Showing posts with label cask conditioning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cask conditioning. Show all posts

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Real Ale Homebrew

I love a good pint of cask conditioned beer, something which is painfully difficult to get in this part of Virginia at times. None of the breweries here has a regular cask lineup, and worse yet when they do decide to have some kind of 'firkin' special they invariably bastardise the beer by adding stupid shit to the beer, and slap it on a bar for gravity pouring without proper stillage. The resulting beer is so murky that it would do London beer proud, and no that is not a good thing.

The only places I have enjoyed pints of well cared for real ale in the last 6 years have been Beer Run here in Charlottesville and ChurchKey in DC, though sadly Beer Run stopped having a regular cask offering a few years ago. What then is a chap to do? Make you own obviously.

I have written before about using a 1 gallon polypin, called a cubitainer in these here parts, for replicating cask conditioning. It really is a pretty simple process:
  1. Put priming solution/conditioning tablets into the cubitainer to achieve about 1.2 volumes of CO2
  2. Rack fermented beer from primary into cubitainer, filling it about 90% full
  3. Close cubitainer with tap attachment (edit: store the cubitainer with the tap on the top of the cube)
  4. When the cubitainer swells bleed off some of the resulting CO2 so it doesn't burst - usually have to do this twice
  5. After about a week drink it
The picture below is of one of my cask experiments, an 80/- ale from a few years ago.


Now, gravity pour is all well and good, but I about a year ago I decided that I wanted to be able to pump my cubitainer real ale. Beer engines are pretty bloody expensive in and of themselves, and I don't have a home bar to add the necessary kit to, and did I mention they are bloody expensive? An answer I found on the old interwebs was to use a 'Rocket' pump, which is more usually used in mobile homes to pump water. One of the guys at the homebrew club I go to had a similar idea, but attached it to a cooler so that he would have portable real ale, so I must admit I nicked his idea to build my own 'caskerator'.


It's a really simple set up, and so easy to build that it took me about 10 minutes to do, and most of that was drilling the holes in the top of the cooler to attach the pump to. The entire outlay for this was:
Real ale for less than $45 can't be bad. To make it work:
  1. put a freezer gel pack in the bottom of the cooler to keep the previously cellar temperature stored beer at about the right temperature
  2. put cubitainer in cooler, tap to one side and pointing upwards
  3. connect the pump tubing to the tap (this can be fiddly)
  4. turn tap on
  5. close cooler lid - taking care not to kink the tubing, though this kind of replicates the behaviour of a sparkler
  6. pump - it takes about 10 pumps to get an imperial pint
  7. drink

There you have it, how to produce a reasonable approximation of British style real ale at home and on the cheap.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Session Fizz

When I was home in the summer I drank almost exclusively cask conditioned ales, as well as a fair few bottled conditioned ales. If I recall correctly, I may have had fewer non-real ales than I have digits on my hands. I am utterly biased I admit, but cask conditioned ale is, for me, one of the heights of the brewer's, and cellarman's, craft.


When we landed back in Philadelphia after our holiday, we grabbed a couple of seats at a bar and ordered food and beer. My beer was Yard's Philadelphia Pale Ale, a beer that I actually quite enjoy, but after 3 weeks of Happy Chappy, Skye Black, and Kelburn Dark Moor, it was just too fizzy for me.


On Sunday afternoon some friends of mine came into the bar at Starr Hill, having just returned from a few weeks touring round the south of England. Taking in the delights of London, the New Forest, and the Cotswolds, and reveling in the pleasures of....cask conditioned ales in the pub. As we chatted, my friend commented on how much more beer she drank while in the UK than she would normally, and while part of that is likely to have been a result of the lower gravity of many of the beers, she also said that the lack of excessive fizz meant she didn't feel bloated after a few pints, which got me wondering about session beer.


I love session beers, as pretty much anyone that knows me will tell you. I can think of no better way to while away several hours than being sat in the pub, drinking low alcohol, flavoursome beers. For me though, a session starts after the fourth pint, which can be tricky when the beer is north of 6% and much fizzier than something properly cask conditioned, and no, putting still fermenting beer in a firkin with a slew of weird shit doesn't count, you could call it 'casky' in juxtaposition to the real thing.


My thought then is this, are cask conditioned ales more conducive a session, because they don't fill you up with excessive CO2 to burp and fart out along the way? Perhaps an extra, admittedly optional, criteria is required for the definition of session beer? Less fizzy than standard beers.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Austria. Thuringia. Bavaria. California?

