Pub casks at home: my thoughts so far

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yashicamat
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Pub casks at home: my thoughts so far

Post by yashicamat » Thu Jan 14, 2010 12:15 am

Well, I thought I'd give a little update as to my hunt for the "well conditioned pint". I have tried "homebrew pressure barrels", corny kegs, bottles and of late, I have been using some plastic pub casks.

I thought I'd share my findings, so to break down the different aspects of pub casks for the home brewer:

Practicality

They are harder work, without a doubt! Shives and keystones have to be bashed into the casks and then levered out when the cask is empty. However, once they have been hammered in, the casks are pretty bombproof (just look at how casks get bounced around as they land in pub cellars), so it's easy to lug them about. They are a LOT easier to carry than pressure barrels and I'd argue easier than corny kegs as they have a few different places to securely grip them by. This might seem like an insignificant point by those who have the luxury of barrels and fermenters in the same place, I lug my barrels across a yard and up a flight of stairs by myself, so I see it as bonus!

Cleaning them is obviously a different routine to a pressure barrel (and for those with skinny arms, a corny too) as it's impossible to get your hand/arm into a cask. The key here is to be pro-active and cleaning them immediately after use. I soaked them in warm water with soda crystals, followed by shaking and some hot rinses. This seems to clear all the crud out just fine. Commercially, steam lances are used, but these are too expensive and impractical for use by the homebrewer, unless you have a very friendly brewery nearby who will clean your casks for you.

Serving the beer requires the minor inconvenience of removing the spile as you pour the beer, but it's not really an issue.

Cost

The cost of the cask should be no more than £40 (for a plastic one, you are looking at probably £70+ for a stainless steel one) then there is a shive, a keystone and a spile per use so it ends up at about 80p a cask. That's just over 2p a pint if you use a pin (4.5 gallons, 36 pints), obviously it halves if you use a firkin (9 gallon) as the beer quantity doubles but the shive/keystone/spile cost is the same.

Longevity of the beer

I think the casks are excellent for maturing beer in from what I have discovered so far. I aged a 5.0% stout for about 6 weeks in one of these and there were absolutely no off tastes at all. The plastic is completely light proof too, unlike many homebrew barrels, although I realise the cornies have this same merit.

Of great concern to many reading this will be the life of the beer once vented. Once the cask has been opened, common opinion is you've got anywhere between 3 and 7 days to empty it (depending on the strength of the beer). This seems to me to be a slightly cynical perspective, perhaps because in good pubs the landlord will wait until the beer is in optimum condition (sometimes a good few days after being vented) before serving. I found my 3.6% mild was good for 6 days and the 5.0% stout was good for 10 days (and was still good as the barrel ran empty) if I started serving once I vented the beer. This is despite air being drawn in the moment one starts serving.

Flavour & condition of the beer

Well, the big question really - is it worth it? Well, in short, I would say so. The beer has a lovely natural condition that is far smoother than a corny (one of my issues with corny systems along with hop aroma being apparently sacrificed) and the flavour seems to be better (when I compared my mild that I brewed 10G of, half went into a cask and the other into a corny). I can't explain why this is the case, I can only assume it's something to do with the way the beer interacts with the oxygen in the cask . . . all I know is it tastes better.

The condition of the beer does drop off fairly quickly. The mild was underconditioned anyway (I was guessing the conditioning sugars required, I got it a bit low with the mild but the stout was much better), but the stout was quite lively initially (but I still drank it, just required careful pouring . . . I think this is one of the occasions when a landlord may let the beer sit for a day or two), with the condition lasting for 4 days or so before tailing off. The beer still tasted excellent after this, but it no longer had much condition. At this point, I connected up the Angram and served it through a sparkler as opposed to gravity that I had served it by until that point, but the Southerners wouldn't see any need for such action. :wink:

Overall - Well, I think it is worthwhile. The system is very flexible and can handle things like loose dryhopping quite easily as there are built in hop filters in the system. The casks should be especially good with hoppy ales as they are so well sealed - I shall find out soon as I have a hop bomb using Pacific Gem conditioning in one of them at the moment. The way the cask works means that you should get a crystal clear pint from start to end too. The disadvantages are that there is an additional cost involved and it requires a little more work.

