Producing Traditional British Cask Beers
by Dick Cantwell, Fal Allen, and Kevin Forhan
Republished from BrewingTechniques’ November/December 1993.
Although equipment limitations and cultural differences make exact replication of traditional British cask-conditioning practices all but impossible in the United States, attention to detail and a commitment to quality puts top-flight cask beers within the reach of American brewers. Pike Place brewers tell the story of their quest for the gentle pint.
Producing authentic versions of traditional beer styles poses a complex challenge to small American brewers. Equipment limitations, availability of appropriate raw materials, and lack of awareness on the parts of both publican and consumer present distinct challenges. After learning to deal realistically with the boundaries drawn by these three and spending time experimenting, we feel that we have achieved a successful balance. The following case study describes what we at Pike Place Brewery in Seattle have done to try to produce traditional British cask-conditioned ales.
When Pike Place Brewery was founded in the fall of 1989, its objective was to brew British-style ales using traditional methods and the finest ingredients. A floor-malted English two-row barley malt was selected, a London ale yeast procured, and a mixture of imported English and Northwest-produced English hops was chosen to balance authenticity and freshness. The brewery was fortunate in that its parent company, Merchant du Vin (also of Seattle), provided sufficient British contacts to make it possible to implement these choices. Also fortunate was the fact that the principal owners, Charles and Roseanne Finkel, were committed to the traditional British plan despite the substantially higher cost of raw materials. They had a small (4-bbl) brewhouse designed and constructed, assembled a conscientious staff (headed by Jason Parker), and released the brewery’s first beer, a reddish-amber pale ale, in late October 1989.
Practical challenges arose from the start, most of which involved product delivery systems and consumer expectations. In keeping with its traditional British objectives, for example, Pike Place Pale Ale was conditioned at first to a relatively low carbonation level of 1.9-2.0 volumes of carbon dioxide. We received complaints about “flat” beer, so we raised the level of carbonation to 2.5-2.6 volumes. At about this time a couple of local ale houses embarked on a plan of their own and began requesting cask-conditioned beers. We continued to produce brewery-conditioned beers at the higher level of carbonation but saw an opportunity in the budding market for cask beers. This is the story of how, over the following couple of years, we sought to satisfy this demand and at the same time realize our original objective of producing traditional ales.
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