Getting Real (Ale)

Posted on July 18, 2013 by Nathan

I’m sure many of you have heard of cask ale, or real ale.  Or maybe you’ve heard a clever pun involving the word “firkin” (Firkin Friday!).

But what is all of this about?  What is real ale?

At it’s most basic, real ale is a way of carbonating and serving beer that doesn’t involve forcing CO2 back into the beer using pressure.  You may have heard of bottle-conditioned beer where additional sugar is added into the beer at bottling so that the natural fermentation continues to carbonate the beer once it’s inside the bottle.

Real ale is very similar, but the carbonation is done at a larger scale.  You put flat beer into a vessel (a cask) with a measured amount of additional sugar.  Once you cap it off, and allow that sugar to ferment, the beer will become carbonated.  You then put it in the fridge to cool it down to serving temperature, and then move it into place where you are going to serve it.  You let the yeast settle out to the bottom, and then you vent the top of the cask and pound a tap into the side.

Yes, you actually get to tap the keg.

With a mallet.

It’s really a lot of fun.

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What you see in the above photos is Nate pounding in the tap to a firkin that we’re going to be pouring off at the taproom Thursday evening.

You may have noticed the beautiful piece of woodwork that he’s using to pound the tap in.  About two weeks ago I was ordering all the pieces and parts to get the casks up and running, and noticed that an ash mallet was the tool of choice for pounding in keystones, bungs, shives, spiles, and taps.

Since Nate has a lathe, and happened to have just made a couple ash baseball bats, I figured he might be up for the challenge.

This beauty now has a place of honor in the brewery and Nate had the honor of tapping the first cask with it.

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Once the cask has been tapped, it’s actually vented to the atmosphere, and the atmospheric pressure pushing down on the layer of CO2 on top of the beer that keeps it at a low level of carbonation.  This means cask beer is carbonated to a level that is lower than you’re typically used to with beer that is served on tap, but it means the beer is much smoother and creamier.  It’s absolutely delicious.

Other than the fact that it’s really a lot of fun to pound a tap into a keg, cask ale is a great way to experiment with adding in or modifying some of the flavors in an individual cask.  Since you have to have the top of the cask open to add the beer to it, you can add in other ingredients which will be steeping with the beer while it carbonates.

The first ones we put together are casks for of the Pan American Stout, but before the coffee and vanilla were added to it.  Instead of adding coffee and vanilla, I took a whole vanilla bean, fileted it open and added it directly to the cask.  It should be a really interesting experiment to see how much vanilla flavor we actually get out of it, and to do a comparison between the cask and the regular Pan American which is on tap right now as well.

I’ve got plans to do some dry hopping in the casks as well as adding some fruit in the casks as well.  I’m thinking about a series of casks of the Chateau with different dry hops, or maybe another cask of the stout with some cocoa nibs in it.  So many ideas, so little time…….

But, in the meantime, come by the taproom and try out some of the stout before it’s gone.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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Post Categories: Beer, brewing, real ale

One response to “Getting Real (Ale)”

  1. J Morgan says:

    Can’t wait to make it back to Flag to give it a try. Nice work on the mallet Nate…. or is that brother Nate? He is looking vaguely Amish in those pictures.

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