So, you’ve managed to produce Yeasty McYeastface New England IPA. Baby, I’m a Star Fruit Star Anise Gose was the belle of the ball at the most recent beer fest. The bourbon barrel-aged Kvass is showing all signs of a world-class beverage as far as you know. The yoga studio collaboration: VrikSaisona is a runaway hit. The pork-themed food truck, The Hambulance, is scheduled for the next two weekends at the tap room. Even the glycol chiller appears to be working properly. You’re wondering, “What’s the next program we can assemble and launch?” The answer is cask-conditioned beer.
(If you are already producing cask-conditioned beer, please proceed to the gift shop. We have some lovely British malts from Bairds Malt and Thomas Fawcett & Sons that will certainly pique your interest. Let’s not forget our friends at Loughran Family Malt who hail from the Emerald Isle, either.)
If you would like to produce cask beer there are a few things that you should know. Cask beer is not filtered, it is not pasteurized, it contains live yeast, and it contains residual fermentable sugar. At first glance, it resembles a lot of craft beer that is being produced today. The purpose of cask conditioning is to clarify the beer, impart flavor and aroma through dry-hopping, increase CO2 by way of secondary fermentation, and improve flavor through the transformation of diacetyl by the yeast. These features add up to a unique beer that allows brewers and the men and women of the cellar to let their creativity and craft really shine. The process is fairly straightforward, but be aware of a few specifications. The Institute of Brewing & Distilling in London recommends that the beer be racked into casks when it is 0.5 degrees Plato above the final attenuation. If racked with too much fermentable sugar remaining the secondary fermentation will be too active. If below, adequate CO2 will not be produced, yielding flat beer. The yeast in suspension should be at about 0.5 million cells/ml to 2 million cells/ml to ensure that there are enough cells to consume those residual sugars and have a proper secondary fermentation. If you missed that window and the beer has attenuated, no problem! You can also add priming sugar to stimulate the yeast into the secondary fermentation stage. The cask should be conditioned at 12-14 degrees C or about 53 – 57 degrees F for about 2 to 3 weeks. This obviously depends on the residual sugar level and the characteristics of the yeast employed.
Hops and hop products are added to the cask to impart hop aroma and give another layer of complexity. There are many hop products out there that could be used at this stage, including YCH’s CryoHops, that would really give a punch of flavor and aroma to the cask. This can also serve as a point of experimentation through the trial of hops that are unfamiliar in a familiar house beer you are currently producing. Most of the hop conventions have been shattered these days, but do keep in mind that you are attempting to process a beer that will have commercial appeal. Steve Hamburg of Cask Marque has said, “Even though there is a hole in the side of a cask, it’s not a trash can,” or something along those lines. Experimentation is great, but some flavors just don’t work out. Be honest with yourself and don’t be afraid to admit an adjunct combination missed the mark.
Finings are an integral component of producing bright, or nearly bright, cask beer. We carry forms of isinglass and Nalco 1072, a SiO2 fining agent. If you are looking for a vegan or vegetarian-friendly fining option, Nalco 1072 is for you. There are a few things to keep in mind about finings. They will not remove colloidal hazes from metallic contamination, bacterial contamination, dead yeast cells, and wild yeast cells. There are optimal usage rates, and it may take a few trials to figure out what works best for your brewery. More is not always better, as sometimes an excess of finings can also cause the sediments to become loose, resulting in cloudy beer.
Cask beer dispense can be a nuanced topic. CAMRA – the campaign for Real Ale and Cask Marque do a remarkable job on the topic. For a thorough understanding, be sure to visit their websites. Generally speaking, it should be served cool, 10 – 14 degrees C or 50 to 57 degrees F. Ideally, position the cask where it will dispense 24 hours before service; this will allow sediments to settle and compact. The last piece of advice — the cask should be consumed within a 2 -3 day period for best results.
There are several great cask beer events around the Midwest including: Day of the Living Ales in Chicago, IL; the Isthmus Cask Ale Fest in Madison WI; the Michigan Cask Ale Festival; and the Brewers of Indiana Guild Microbrewers Fest, which features a cask ale tent within the festival–a fest within a fest no less–brilliant!
If you’re interested in doing this at your brewery, Country Malt Group has malt and hops from around the world. We have everything you need from casks and pins through our partners at NDL Keg, Oregon Fruit Products, keystones, and Cholaca: pure liquid cacao. We have all that is needed for you to sculpt the cask of Cherry Wood Chocolate Cherry Robust Porter that stands out and demands attention from recent craft beer converts to the stingiest of reviewers on Untappd.