There are some breweries that never, ever, fail to impress, or at least make beers that I enjoy and want to drink multiple pints of. Word on the street is that one such brewery is looking to open an East Coast operation and one of the options is just a few hours south of where I live. I am, of course, talking about Sierra Nevada, who, rumour has it, have a site near Roanoke as one of their options for the new operation.


My first beer from Sierra Nevada is the one in the picture, sat in the magnificent, and sadly defunct, Sheridan's On The Docks in Galway, watching Ireland play New Zealand with the supreme company which is The Tale of the Ale's Reuben and his wife. Before splashing the cash to buy it, I had sent a quick message to Evan Rail to ask his opinion, and he was right, it was a delight.


Since moving to the US, I have enjoyed every Sierra Nevada beer I have encountered, from the comforting autumnal Tumbler to the smooth yet zingy Glissade. Their stout and porter both make regular appearances in the cellar and the fridge, and I'm even partial to a drop of their IPA, Torpedo.

On Thursday night, there was a Sierra Nevada invasion at Beer Run. Every tap, including the hand pull was dedicated to Sierra Nevada. On a side note, I enjoy these "tap takeovers" because you get to see how good a brewery actually is as a result of lesser known beers being available. Having dropped Mrs V off at the library so she could crack on with her latest paper for her Masters degree, I headed over for a couple of pints.


A quick glance at the menu revealed the words that immediately make me want to try a beer, "lager", "pilsner", you know by the now the stuff I like. So a pint of Vienna Lager was ordered. I had never seen a Sierra Nevada Vienna Lager before, hardly surprising as it is one of their "Specialty Drafts" according to their website. 4 mouthfuls later and the glass was empty. That is one delicious beer, clean and crisp, yet laden with toasty malt sweetness. Had it not been for the limited time available to me, and the dark winkings of the Schwarzbier, I could have drank that all night. But turn to the dark side I did. The Schwarzbier was, um, schwarz, and roasty, full of flavour and just bursting with goodness and again with a nice clean finish. Perhaps this explains my love of lager, I like clean flavours. My final pint was the FOAM Pilsner, a German Pilsner, and a very decent brew it is too. Had it been served in a biergarten in Central Europe it would have been the lubricant to a night of conversation and revery.

I also did a side by side tasting of Torpedo, one from keg and one from cask. The cask version was sparkled, as is the correct method, and the difference was startling. The hop aromas were much more pronounced in the cask version than the regular keg, and the body slightly fuller. Whilst not a cask fundamentalist, if I was I would be pretty much teetotal in this country, I am yet to be convinced by the argument that keg is better for highly hopped brews. Every time I have the opportunity to compare the same beer side by side from keg and cask, it was been a highly hopped pale ale, and the cask was won hands down.

My only wish is that these lagers were more regularly available in this neck of the woods. It is clear that not only do Sierra Nevada make some exceptional ales, their lagers are right up there as well, but sadly not getting the distribution and praise they clearly deserve.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Are You For Real?

On Friday afternoon I needed a pint. A proper pint that is, one that is 20 fluid ounces, or just over half a litre, as in 68ml over half a litre (for those outside the States, not everything here is bigger than elsewhere, their pint is a mere three quarters of the real thing). Thankfully the pub I frequent most often here in Charlottesville, and that not as often as I would like, now knows that when I ask for a pint, that's what I get, a  proper pint, in a nonic glass - my favourite shaped glass.


The pub in question is Beer Run, a bar, restaurant and bottle shop rolled into one, 2 minute drive from my house, delight. They also have a handpull, with a sparkler! Friday's firkin of fun was a barleywine from Cricket Hill, and it was delicious, far too easy to drink for an 8%abv beer. I needed a pint, the second one I wanted. So all seemed right with the world, a sparkled pint of barleywine, not cold, not warm, just right, pulled nicely and served by a smiling young lady - seriously, what more could you want in life? Perhaps being sat by a roaring peat fire, with my new Cairn Terrier puppy stretched out at my feet would round the scene out perfectly.

