Sunday 16 August 2009

My first cask beer

I had my first cask beer this weekend.

I have of course had other people’s cask beer before, and as I used to work as a brewer I’ve even made other people’s cask beer before. But this was the first time I’ve put beer entirely made by me, to my own recipe, into cask.

My mate Ro wanted me to brew for his house warming party and reckoned he would need a firkin’s worth to keep the thirsty masses satisfied.

I was slightly apprehensive about this, as using a proper cask means there’s more things that can go wrong. My experience of working at a brewery wasn’t a great help as there they had a racking tank so finings were added in bulk and as the beer was cooled before fermentation was completed it wasn’t normally necessary to add priming sugar. I don’t have that degree of control in my home brew set up I asked for advice from a friend at the Cambridge Moonshine brewery, as I know they fine and prime each cask individually there.

His instructions were pretty straight forward so a week ago I filled, primed and fined the cask with beer I had in two plastic pressure barrels I was using as conditioning tanks. I took the cask round to my mates garage, where he had a tilting stillage set up, and left it to settle.

On Friday the moment of truth arrived and it was time to tap the cask. I gave Ro the honour, which was just as well as the beer was a little lively and he ended up wearing about a pint of it.

Unfortunately I seem to have set my phone to take small pictures, so the pictures in this post won't live up to the usual low picture quality on this blog.

Samples were poured from the cask and I was pleased to see the beer had turned out very well. It had good crisp hop flavour from the Styrian goldings, plenty of body from the malts used and lots of condition. In fact it was so good we had to have several samples.

On Saturday the beer wasn’t quite as good, I suspect our lack of a decent cellar (or cellarmanship!) let us down as the beer had lost a lot of condition and was a little bit flat and definitely sweeter. It still seemed to go down very well though, the cask was empty by the end of the night.

The recipe for the beer was:

Pale malt (Maris otter) 7.15 kg
Munich malt 1.2 kg
Wheat malt 0.35 kg
Cara malt 0.15 kg
Choc malt 0.15 kg

Fuggles at start 80g
Styrian Goldings 10min from end 40g
Styrian Goldings steeped when cooling 40g
Styrian Goldings dry in CTs 40g

Yeast: Hop back

O.g. 1.043
ABV 4.3%
Volume 46 l


  1. Did you hard peg the beer after establishing the condition was good? If not, you should have. And did you keep it as cool as you could?

  2. I think those areas are where the problem lies. The beer was at my mates house so it was outside my control what happened to it. I left the beer with a hard peg in on Friday afternoon but it's quite likely more beer was had after that and the peg might not have been replaced properly. I had also told my mate he'd need to cool the beer, and he said he had some ice packs, but it looked to me like all he'd come up with was a damp towel. I think I'll have to stress the importance of good cellarmanship more in future.

  3. Still, sounds like a great success! I'd been thinking of buying a 15 litre cask of altbier and reusing it for some home-brewed ale, but it sounds like alot of work if you don't know what to do with a cask (and I don't!). I'm considering nicking your recipe (although with me it'll be bottle conditioned) :D

  4. Was it conditioned via exposure to air? That would definitely do it.

  5. Barry: Doing cask beer wasn't really too tricky compared to a normal home brew pressure barrel. I already had the firkin so the problem was really getting the 'sundries' (shives, spiles and keystones) and decent finings. I'm sure if you knew you had enough boozers gathered simply venting the pressure by unscrewing the lid on a pressure barrel and drinking away would be damn close to 'proper' cask.

    I'd be wary of a german altbier container though, are you sure it's a cask and not a keg? They're different shapes and have different holes.Hmmm...that sounds familiar - kegs are from mars, casks are from venus?

  6. Wurst: I'm think I can be firmly placed in the beer doesn't need air to condition camp.

  7. Hahh! :D

    Yeah, it's a cask. You have to hammer in a spigot and vent it and all that. Not sure what the technical name for a 15 litre one is though. Here it's just a Fasschen. The guys who make them are here:
    Party kegs and party casks basically. If I buy 15 litres of altbier, I pay a €20 deposit on the cask, so a bit cheaper than buying it new.

    I have no real idea what shives, spiles and keystones are though, as my (mixed) experience of cask ales has been limited to the Belfast CAMRA festival and work trips to the UK.

  8. Shives are the big bungs that go in the bung hole on the curved side of casks, keystones are the small bungs that go in the hole where the tap will go on the round side of the cask. Both have weakened centres: most of the keystone gets bashed in when the tap is hammered into the cask, a small area in the centre of the spile gets bashed in when the hard spile (a wooden peg) is bashed in to open the cask.

    If the cask is too gassy the hard spile will be replaced with a porous soft spile so gas can vent, when it will then be replaced with the hard peg. The hard peg is removed during serving but should be replaced when serving is over to stop the beer going flat.

    Hope that all makes sense! There's some good instruction on what may be the worlds most hideous webpage here:

  9. Well, that's a brilliant, concise summary for me! I feel able to talk cask now, thanks! :D

    Will have a look at that si.. ARGHH!! My eyes! My beautiful eyes!

  10. Ed, you're alright with me!

  11. Ed, seems like you have done what I am about to do for my wedding in December so I will take note of this. Your malt profile looks alittle similar to my wedding ale idea so far tho.

  12. My neighbor got his hand on an old Rheingold cask that he was trying to scrap at a local scrap yard but they did not take it. This one has a bung hole on the side and a bayonet fitting in the center.

    I been unsuccessful in finding a similar one online so I don't know if it has a value for anyone exceeding the scrap value. Any idea? email me for pictures

    ujonsson at