Venting

Arguably, the most important part of cask conditioning is venting; the controlled release of co2 and yeast from the cask bringing it into perfect condition.

 When the cask has rested, it has undergone a secondary fermentation and produced carbon dioxide at very high levels. This needs to be released, in effect lowering the carbonation, and, ideally, leaving the drinker with that elusive mouthfeel that we look for in a properly conditioned pint.

There should be no prickly sensation on the tongue, as found in a beer like Orval. Conversely, the beer should not be flat. A drinker should be able to swirl the glass of ale releasing fine bubbles of carbon dioxide.

 A cask just vented
And, just 3 minutes later. Note the towel to contain the yeast and beer
This cask vented for around 24 hrs. When it slowed down to where I could wipe the spile clean after 5 seconds or so, it was sealed with a hard spile and a sample was taken. The ale was still cloudy, but tasted great and had plenty of carbonation. 3 days later, it was clear, and had a nice light carbonation and clear aesthetic that I look for in my ales.

Venting IS the art of Cask Conditioning. Too much, and you're left with flat beer. Too little, and the ale doesn't have the mouthfeel sought after in cask ale. One of the nice things about traditional British Real Ale is the low alcohol, yet tremendous flavor. Too much carbonation, and they seem weak. Bland. Boring. Get it just right, served at the proper 52-56F cellar temperature and they are about as close to perfection as a beer can be.

12 comments:

  1. Hello,
    your blog is interesting I am interested in setting up a cask system similar to what you have to allow casual use (daily pint) over a period of time, say a month for a pin. I have some questions on the Step by Step page. First, it is not clear how you dispense the beer. Is it by gravity using a tap or a beer engine. If by gravity is the tap and line stored within the fridge/freezer so what beer is in the line to the tap will stay fresh. Using the breather how long will the beer last?

    I would be very interested in getting your answers to above.

    Cathal,
    Limerick,
    Ireland

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  2. Hi Cathal,
    I use a beer engine, but I'm building a new house with a dedicated cellar and will likely switch to gravity. I always pull a pint or so through the line to get fresh beer. I'll also clean the line once/week.
    I can generally keep a cask in good condition for around 4 weeks.

    Hope that helps and sorry for the late reply!

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  3. Jim,
    thanks for above. Using a Hereford Cask, which will fit into a larder fridge, I am due to try at the end of this week a breather with gravity dispense. Other Casks will not fit into the fridge and allow gravity dispensing. Hoping it will work!
    Good to know you get 4 weeks, plenty of time to drink a cask.

    Cathal

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    Replies
    1. Cathal,
      thanks for the reply. Those Hereford casks looks great. Perfect for the homebrewer. Good luck with it.
      Keep an eye on the blog. I'm building a cask cellar and will be back in the groove soon. I'll be updating the blog with info on the new setup.

      Cheers,
      Jim

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  4. Jim,

    Love the blog! I just returned from Yorkshire and fell in love with the beer. Making English-style cask ale at home really intrigues me, and I'm willing to make the investments to do it, but is it worth it? I only want to brew cask because it is something that I cannot get here locally in Florida and have no intention of brewing/bottling beer similar to something that I can buy here. You said you been to England a lot, and I'm confident that you know what good cask tastes like, so how does yours compare? Thanks for the information, and I look forward to reading about your new setup.

    Regards,
    Matt

    Sarasota, FL

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    Replies
    1. Hi Matt,
      Thanks! As you can see, I haven't updated it in a loooooooong time, but I'm getting ready to soon. Life and work sometimes get in the way of beer, and I haven't brewed in over a year! I'm lucky though to have a local micro that will fill a cask for me every once in a while though...

      are you currently brewing? If so, it's not all that much more difficult than bottling, you just need the gear. I recommend ukbrewing.com

      Yes, you can make cask beer as good as anything you'd see in a proper pub in UK. Better than most of what you'll see in the states. You can use corny kegs, but I just never got it quite right until switching to real casks. If you decide to try cornys, maybe an email to Benny over at boathousebrewing.com would be in order? When I was starting out, he helped me a lot and he uses cornies in addition to casks.

      good luck,
      Jim

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  5. Sorry that's Benjy at boathousebrewery.com

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  6. Hey Jim,

    At this point I have never brewed a single beer, but I'm an engineer, a tinkerer, and a cook who loves to experiment in the kitchen (usually, though not always, with good results), so I think brewing is right up my ally. I've been researching brewing English-style Ales for two weeks, the ingredients that are used, as well as proper homebrewing techniques and equipment, but I've yet to take the plunge. Like I said, I didn't want to make the investment unless I knew that I could replicate the English cask ales, but your response has given me hope.

    If (when) I start I will definitely go the cask route (not the corny keg) and employ the cask widge system. I know with some practice I'll be able to make a good brew, but I think my biggest hurdle will be where I live. Cask Ales are conditioned in cellars, but in Florida we don't have basements or cellars, or weather that is cooler than 70 degrees for more than two months out of the year. If I'm going to do this right I'll need to build or buy some sort of temperature controlled chill box to get a consistent fermenting temp, as well as the 55 degree conditioning temp. This is far from impossible, but it could get pricey and I don't want to tick off my wife :) I would love to be up north and just chuck the keg into a cool basement for 2 months.

    Anyway, thanks again for the the advice and the hope that you have given me. I'm definitely up for the challenge.

    Regards,
    Matt

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    Replies
    1. Hmm. I mean, it's not particularly difficult. I don't see why you couldn't start with it, but there will be a pretty big financial investment to be made. Are there any homebrew shops near you in Fl.? Might be a good idea to start there. Make a beer and bottle it. That'll give you an idea of whether you really want to clean, woops I meant brew at home. Brewing is about 90% cleaning so...

      As for cooling, even in the northeast, I use a large temperature controlled freezer for fermenting and a fridge for dispense. I just moved and changed my whole setup. I'll update the blog once its all set up. Temperature control is huge, but you can also mitigate that with yeast strain. Some handle warmer temps better than others.

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    2. Jim,

      I've got my first ever brew in the fermenter -- a best bitter recipe that I made up -- and after 4 days its looking good. I dug around on some UK homebrewing sites and found where guys were using 2.5 gallon polypins and/or cubitainers to do cask ale at home, so I'm going that route for the time being. On Sunday I'll rack the ale into the polypins, but I'm a little unsure how long I have to wait to drink it. It seems that when you bottle condition many people recommend waiting a month after a week in the primary and two weeks in the secondary for the beer to mature, but everything I've read about cask conditioning has led me to believe that the beer is ready to drink after a couple weeks in the secondary (for lower gravity beers anyway). Is this right? Thanks!

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  7. Burton-upon-Trent is in Staffordshire, not Yorkshire. :)

    Speaking as a Yorkshireman, I have to completely disagree on sparklers. Beer *not* drawn through the sparkler is flat, lifeless and much harsher than a creamy, scrummy pint with a tight head that clings to the glass as it goes down.

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