tank called a bright tank before being kegged, cask ales take a more traditional route. To get a cask beer ready to drink, a brewer takes fermented beer (with living yeast still inside) and places it into a special keg or “cask” where it will continue to ferment. When beer is fermenting during the initial brewing process, the carbon dioxide that’s produced is released from the tank. But in the cask, the CO2 has nowhere to go. As pressure builds up in the cask, the CO2 slowly carbonates the beer naturally, resulting in a much different product.

What’s also unique about a cask beer is the way it’s served. Cask ales are generally poured from a different type of keg called the cask or firkin, which is not hooked up like a normal keg. A regular keg setup pushes CO2 or nitrogen into a keg, pushing out the beer and keeping oxygen away from the liquid and making it less perishable. But a cask is a keg sitting sideways on top of a bar. If you’ve ever watched an old cartoon and seen a barmaid hammer a spigot into a barrel to “tap” into the beer, this is the basic idea behind a cask. The beer naturally empties out of the cask and pours into your glass. Because you’re letting oxygen into the keg as the liquid pours out, it’s very perishable product that must be drunk within 24-48 hours.

So why is this worth all of the trouble?

While brewers today pride themselves in being able to consistently produce the same liquid over and over again, cask ales are a unique experience. With the yeast still in the beer continuing to develop in the cask, each experience is different. If properly brewed, stored and tapped, this delicious product will never taste 100 percent the same. Casks are generally served warmer, which means you taste more of the beer – the colder anything is, the more your taste buds are dulled. A cask ale has a distinctive carbonation that cannot be recreated any other way. They have fine, little CO2 bubbles with a different mouthfeel than a regular beer.

Mayor of Tampa, Bob Buckhorn, taps the ceremonial firkin to kick-off Tampa Bay Beer Week (Photo: Ian Drew)

While brewers today pride themselves in being able to consistently produce the same liquid over and over again, cask ales are a unique experience. With the yeast still in the beer continuing to develop in the cask, each experience is different. If properly brewed, stored and tapped, this delicious product will never taste 100 percent the same. Casks are generally served warmer, which means you taste more of the beer – the colder anything is, the more your taste buds are dulled. A cask ale has a distinctive carbonation that cannot be recreated any other way. They have fine, little CO2 bubbles with a different mouthfeel than a regular beer.

Cask Experience

Casks allow for real experimentation. They give brewers the freedom to play around with 5 or 15 gallons of beer, rather than having to brew hundreds of gallons of something different. Because the casks have large openings, brewers can introduce unique ingredients. If they have a great porter, why not throw it in a cask with some coffee and vanilla beans and see what happens? Or add some fresh fruit to a Belgian tripel? It is a one-off, unique moment in time for the beer drinker. And there’s the nostalgia factor. If you walk into a bar serving a fresh cask beer right off the bar out of a firkin, you’re enjoying a classic beer the same way our forefathers did. Like an artisan cheese made the same way for generations, there’s something amazing about enjoying something pure.

Many local breweries and craft beer bars have embraced these types of beers but you may have to keep an eye out for special events – they’ve become somewhat of a special occasion. Local breweries like Barrel of Monks, Wynwood Brewing, Cigar City Brewing, Funky Buddha and Tequesta Brewing have all helped to revive these beers and experiment regularly. Follow their social media pages – these beers go quickly and you need to drink them fresh!

 

Article from Edible South Florida at http://ediblesouthflorida.ediblecommunities.com/drink/cask-and-you-shall-receive
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