Preparing and serving REAL cask ale at home

20150909_102237Here’s a quick way to be a hit at parties.  Get yourself a good quality cask and all the fittings, fill it with good quality ale and let people just help themselves.

I was invited to a party the other week (to celebrate the harvesting of the garlic crop at a friends’ farm) and I thought it be a nice gesture to supply the beer – especially as they let us use their holiday home, and also we’re friends with a lot of the other guests.

But where in the name of all that’s holy do you get hold of a proper stainless steel cask?  I contacted a few suppliers – most of whom were fairly disinterested in the supply of a single cask, apart from one. Within minutes of emailing an enquiry, I had a reply from Ged at Kammac PLC ( asking if he could talk to me on the phone…

During a brief conversation,  I mentioned that I would be writing an article on real cask ale at home and Ged said that they’d be happy to supply the cask at zero cost, if I was happy to do a review of it in the forthcoming article! 

Knowing that I’d need Shives, Keystones, Taps, Spiles, etc. (all of which we’ll get to in a bit) I also contacted some suppliers of cask sundries.  Mike at Inn Cellar Equipment ( also came back almost immediately with an offer of all of these things for FREE too…if I gave them a mention and a link. 

Reeling with these generosity of these people, I set to work brewing the Cascade Party Ale recipe (

The brew took the usual two weeks to ferment out and become bright.  Come casking day I had all of the gear ready:

Cask details

Before we go into the detail of how to actually cask the beer, let’s take a while to examine the quality of this kit.

First the cask:  I’m glad that Kammac agreed to supply this cask to me, because if I’d had one from anywhere else I wouldn’t have been able to experience the quality.  All of the weld seams are FAULTLESS (my Dad is a panel beater/car restorer so I know good welds when I see them!) the overall finish is excellent and it’s a solid and substantial (8.5Kg!) container. 

By comparison, Cornelius kegs seem flimsy. 

I reckon a a dedicated team of ham-fisted draymen trying their damndest couldn’t damage these Kammc casks in a month of Sundays.

If I’m ever in the market for a fleet of casks – if I turn professional, for instance – Kammac is where I’ll be heading. 

It’s also worth mentioning that Kammac are a British company through and through, and that their 4.5 and 9 gallon casks are made to BFBI standards and finished in their state-of-the art UK production facility in Skelmersdale.

Kammac’s casks are excellent quality and are surprisingly affordable too.  Give them a call today, they’re decent guys with great products…

Please don’t think I’m just saying this because they gave me a free one – I’m saying this because it’s all true.  You know me, I don’t hold back when I think a product is sub-standard. 

Secondly, we must take a look at the cask sundries:  Inn Cellar supplied me with free bits and pieces too: the shives and keystones are excellent quality and more than stood up to my blundering hammer-work when clouting them into place; likewise the tap took it’s hammering home with no problem and performed faultlessly – even while a succession of random people at the party wrenched and fiddled about with it to get at the beer!

So how did I prepare a cask full of beer?

Using a wooden mallet, or weighted rubber mallet. tap home the keystone into it’s respective hole on the front face of the cask – you do need to give it a little bit of welly, but it gets there eventually.

Now sanitize the cask, I used Star San as I use it for just about everything else.  About half-a-litre worked fine.

Just remember to keep your hand over the shive hole to stop it going everywhere, while you shake it into all the corners of the cask.

After draining the cask of Star San, I stuffed 30g of dried whole-leaf Cascade hops through the shive hole and then covered the hole with tin foil. 

For priming I consulted the Brewer’s Friend carbonation calculator; which, based on the cask ale style requiring somewhere between 1.0 – 1.5 volumes of CO2 and 20.5L of beer at 19C apparently having 0.89 vols of CO2 already, recommended that I added 50g of table sugar (which I dissolved in half-a-pint of boiling water)

I put the priming solution in and then siphoned the bright beer on top.  After that it was a simple matter of sterlizing the shive and tapping that into the shive hole with the wooden mallet.

