December 23, 2010

Pump it!

William Armstrong was born in Newcastle upon Tyne and grew up to be the father of hydraulics. He designed an engine that was powered by water, but nobody cared at the time. Armstrong was all about renewable energy. Back in 1863, he predicted that England would stop producing coal by 2063. He pushed for the use of solar power and hydroelectricity. He lived from 1810-1900. He has nothing to do with beer, but he is one of my personal heroes.

Before Mr. Armstrong lived Joseph Bramah, another one of my personal heroes. He is also considered a founding father of hydraulics. He patented the idea of a beer engine in 1785 and it was actually built in 1797. The dude lived in Yorkshire, England, which is where Wyeast's 1469 Private Collection Yorkshire Ale comes from.

Cask beer is unfiltered and unpasteurized. Unlike kegged beers, which are generally filtered and usually pasteurized, cask beers will continue conditioning the beer in the cask (a true secondary fermentation) due to yeast present in the final product. The effect is a softer, gentle sort of carbonation that some will argue results in a better tasting drink with more character than your lame-o standard keg beer. True cask beer (aka "Real Ale") is always served without being pushed by gas, instead being manually pulled up from the cellar with a beer engine. This is the traditional way of serving beer in England.

Some folks have the idea in their heads that real ale is naturally "warm and flat". It is severely improper to assume that a cask ale is naturally warm and flat. A proper cask ale is ideally served between 54-56 degrees, which is cool, but not cold. The natural carbonation evolved from secondary fermentation in the cask should be plainly noticeable.

As a homebrewer, you may be wondering how you might do this at home. First, consider brewing The Innkeeper and then contact your nearest NB store or call our customer service line to speak with one of our beer engine specialists!

And be sure to pick up a copy of the book "Cellarmanship" by Patrick O'Neill.


  1. Prime your beer in the keg with sugar like you would if it was going to be bottled. (I use about 25% less sugar than bottled, but I also usually use honey) Purge the headspace as normal, but don't pressurize it. make sure you have a tight fitting lid, as loose lids will just allow the co2 to escape as it's created.
    let the keg condition for the requisite week or two at fermentation temp.
    Chill to 55 degrees or so.
    without a beer engine to pull it up, you can flip the keg upside down and draw off the gas side (on a table for example) or hook up your co2 just enough to push out a slow pint. Quite a few brewpubs I know of have their cask kegs on 2psi co2 just so they don't introduce oxygen to the beer. but 2psi won't push the beer out of a corny. I use about 8psi to pour, then immediately disconnect the line.

  2. Was introduced to Real Ales on a recent trip to Scotland (they were everywhere) and they were awesome. Thanks for the book link.

  3. I get the trend, but I don't understand how it's different than my bottled conditioned homebrew. I add sugar to the bottles to carbonate them, wait two weeks to carbonate at warmer temperatures and then cool them for a week or much longer to age and condition them. They taste great, and no CO2 is added at any step of the process.

  4. @SunyJim - by CAMRA's definition, bottle-conditioned beer is "real ale." However, having had both many bottles of bottle-conditioned beer and many pints of cask-conditioned beer, I can say they are not quite the same beast. There are possibilities and practices (e.g., cask hopping, the venting of gas when spiling a cask, ultra-fresh drinking and fast turnover as a requirement if a breather isn't used, etc) that set cask-conditioned beers apart. And if it's dispensed with a beer engine it's further degassed, rounded, and softened, particularly if a sparkler is used. I was just having this conversation two days ago with a friend over pints at a Twin Cities brewpub; she preferred the kegged, more highly carbed IPA to the same beer on cask, so it's definitely a case of to each his/her own.

  5. Love to see anything on Cask's a great direction for us to go in The States, and to the Home Brewer should feel like home. -s