Below is a photo to show that "gravity dispense" doesn't mean no condition/head - that drink was just poured straight from the tap. :)

Image

Cheers! 8)
Last edited by yashicamat on Thu Jan 14, 2010 9:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Rob

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Fermenting: Arches (1039, red ale with 100g of centennial hops)

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Stonechat
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Re: Pub casks at home: my thoughts so far

Post by Stonechat » Thu Jan 14, 2010 12:58 am

A very interesting and informative post. Cheers =D>

adm

Re: Pub casks at home: my thoughts so far

Post by adm » Thu Jan 14, 2010 12:59 am

Nice write up Rob - and very interesting too.

I don't think I could finish a keg like that off in the time it takes before the beer loses condition, but for parties and stuff it would be perfect.

Although.....I suppose you could use a cask breather/check valve type thingy to keep the beer in condition for longer...

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yashicamat
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Re: Pub casks at home: my thoughts so far

Post by yashicamat » Thu Jan 14, 2010 1:06 am

adm wrote:Although.....I suppose you could use a cask breather/check valve type thingy to keep the beer in condition for longer...
Interestingly, I've read that a cask breather only increases the shelf life by a day or two, although I've not personally tried it out so I don't know. I don't think it would keep the beer in condition though as it won't apply any top pressure, so the dissolved carbon dioxide in the beer will slowly evolve anyway.

The other option would be to part fill the casks, but then it starts becoming quite a lot of hassle for the sake of 20 pints or so.
Rob

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Fermenting: Arches (1039, red ale with 100g of centennial hops)

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Re: Pub casks at home: my thoughts so far

Post by WishboneBrewery » Thu Jan 14, 2010 8:16 am

Interesting read, thanks :)
which also reminds me I need to brew my tweaked version of your Snapes Stout :)

kfm

Re: Pub casks at home: my thoughts so far

Post by kfm » Thu Jan 14, 2010 8:25 am

Very helpful post and timely too as I'm thinking about setting my dad up with the smaller one, cheers

delboy

Re: Pub casks at home: my thoughts so far

Post by delboy » Thu Jan 14, 2010 8:52 am

Very informative post, like adm i would never empty a keg that quickly (unless it was a party) so these won't be for me but great info for those thinking about it.

Oh one question, once the beer goes into the kegs are they brought indoors to condition and only leave the premises when empty?

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Re: Pub casks at home: my thoughts so far

Post by yashicamat » Thu Jan 14, 2010 10:10 am

pdtnc wrote:Interesting read, thanks :)
which also reminds me I need to brew my tweaked version of your Snapes Stout :)
It was an absolute cracker! Best stout I've ever brewed, really rich and full of flavour. I think 6 weeks of maturing really helped with this style of beer, though.

delboy wrote:Oh one question, once the beer goes into the kegs are they brought indoors to condition and only leave the premises when empty?
For me, that depends on the time of year. They will need a week in at about 15 to 20 degrees just like you would for a bottle conditioned beer to allow the yeast to work on the priming sugar, then ideally they should be placed where they will be served from and left to settle for a few weeks to allow them to condition. As it happens, I use the storage room at home when it's this cold outside, I just turn the thermostat to 0 on the radiator and leave the window on vent, the temperature seems to hover at about 14 degrees then which is perfect. :) It's really no different to how you would handle a plastic pressure barrel (with priming) or bottled beer.

One additional point though; be careful with how much prime is usesd. The casks have a maximum working pressure of about 7psi . . . not that the cask will suffer, but the keystone (which is located at the lowest point on the front of the cask) will probably shoot out first, leaving your beer to glug all over the floor. It is therefore important to be very careful on sanitation so as to not end up with a giant bottle bomb and to only gently prime. I used 30g of sugar in yesterday's beer.
Rob

POTTER BREWERY

Fermenting: Arches (1039, red ale with 100g of centennial hops)

adeybambam

Re: Pub casks at home: my thoughts so far

Post by adeybambam » Thu Jan 14, 2010 4:48 pm

Is that 30g of priming sugar for 4.5 gallons? I'm really interested in going down this route so I can serve via a beer engine with sparkler. I don't have a corny (or any other barrel for that matter). Any tips on how to fill the barrel would be appreciated - how much space do you leave at the top of the barrel?

