So, what the heck IS a cask? And what is the difference between regular draft beer and cask-conditioned beer? Well believe it or not, cask-conditioned beer plays a major role in draft beer history, long before modern kegs arrived on the scene.
The cask itself is simply a storing vessel for beer (traditionally wooden barrels). Inside the cask, the magic begins. Cask-conditioned beer is made simply with traditional ingredients (malted barley, water, hops, yeast) and is often both unfiltered and unpasteurized without the addition of chemicals or preservatives. This is how beer was traditionally served throughout much of ancient Europe prior to the invention of modern kegs.
Cask conditioned ale a.k.a ‘Real Ale’ (coined by the Campaign for Real Ale of 1971) undergoes an important secondary fermentation within the cask. This allows the beer to develop carbonation naturally, contrary to regular draft keg beer, which has been filtered, force-carbonated and must be served by using additional gas to restore its bubbles.
Once it has been tapped, cask conditioned beer is ready for almost immediate consumption. It is essentially ‘alive’, fresh beer. It is dispensed via a hand-pump (resulting in less carbonation than regular keg draft beer) which lends some nostalgia of its early days in old school British pubs. Due to much of its natural preservation system, the shelf life of cask beer is short-lived, but the flavours can be very vibrant, complex and unique. It is a similar concept to bottle aged wine, the flavours will evolve within the cask, so be prepared to get different characteristics from the same beer each time you taste it!
Speaking of cask beer, for an opportunity to taste a plethora of cask conditioned brews, check out Cask Days in Toronto this weekend, Oct 19th-20th at Evergreen Brickworks [200+ beers Ontario Cask, 100+ Canadian microbreweries].
Written by Kristin Perrin
Originally posted for Brother Bistro Blog
References:The Brewmaster’s Table by Garrett Oliver, Brewmaster of The Brooklyn Brewery