Cask Conditioning v Keg Conditioning

Discussion in 'Homebrewing' started by rtrasr, May 11, 2013.

  1. rtrasr

    rtrasr Feb 16, 2009 Arkansas

    Is there a difference? If so, what?
     
  2. marquis

    marquis Nov 20, 2005 United Kingdom (England)

    Initially, cask conditioning is the same as keg conditioning which uses priming sugars instead of force carbonation.The difference is basically what happens after the container is tapped.As beer is drawn off air is allowed into a cask , not much but sufficient to develop and enhance the flavours over a few days. With keg the pressure is maintained externally, the beer can't develop but neither of course will it spoil if not drunk promptly..
     
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  3. rtrasr

    rtrasr Feb 16, 2009 Arkansas

    Thank you Marquis.
     
  4. mikehartigan

    mikehartigan Apr 9, 2007 Illinois

    For the budding beer geek in all of us ;):

    http://www.camra.org.uk/aboutale

    Cask conditioning is as much art as it is science. It's also a discipline, IMO. Chicago Beer Society hosts the annual Day/Night of the Living Ales every March. I've attended this event for the past few years (actually, I volunteered - it's cheaper that way! :)). Spending a day with 'Real Ale' is quite an experience. I taste beer with a very different perspective since my first immersive experience with Real Ale (I say 'immersive', not in the sense of over-indulging - though the opportunity was certainly there - but rather in the sense that I took the time to savor the nuances of the beer in a way that I never had before).

    But, to answer your question, I think of 'Cask Conditioning' as the process of carbonating a beer naturally. Serving it without CO2 is nice, but it's after the fact, so it's irrelevant (sorry, Camra). By 'naturally', I mean without priming sugar. Either keg it before primary fermentation is complete, trapping the CO2 produced during the final days of fermentation (pretty gutsy, IMO), or by krausening - adding a sufficient quantity of actively fermenting beer to the cask to produce CO2 for carbonation.

    In contrast, 'Keg conditioning' is simply treating the keg as a big bottle - add priming sugar to produce CO2. A bit more predictable than what I described, above.

    FWIW, these are my definitions - others may define these terms differently. That's fine.

    Personally, I just force carb. Cheap, easy, and perfect every time!
     
    JrGtr likes this.
  5. rtrasr

    rtrasr Feb 16, 2009 Arkansas

    Interesting and thanks for the link, Mike.
     
  6. GreenKrusty101

    GreenKrusty101 Dec 4, 2008 Nevada

    Anyone know what "on cask" means in the US of A? I had Sculpin "on cask" awhile back, but I don't think they were using a regular ole beer engine with air...if they were, I pity the guy who got the last pour...unless it was the same night (it probably was : )). Cheers
     
  7. marquis

    marquis Nov 20, 2005 United Kingdom (England)

    But it's the air which allows the beer to develop its potential! Otherwise it's just a giant bottle conditioned beer.And from experience a bottle conditioned ale doesn't come near to the same brew on cask even though it's often brewed stronger to compensate for bottling.
    Very often the best pints are the last few from the cask.
    Oxidation is a dirty word in brewing.But it's short term oxidation-three or four days exposed to a small quantity of air-which works wonders. It also wrecks any beer left over after a few days as oxidation is a two edged sword .
    One point-at the end of a day's serving the cask is stoppered up and residual sugars gently recarbonate the beer.Cask ale should never be flat but it isn't gassy or overcarbonated either.[​IMG]
     
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  8. rtrasr

    rtrasr Feb 16, 2009 Arkansas

    That looks mighty refreshing.
     
  9. MLucky

    MLucky Jul 31, 2010 California

    I get the impression it simply means "unfiltered and served at room temperature, sometimes via a beer engine" here in the states.
     
    GreenKrusty101 likes this.
  10. bulletrain76

    bulletrain76 Nov 6, 2007 California

    You don't have to use a beer engine to serve a cask. In many cases, casks are served via gravity with the glass held right under the tap. Air gets in the top of the cask just the same as when you pimp the beer out with a beer engine.

    Past of the reason I think American IPAs don't work well on cask is that American hop flavors are very sensitive to oxidation and quickly turn south after a few hours of tapping a cask. Second day... forget about it. I guess English beers tend to hold up better because they have more malt balance and less bright, fruity hop aroma. Even so, I had several stale pints of cask ale when I was in London a couple years ago. The good ones though, were amazing.
     
    Mothergoose03 likes this.
  11. GreenKrusty101

    GreenKrusty101 Dec 4, 2008 Nevada

    Was "pimp the beer out" a typo or freudian slip? Thanks for replying...I've always wondered about what "on cask" means on this side of the pond. An American IPA didn't seem like the type of beer to benefit from some ancient air injection technology..I guess I was lucky I got the the first pour...after patiently waiting with an Alaskan Smoked Porter : ) ...now awaiting a tour to the UK to visit family, picturesque pubs and timely cask ale.
     