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Re: Pub casks at home: my thoughts so far

Post by yashicamat » Thu Jan 14, 2010 5:47 pm

adeybambam wrote:Is that 30g of priming sugar for 4.5 gallons? I'm really interested in going down this route so I can serve via a beer engine with sparkler. I don't have a corny (or any other barrel for that matter). Any tips on how to fill the barrel would be appreciated - how much space do you leave at the top of the barrel?
Well, hopefully I'm not patronising you in saying that you don't need to use casks to use a beer engine. However, beer engines work best if there is no pressure head on the beer (i.e., top pressure as in cornies or if using a CO2 bulb or cylinder on a pressure barrel). When I fill the casks, I leave about 1.5" of headspace or so below the inside of the cask top (the shive hole is about 3/4" deep you see). This allow a bit of space when I vent it for it to foam a touch, plus it also gives some space for the evolved CO2 during conditioning to compress into before dissolving into the beer. The shape of the cask means that although there is some headspace, the actual volume of air there isn't massive.

The best way to actually fill the cask (if using a pub cask) is to first thoroughly clean the cask, I then spray some betadine solution (2.0ml/L dilution) into the keystone hole, bash the keystone in (I spray the betadine in to sanitise the areas that are subsequently trapped between the keystone and the cask in case they come into contact with the beer when it is filled but the sanitiser hasn't thoroughly got to that area in the main cask sanitising) then fill the cask with some sanitiser. Give it a good shake, empty and rinse as per usual. I then use a large diameter clear pipe (sanitised) and fit it to the tap on the FV (having first sprayed some more betadine solution over the FV tap and also a squirt up the tap). Any finings, dryhops etc., pop them into the cask through the shive hole then fill the cask through the same hole. When it's about 1.5" from the top, stop filling, remove the tube and place the shive (which I sanitise too of course) onto the hole. I then give the shive a firm tap in with the mallet until it's seated, then lift the cask onto the floor before giving it some more force to get the shive to fully seat in the hole (should only be a 1mm or so gap at the top when it's all the way in). I don't feel comfortable hammering the cask hard when it's on a chair (i.e., as I'm filling it), hence the moving it around stage.

Anyone using casks will need some wooden wedges (about 2" high by about 3" long is about right) to stop the casks rolling about when filling, standing and of course, to tilt the cask at the end (although I find with these 4.5 gallon pins, only a minimal amount of tilting is needed as they don't have as deeper a "belly" as the larger casks). 3 wedges is the minimum, but you'll need them for every cask you have filled, not just the ones that are being served. :)
Rob

POTTER BREWERY

Fermenting: Arches (1039, red ale with 100g of centennial hops)

adeybambam

Re: Pub casks at home: my thoughts so far

Post by adeybambam » Thu Jan 14, 2010 6:14 pm

Cheers - very helpful indeed.

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yashicamat
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Re: Pub casks at home: my thoughts so far

Post by yashicamat » Thu Jan 14, 2010 9:02 pm

No problem. :)

Incidentally, you can see the handy container I use for the betadine solution next to the cask - an old disinfectant container! Perfect as it sprays a fine mist onto things I want sanitising.
Rob

POTTER BREWERY

Fermenting: Arches (1039, red ale with 100g of centennial hops)

kingofkernow

Re: Pub casks at home: my thoughts so far

Post by kingofkernow » Thu Jan 14, 2010 9:44 pm

This is the solution to my problem (I hope) ! Can you give me the link to where to buy these barrels please as would defo look to invest! Many thanks :D

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Re: Pub casks at home: my thoughts so far

Post by yashicamat » Thu Jan 14, 2010 9:48 pm

kingofkernow wrote:This is the solution to my problem (I hope) ! Can you give me the link to where to buy these barrels please as would defo look to invest! Many thanks :D
You can get everything you need from here: http://www.barleybottom.com/
Rob

POTTER BREWERY

Fermenting: Arches (1039, red ale with 100g of centennial hops)

kingofkernow

Re: Pub casks at home: my thoughts so far

Post by kingofkernow » Thu Jan 14, 2010 10:40 pm

Cracking, cheers for that! :D

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