Keeping Cask Beers

A few of us brewers have discussed doing this before (but with Videos), here is my take on keeping cask beer using cask-widge extractors with casks in the vertical position, our coldstore is set to 11c.

I have written this as a conversation piece, feel free to improve or correct my procedure, point out anything that you consider to be blatantly stupid etc. Feedback to –

  • Put cask in position in coldstore/cellar and leave for at least 24 hours, it could have just been delivered and be pretty shaken up due to transport and its probably warmer than you want it.
  • Ensure all Taps, Pegs, extractors etc that will touch the beer are clean and sanitised, this includes cleaning and spraying sanitiser on the Shive and keystone.
  • *At this point if your were traditionally stillaging your Cask beer on its side you would use a Hard peg to Vent the cask followed by hitting the Tap in, if the beer is lively it may be best to just leave it in the vented state and put the tap in later once the beer has had time to settle down*
  • Using a soft faced mallet so as not to damage your Taps or Extractors you hammer the cask-widge into the keystone. We use a short length of pipe and a plastic tray to catch any beer as you open the vent tap on the Cask-widge. Its at this point where you find out if the beer is lively or not and a decision is made on how long to leave the vent open for the cask to breath. Some beers will just give a little light hiss and its fairly fair to say they will be in a serve-able state within 24 hours, other beers will spew out many pints of foam and its obvious that they must be vented for longer to allow a sensible serve through the hand pump. If we feel the need we can also take a taste sample at this point
  • *At this point with a traditional stillaging you would be checking for the taste, aroma and clarity from the cask tap, should clarity be appropriate to the beer in question*
  • In our setup we only check for clarity when pulling the beers through to the Handpumps on the bar, fined beers should be clear, Unfined beers can be clear / hazy / cloudy, taste is key and serving an appropriately looking beer that your customers find acceptable for style.
  • Soft Pegs are used while serving to let air but no debris into the casks, these can be replaced with Hard Pegs for traditionally stillaged or closing the vent valve on our Cask-widge when serving has finished. Putting the hard peg in or closing the valve helps the beer retain its condition for the next session of serving.

We find that a half full cask if left for a week is not quite right to be served over the bar as the air has oxidized the beer and it doesn’t taste as fresh as it should. However, not all beers are the same, some darker and stronger beers will be more resilient to oxidation and sometimes a 3/4 full cask will be perfectly good after that same week, beers should be diligently tasted before being put on the bar each session and if a beer is not right it should not be served.
I have thought about getting some Cask Breathers for our brewery bar so we could keep beers from the first Friday of the month to the second Saturday, we decided against this because we prefer to have a changing range each time we open the brewery bar but thats not to say that the beer couldn’t be kept in good condition because of that little added co2 blanket from the cask breathers. If we ever start a proper pub I think we would go the Cask-breather route to keep our beers in the best possible condition.
We note that a well settled cask can be tapped and served within 5 minutes, it is not ideal as the beer could be more lively, we have 2 sizes of Sparklers to deal with this and the sparkler can be removed altogether for particularly lively pours.
Its quite possible to have vented a non-lively cask for 2 days prior to serving and it will still be a lively pour through the handpull.