  12. marquis

    marquis Nov 20, 2005 United Kingdom (England)

    I've had a massively (the brewer called it insanely) hopped beer on cask and it was magnificent. I'm sure it had been on more than a day or two from what was said.
    As for beer from gravity dispense see my image.Taken by the way in the same pub as my earlier image! It's Bass as you would guess; note the cooling jacket on the firkins which enables casks to perform well outside of a cellar and also the price! Also the automatic stooping device which gently tips up the cask as it gets lighter.Lovely pint , not to be compared with the lamentable Bass in bottles or cans.
    [​IMG]
     
  13. mikehartigan

    mikehartigan Apr 9, 2007 Illinois

    Brewpubs in the US usually dispense cask beer with a beer engine (hand pump). Many (most?) of them fill the headspace with beer gas to limit exposure to oxygen. Their reality is that only the beer geeks order cask conditioned beer (what self-respecting Bud Light drinker is gonna order a warm, flat Ale?), so they need to be concerned with shelf life. Granted, there will be some absorption of CO2 even at the low pressure that they use, but I think it's a reasonable enough compromise, given the alternatives (raise the price or get rid of it altogether).

    FYI, since cask beer is necessarily fresh, it's an incredible vehicle for showcasing the hops! Most of the cask ales I've had at my local Rock Bottom, for example, have been heavily dry-hopped - even a recent Wit (which, predictably, was not my favorite cask ale :rolleyes:)
     
    Mothergoose03 likes this.
  14. sjverla

    sjverla Dec 1, 2008 Massachusetts

    I once ordered something that was 'on cask' and got served something that was definitely nitro. It's only happened once to me, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was some improper use of the terminology on this side of the pond.
     
  15. mikehartigan

    mikehartigan Apr 9, 2007 Illinois

    Ya think?!?!?!? ;)

    The closest I've gotten to the real thing, such as it is, is at the DOTLA/NOTLA that I mentioned, above. Carbonated in the cask (presumably correctly) and gravity fed. Vented to the atmosphere. Ambient temp is typically in the high 40s/low 50s, though we have little control over that (no ice or other artificial chilling). The only thing missing is a few days of aging/oxidation that is the signature of cask ale. But it's damn tasty, regardless!
     
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  16. rtrasr

    rtrasr Feb 16, 2009 Arkansas

    Some places even in the UK use cask breathers which use co2 to blanket the ale to keep it fresh and limit oxidation. The carbon dioxide is not used to carbonate the ale. CAMRA says this is not real ale but Alex Hall of CASKUSA says they are probably a must if cask is to catch on in the states.

    By the way, I had some cask ale that was good at Jack O the Wood Pub in Asheville, NC. It was Greenman ESB and it was delicious.
     
    WickedSluggy likes this.
  17. bulletrain76

    bulletrain76 Nov 6, 2007 California


    At the 1-2psi most cask breathers operate at, there is zero pickup of CO2 for the beer in a cask. I've heard this stated as a detriment to breathers before, but it just doesn't hold up to the science of gas behavior in beer.
     
  18. VikeMan

    VikeMan Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    Blasphemy. Next you'll suggest bittering ales with those newfangled beer hops.
     
  19. WickedSluggy

    WickedSluggy Nov 21, 2008 Texas

    CMARA reminds me of a union that no longer fulfills a once important role but instead exists primarily out of its own instinct for survival. I'm not saying they don't do good things or it should flat die, but the state of brewing and beer is nothing like what it was in 1971. We are no longer faced with a situation where a the rich brewing traditions of the past are in danger of being replaced by the homogenized watered down mass produced beers of that time. It is one thing to protect a heritage, it is quite another to stifle innovation and advancement by condemning new and often better practices saying that the products are not "real".
     
  20. mikehartigan

    mikehartigan Apr 9, 2007 Illinois

    I kind of agree. But it's nice that there are folks who are willing to put in the extra effort from time to time to abide by the strict 'rules', thus creating a mystique that otherwise might not get created. And it's an intriguing topic of conversation.

    That said, my beer world wouldn't crumble to dust without it.
     
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  21. benetoh

    benetoh Feb 2, 2008 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    all of this talk about casks makes me wish I had one to fill with homebrew. I have used the german 5L mini kegs for this, but have always been looking for something bigger without having to spend $200 on it
     
  22. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    I have always considered using a cubitaner for a cask ale (homebrewed Bitter Ale) but I haven’t done it (yet). It is a lot less expensive then 200 bucks at $6.99.

    http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/5-gallon-cubitainer.html

    Cheers!
     