I love seeing handpulls in pubs, there are at least two such treasures here in Charlottesville that I know of, the other being in South Street Brewery. I am not a fan in the slightest of cold and fizzy beer - and people that try to give me a frosted glass are politely asked to return with a normal glass, thank you very much. If I want cold and fizzy, I'll drink Pepsi. Even when I am in the Starr Hill tasting room, I pour the Dark Starr Stout just after giving a group the penultimate beer for the day, so it can warm up and the lovely chocolate and coffee aromas and flavours can unlock and come to the fore.

Perhaps I am alone in this, but I often sit in the pub gazing at the beer engine and thinking about the stillage. I assume as most beers I have had on cask at both Beer Run and South Street are properly stillaged. Then my mind wanders back further in the process, to the filling and priming of the cask itself, and whether or not it is possible to use a regular Sanke keg as a cask? I am then filled with dread, am I being duped? Is this really cask conditioned ale, or is it just unfiltered beer, pulled through a beer engine?

At the end of the day though, it is the beer in the glass that is important, and every pint I have had in Beer Run from the beer engine has been a delight - especially the Joker IPA they had from Williams Brothers a while back, oh and the Two Hearted Ale from Bell's in Michigan, oh yes, mustn't forget Cricket Hill either - a brewery I will have to winkle out more beer from.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Little Cask to Go Live!

This time last week I was facing something of a problem, I needed to bottle my 80/- Scottish ale that had been sitting in the primary fermenter for a couple of weeks, as is my usual fermentation schedule, the problem was I didn't have enough bottles to take all the beer. What I did have though was my 1 US gallon polypin, known in this neck of the woods as a "cubitainer", so I decided that it would do the trick and I would again try to re-create a form of cask conditioned ale.

I had tried before with my dismal failure first batch in the US, and while the beer hadn't fermented properly, the concept of using a cubitainer as a cask was something of a success in terms of proving it could be done, that and several back and forth emails with Boak and Bailey on the process.

So here it is, my little cask of Gael 80/-.


If I have understood the process correctly, the little cask, let's call him "kaskicek" (pronounce it "ka-sk-ee-chek"), should be ready to drink already, so I am planning the first draught of real(ish) cask ale from the Green Dragon Brewery to be poured into one of my funky glasses tonight.

Here's hoping everything has worked out ok!

UPDATE: it worked nicely, and although a little on the thin side, the beer was good.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tour of Northern VA Breweries

I spent most of Friday on the road touring various breweries in the northern Virginia area, visiting a very good bottle shop, a slew of small breweries and a brewpub with cask ale.

It was the cask ale that caught my imagination. The place in question was Capital City Brewing in Shirlington, one of 3 brewpubs, the other two are in Washington D.C., while the beer was their Pale Rider Ale, an American Pale Ale hopped with Simcoe and Amarillo. Unfortunately I didn't have a camera with me, and I didn't bother with tasting notes, simply put, on cask it was delicious.

Of course in the name of science I tried a bit of the regular keg version alongside the cask, and really there was no comparison. On keg it is a lovely beer, on cask it was simply superb!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Copper Head Cask

At some point this week I will be preparing Copper Head Pale Ale for its assembled delivery systems, when they arrive that is. One of the things I wanted to do with my beer once I got here was to get into cask conditioning my beer as well as the bottle conditioning I have been doing up to now.

When I went to buy my brewing kit in Columbia, I noticed that the shop had small wooden casks, just what I wanted! At $120 a pop for a 5 gallon cask, I decided that cask conditioning could wait until I had a job and had finished eating into my savings. I still wanted to try something different though, and then I remembered reading somewhere that you could use a polypin as a form of "cask". Finding information about polypin conditioning was a piece of cake, especially as Boak and Bailey's blog is right up there in a Google search for "using a polypin as a cask", several emails later and I am fairly confident about my upcoming Copper Head Cask.

There was only one problem, I couldn't find a polypin supplier on any of the American homebrew websites. Somehow though I stumbled upon the fact that a "polypin" in the States is a "cubitainer" and thus ordered the necessaries from Northern Brewer. Not wanting to risk all my brew exploding over the storage space, I got just a 1 US gallon cubitainer and will bottle the rest in 12oz bottles, that's 375ml for the metric guys.

Apparently the cubitainer stuff takes about a week to condition, so it should be ready for when my good friend Jay comes down from Philadelphia for the Labor Day weekend. Some of the bottles will make it down to Richmond when I finally meet E.S. Delia of Relentless Thirst fame, and if you haven't already read his excellent blog, get over there as soon as you finish reading this. Around about now for example.

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...

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