Thursday, February 24, 2011

American Bitter Gravity Cask

Low-carbonated, naturally-conditioned "real" ales served from a cask are now strongly associated with English ales (thanks to CAMRA), but up until the invention of kegs and pressurized CO2 cylinders this is how beer all over the world was served on draft.  As much as I enjoy having a pint of bitter or a mild on cask, I wish more breweries/bars would serve other styles this way.  The soft carbonation and warmer serving temperature really helps to enhance the body and character of most low gravity beers.

Many people associate casks with hand pumps that use air pressure to draw the beer up from the cellar and into the glass.  The simpler way to serve cask beer is with a spigot at the bottom of the cask, allowing gravity to dispense the beer.  I took a keg and shortened the dip tube to serve my American Bitter; it isn't quite as pretty as a pin or firkin, but it  gets the job done.

After the yeast produced enough carbon dioxide to carbonate the beer I added the cask hops and let it sit for a few weeks at wintertime basement temperatures.  A few days before I wanted to start drinking it I moved it upstairs and onto its side to give the yeast time to settle to the bottom (side) of the keg.  If I wanted to ensure a clear beer I would have added a fining such as gelatin or isinglass, but I don't mind a slight haze in a dry hopped ale.

To prevent oxidation I'm still pouring samples without venting the head space, I'll do that for a party where hopefully there are enough thirsty friends to go through the rest of the keg.  At that point I'll also place some ice packs on the keg to drop the temperature a few degrees lower than the ~63 F that I keep my house at.

American Bitter

Cask conditioned American Bitter.Appearance – Slightly hazy gold body with a thick clinging head. The lacing is terrifically coating. One of the prettier beers I've brewed.

Smell – The hops are citrusy (orange, grapefruit), resiny, and floral. Hint of toasty grain, accentuated by the warm/cask serving.

Taste – I get more tropical fruitiness from the hops on the palate than in the nose. Clean firm bitterness on the back end that lingers into the finish. Not much sweetness, but the bitterness isn't unbalanced.

Mouthfeel – Low carbonation with a slightly thin body, but it has a creaminess to it. The carbonation is just about right for a cask.

Drinkability & Notes – Really easy to drink, the carbonation is perfect allowing the hop flavor to linger on the tongue. A light west coast IPA.  I'm really happy with how this turned out, big hop aromatics without unnecessary booze. I'll have to find more excuses to do low gravity cask conditioned beers.


Anonymous said...

I'm interested in your cask setup, tell me more about it please. What do I need to know to do this?

Matt said...

"I took a keg and shortened the dip tube to serve my American Bitter"

couldn't you just use the CO2 post to access the beer? it doesn't have a dip tube...I've heard of this sort of setup before, interested to know how it works.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

In my case I cut a couple inches off the liquid dip tube and bent it so that it is close to the side of the keg. That way it won't suck up the settled yeast, but it will serve all but ~1/2 gallon of the beer. When I need to vent the head space I'll attach the gas disconnect to the gas post. I stole the idea from Radical Brewing.

Alternatively you could get a second gas dip tube and put it on the liquid side. If you tried to vent the head space through a liquid dip tube that was still covered by beer the pressure would force the beer out rather than let CO2 escape or air in. You also have to remember that the gas and liquid posts aren't exactly the same size.

what we’re drinking said...

What are the differences between this project and the 2007 Mini-Keg Cider project? Obviously, there is the larger size and slightly different method of dispensation, but is this a revisting of the basic same idea? I'm asking mostly because I find both equally exciting and was wondering about the similarities and differences between the two.

what we’re drinking said...

P.S. I like the new header photos. Kudos.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Pretty much the same idea as the mini-keg of cider except for size. This system also gives me a bit more control over the CO2 level since I can vent the head space a bit before serving. It also seems a bit nicer to serve out of a cobra tap that that little tap that you turn at the bottom of the mini-keg.

Glad you like the new headers.

Unknown said...

Hello. When a cask is vented to the atmosphere, this is perhaps one of the most gloriously things that happens to cask conditioned beer – oxidation! The level of complexity and also the variation in flavour over the course of a few days is why people are so gushing about cask ale. Please try this for yourself at home, I really urge you to give it a go. Keeping the ale under CO2 will not give you this effect.

I realise you're probably aware of this already. Get a few friends round over the course of a few days and take a notes about the subtle changes.

Anyhow, regularly read your blog. Really enjoy it!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

There is still some of the cask left after the party last night, it will be interesting to see how it holds up. I'm not a big fan of oxidized American hops, so I'm not sure that this one will hold up as well as some English Ales do.

hodge said...

Wanted to see if you remember how the oxidation played with your American Bitter. I plan on doing something similar in the next few weeks!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

The cask of American Bitter actually wasn't too bad the following day, but that's as long as it lasted. There are few aromas worse than oxidized American hops in my opinion, not a great beer to have open to the atmosphere for long!

Bacillus said...

How do I go about actually carbonating in the corny? I have an ESB that is ready to keg, so do I add priming sugars to the corny and then seal it off? If so, how much priming sugar for a 3 gal corny? Also, I will be tapping the keg in the vertical position so can I still add a bit of CO2 to get the beer out?

Thanks so much, very much looking forward to doing this.


The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I don't keg condition all that often, usually just when I have a beer ready to keg, and no room in the kegerator. After the beer and priming solution are in there, always purge with CO2 and pressurize to ensure the lid seals.

Unlike bottle conditioning, you'd want to prime based on the container size, not the amount of beer. So if it is a 3 gallon keg you'd use 3 gallons as the batch size for the priming calculator (even if there were only 2.5 gallons of beer in the keg). I usually aim a little low, then use CO2 to keg it to the target.

Bacillus said...

Thanks Mike. I got it primed and in the keg. will let you know how it turns out. Do I need to purge CO2 periodically?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

No need to. There shouldn'tbe excess pressure in there, assuming fermentation was complete when you kegged.

Hope it turns out well!

Bacillus said...

So I racked the ESB into my 3 gal corney and added a small amount of priming sugar. I let this sit at basement temps ~68 F for about a month. The beer turned out quite nice and smooth. So this worked out quite well.

One minor issues I did have was a possible infection that must have happened during racking. This did give very minor off flavor but the beer did in fact win the ESB competition that I entered it in.

Thanks much, will be doing this more often!