  23. marquis

    marquis Nov 20, 2005 United Kingdom (England)

    It has won one battle but many others are still being fought.Membership by the way continues to rocket - in the last four years it's gone from 100 000 to 150 000 so people clearly feel that it has a purpose.
    Cask ale is the trump card held by the pub trade.It's a product effectively only available there , beer can be bought in bottles or cans much cheaper elsewhere but it isn't the same.Pub closure is a sad fact of life at the moment and an organisation which supports cask ale also supports the pub. CAMRA has recently successfully campaigned to stop increases in beer duty (tax) and even secured a slight reduction.
    As beer does improve on a day to day basis after being tapped it's hardly surprising that CAMRA opposes the cask breather which has the purpose of preventing ingress of the small amount of air which brings this about! There is a place for cask breathers but only at the margins; it's better to go to a smaller cask size or reduce the number of ales on sale in order to turn the beer over in time to prevent spoilage.
    Note that CAMRA is primarily concerned with the delivery of the drink, not its nature. The only innovation I've seen relevant to this is the introduction of nitro. Having typed this word I'll now go and wash my hands.
     
  24. VikeMan

    VikeMan Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    Stiff upper lip, old bean!
    Actually, I'm not very fond of Nitro either.
     
  25. rtrasr

    rtrasr Feb 16, 2009 Arkansas

    I think pub closures is by far the biggest issue confronting CAMRA. They did beer drinkers of all tastes (even Brewdog drinkers) a huge service by defeating the increase in the beer duty.
     
  26. escknx

    escknx Nov 3, 2013 New York

    So is that ok to fill keg with beer + sugar and naturally carbonate as is cask/bottle and use CO2 just to fill the glasses after fermentation is complete?
    What is the difference will be here in comparison to cask conditioning?
    Looks like the same process will be taking place in keg as in cask.
     
  27. rundownhouse

    rundownhouse Sep 15, 2005 Tennessee

    Hey, some people really enjoy the light-struck flavor of "skunky" beer, too. Just because you enjoy the flavor of by-definition oxidized beer does not mean that it is superior beer with superior flavor. It's just what you like: the equivalent of skunked beer.

    I seriously doubt this happens. There aren't enough fermentables left in the beer. You're saying that either the brewer is distributing young, green beer - in which case there's enough sugar for a cask to carbonate noticeably in ~15 hours - or that beer that is close to finishing can produce enough CO2 to noticeably carbonate in ~15 hours. And even then, you're suggesting that the brewer is packaging unfinished beer AND that the beer then does not finish between the brewer and the patron, an amount of time that is likely equivalent to the time between the first pint of the cask and the last. It is much, much more likely that there's no discernible difference in the amount of dissolved CO2 in the cask between one day and the next than it is the beer loses CO2 then regains it then loses CO2 then regains it.

    I love a good cask beer as much as the next guy, but it's still beer: more science than magic.
     
    #27 rundownhouse, Dec 1, 2013
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2013
  28. rundownhouse

    rundownhouse Sep 15, 2005 Tennessee

    If you do that in a cask and in a keg, it's the same process of getting dissolved CO2 in the beer. The biggest difference would be in the way it's served. Proper cask ale is served in a way which allows air to enter the serving vessel. There's some conflating of the way CO2 is dissolved in the beer and the way it is served; "cask conditioned" beer can be both proper cask ale and beer served out of a cask with a CO2 rebreather, even if one is authentic and one is not.
     
  29. marquis

    marquis Nov 20, 2005 United Kingdom (England)

    Don't confuse the level of oxidation which cask enthusiasts enjoy with spoilage oxidation (which comes later if you aren't careful) Just as cleaning a lens allows for a sharper image so masked flavours are revealed.No off tastes, just extra levels of complexity.
    Regarding replacing the hard spile after use to re establish conditioning. It does work even though perhaps it shouldn't.The process is long established and has stood the test of time.
     
  30. rundownhouse

    rundownhouse Sep 15, 2005 Tennessee

    LOL? I'm not passing judgment on your preferences, but they're 100% the result of oxidation. That's your thing, just like people that like light-struck beer, or people that like diacetyl, etc. No confusion!

    Wrt bunging a cask you're wrong. "It does work even though it shouldn't" doesn't counteract physics, unfortunately. I stand by my assertion that cask beer does not re-carbonate every time it's bunged after serving until the beer is gone. Which, reading the sentence I just typed, is pretty laughable.
     
    JackHorzempa likes this.
  31. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Cask ale most definitely experiences oxidation once it is tapped. Below is something I posted in a previous thread:

    “The cask beer will most definitely experience some oxidation. As to whether an individual would utilize the term of staling for a short timeframe of oxidation is subjective.”

    Whether a person likes the effects of oxidation on a tapped cask ale is entirely subjective.

    Cheers!
     
