Cask conditioned ale is beer that is brewed from traditional ingredients and matured in the cask from which it is served. This means that it is fresh and unfiltered and therefore has a unique flavour.
Cask ale is naturally conditioned as a by-product of the secondary fermentation that takes place inside the cask, It is then served directly, without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide or chemical treatments of any sort.
What you are tasting is a live product, full of flavour and character: beer in its natural state.
Cask Conditioned Ale: Extended Definition
Cask conditioned ale, or ‘Real Ale’ is a living beer. It undergoes an important secondary fermentation in the cask (vessel) from which it is to be served.
At the conclusion of primary fermentation, the green beer is racked off into casks, leaving behind most of the yeast. A small amount of yeast is carried over in suspension, which continues to work in the cask. Finings are added to the cask in order to clarify the beer and sometimes priming sugars are added to enhance the secondary fermentation. As well, dry hops are often added to impart a flowery hop note in the finished beer. It is here in the cask that cask ale matures and comes into condition.
Upon arrival at the pub, the cask is allowed to rest, while the yeast continues working and then gradually drops to the belly of the cask as the beer comes into condition over time. Real ale kept at an ideal cellar temperature of 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit should clarify within 24 to 48 hours. The cask is vented by means of a wooden spile during this time to allow excess carbon dioxide to escape. The skill of the cellarman, using both soft and hard spiles, manipulates the flow of natural carbonation until the desired level of carbonation is achieved and the beer has matured properly.
Later, the cask is tapped and the beer is delivered to the bar by means of a handpump, the traditional system of dispense.
Real ale develops delicate flavours and does not take kindly to temperature changes and excessive handling. However, when handled properly, cask ale delivers a distinctive, well-rounded taste.
10 Interesting Facts About Cask Conditioned Ale
1. Cask Ale is fresh! Cask ale has a short shelf life and must be served within a few days. It is as fresh as beer can be. Cask conditioned ales do not undergo pasteurization or lengthy storage at the brewery.
2. Cask Ale is local! Since it has a short shelf life, cask ale is typically served close to the brewery. The fewer ‘beer miles’ that cask ale travels also make it more environmentally friendly.
3. Cask Ale is unique! The traditional way in which cask ale is made gives it distinctive qualities. There are special nuances of aroma, flavour, and character in cask conditioned ales that are not found in any other type of beer.
4. Cask Ale is a live product! Unlike keg beer which is filtered and often pasteurized, cask ale is a living fresh beer. Its character and flavour still develop in the cask.
5. Cask Ale has been brewed this way for centuries! Cask ale is typically brewed using only traditional ingredients: malted barley, water, hops and yeast. These simple ingredients and the natural process of allowing the beer to develop inside the cask have been used for centuries to produce a great tasting pint.
6. Cask Ale is naturally conditioned! Cask conditioned ale undergoes a secondary fermentation inside the cask. This allows the beer to naturally develop carbonation, as opposed to keg beer which has been filtered and force-carbonated and must be dispensed using additional gas to restore the fizz.
7. Cask Ale is flavourful! The range and depth of flavour to be discovered in cask conditioned ale will surely astound you. From floral, citrus notes to pungent bitterness to rich, sweet maltiness, cask ale offers a vast array of aromas and flavours.
8. Cask Ale is good for you! Since only natural ingredients are used to make cask conditioned ale, you will find no other chemicals or preservatives present. Cask ale also has vitamin B and probiotic qualities from the yeast, which hasn’t been filtered out.
9. Cask Ale is great with food! The broad range of flavours and aromas, as well as subtle nuances found in cask conditioned ales can create wonderfully inspired pairings with food.
10. Cask Ale is the real deal! Also known as ‘real ale’, cask conditioned ale is considered by many to be the genuine article: real beer for real people who appreciate quality, character and distinction.