  32. marquis

    marquis Nov 20, 2005 United Kingdom (England)

    Unfortunately oxidation has become a horror word in brewing.It's like vitamins and some other things though; a small amount is very good but too much is bad.It's the association that oxidation = ALL bad that I'm not happy with. You don't detect it as oxidation in any way, it's just like removing a wrapper to reveal the true nature of what's there which was dumbed down before.It's quite easy here to have the same beer in bottled form and in cask; drinking them side by side is a revelation.It's why I'm prepared to pay a lot more for my beer rather than buy bottles in the supermarket.

    Regarding the bunging a cask thing, I'm a graduate scientist from a prestigious university so do have some inkling about physics.When actual experience tells you what is apparently scientifically impossible is actually happening it's time to re-examine the science to see whether something has been overlooked.
     
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  33. escknx

    escknx Nov 3, 2013 New York

    Okay what I really want to do is to use a keg as a big bottle for natural carbonation. CO2 is just for pouring.
    Ideal scenario that I pour keg with fermented beer and priming sugar, seal it properly and control carbonation level on regulator.
    When I have the keg with new Orings and using lubricant to seal can I check if my seal good enough to prevent natural CO2 leaking from the keg.
    Regular dual gauge regulators work independently for both pressures on keg and CO2 tank or it will show me keg pressure only if CO2 going from the tank to keg?
    I just do not want to fill head space with CO2, if it is possible under these conditions. I have a room and time not to force carbonation and I considered to buy cask instead of keg system but I'm not a craft pub so 5 gal may last long enough to spoil cask conditioned beer.
    Maybe any recommendations of how much of head space should I leave in keg for proper carbonation by natural gases?
     
  34. rundownhouse

    rundownhouse Sep 15, 2005 Tennessee

    At the risk of setting up a false dilemma, I'd suggest that it's likely your perception of cask beer is wrong before I'd suggest that we need to reexamine the laws of physics or biology. You're saying that a brewer is packaging a still-fermenting beer, shipping it in such a way that stalls fermentation, and a bar is then somehow serving a bright pint from a cask that is still fermenting!

    We get it: you like cask beer. That doesn't mean you should go around saying things like, "Cask beer carbonates itself continuously," to make it sound like it's a magical substance. It's just beer.
     
  35. rundownhouse

    rundownhouse Sep 15, 2005 Tennessee

    OK. Do that then. I've never done it, but plenty of people have. I've read that generally they use slightly less sugar than when bottling, but I don't have any personal experience.

    The regulator shows the pressure from your CO2 tank, not pressure inside the keg (although the two will be equal eventually, really). You can buy or build a pressure gauge set up for your kegs if you really care to be precise. I've seen homebrew rigs that use a spunding valve on kegs to naturally carbonate.

    You shouldn't leave any head space. Fill the keg. The beer will carbonate without head space.
     
  36. escknx

    escknx Nov 3, 2013 New York

    I thought this regulator shows pressure in CO2 tank and pressure inside a keg. What is difference between upper and left meters?
    [​IMG]
     
  37. VikeMan

    VikeMan Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    The left meter shows cylinder pressure. At a given temperature, it will give exactly the same reading from when the cylinder is full to when it's damn near empty, then it will decrease rapidly. In practical terms, it's more of a binary indicator...you have CO2 or no CO2. The upper meter shows the regulated pressure going to the keg.
     
  38. jmw

    jmw Feb 4, 2009 North Carolina

    Occam's Razor usually applies, but is not the case in this instance. You're solidly wrong in this, and it lends doubt to your assertion that you 'like cask beer as much as the next guy'. Maturation based on the processes of oxidation is a long-standing preference in many parts of the world.
    Do you like uniform yellow cheese slices also?
     
  39. escknx

    escknx Nov 3, 2013 New York

    The "cylinder" is a keg?
    If it shows "yes" or "not" its pretty damn helpful.
    Any way to measure exactly how much liquid inside is carbonated?
     
  40. VikeMan

    VikeMan Jul 12, 2009 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    No, the cylinder is the CO2 tank.

    I guess. Some regulators don't even have a high pressure gauge.

    Do you mean... is there a way to tell how many volumes of CO2 are currently in the beer? No precise way that I know of. Though I suppose there's probably a method involving turning off the CO2, purging the headspace of the keg, waiting a precise amount of time, measuring the keg pressure with an extra gauge, then doing a lot of math (involving the temperature of the beer, the volume of the beer, the volume of the headspace, Henry's Law and maybe others). I think it's safe to say most of us pour a pint and judge the carbonation level subjectively.

    Or do you mean.. is there a way to know how much pressure to apply over a long period of time so that the beer settles at a desired CO2 level (volumes of CO2)? If so, yes, there are lots of charts/calculators out there. Here's a spreadsheet...
    Draft System Line Balancing
     
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