I let the cask sit at 19C for ten days to carbonate.

After ten days I gingerly picked the cask up and transported it to it’s final serving location, a sturdy bench in a coolish garden shed.  Then we waited.

Three days later we opted to tap the tut through the shive and put the soft peg in – this allowing the carbonation to steady and allowing us to tap it the day after.

Well, as you can see from the pictures there was more than a merry carbonation.  The tut went through with a sizeable POP! and then the foam started…


Due to getting children to bed, etc. we had to perform the tut-knocking in the dark, by torchlight.  The beer fobbed for about an hour – after which the soft peg was inserted.  Early insertion of the peg resulted in the gorgeous fountain you can see here:


The next morning we tapped the beer by placing the tapered end of the serving tap against the face of the keystone and giving it a sizeable wallop with the wooden mallet to drive it home.


The beer tasted great – but last nights frenzied fobbing had raised a haze in the beer.  Not a show-stopper, but a little disappointing – especially after so much work to produce and cask it.  Nevertheless everyone who drunk it enjoyed it – and the cask was drained by the party’s end.

Next time I cask a beer (and it won’t be long, I can tell you) I’ll get some Isinglass finings and use waaaay less priming sugar…

Big thanks to Ged at Kammac and Mike at Inn Cellar Equipment for making my cask ale dream a reality!

Quality casks available here:

Quality cask sundries available here:

The Black Prince, Woodstock: Beer Festival 10-14 September 2014

The Black Prince have their annual beer festival on NOW.  Check out the beer list below.  It’s worth going as they have @oakhamAles Citra and Scarlet Macaw on, and they’re my favourites…  Stop what you’re doing and go now:

The Black Prince,2 Manor Rd, Woodstock, Oxfordshire OX20 1XJ


Great beers at the Hook Norton Beer Festival

20140719_144946Humour is most definitely alive and well in the land of the beer festival…

This was my first time at this event, and on the whole I was impressed:

Good things:
  • 100+ beers and ciders on cask
  • Fast attentive bar service
  • £1.50 a half, which is very good value
  • Good tasting notes
  • Camping available if you wanted to
  • Live music
  • Good selection of non-alcoholic options and foods to keep drivers and kids topped up
Not so good things:
  • Billed as being family friendly, but there wasn’t much for kids to do – apart from a horse and cart ride around the car park field
  • Far too many people crammed into too small-a-space, especially when groups of folks turn up with their gazebos, chairs and the like

When you organize this event next time, please try to make a bigger area for festival-goers to congregate – give some room for people to spread out a bit and make sure the stage with the music is somewhere where everyone can see it.

My kids only managed to last about an hour and half before they became over-whelmed by the sheer amount of people compressed into such a small space – especially when we all had to pile in the tent to escape the thunderstorm.

It was difficult to navigate the site without tripping over gazebo guy ropes, dog leads, folding chairs and lord knows what else.

And please: next year have a free bouncy castle…most people I saw leaving early were going because their kids were bored or kicking off about something or other (mine included).  Beer festivals are normally a great family day out and mine usually get wildly over-excited at the idea of going to one (Arthur couldn’t sleep the night before the Hooky one, as he normally gets cake, crisps and pop all afternoon, plus unlimited bouncy castle time with his mates…imagine his disappointment when there was no castle at all)

Parents with happy children will stay a lot longer and spend so much more on food and drink…

Despite the above, the festival was well organized and there was a MAGNIFICENT beer list: with really great tasting notes that helped me choose the four beers that I sampled:


Dark Star – Hop Head:

Oh god, this was so good. Tons of hops, maybe Simcoe – but not at all catty. Pretty much excellent.  I love this beer to death.


Hyde’s – Anvil Sharp Motueka:

A beer I just had to try because I’ve been curious about this particular New Zealand hop. The beer turned out to be almost fresh cigar-like, thick malt and caramel, some graininess and a good non-citrussy hop hit. (I can’t actually find this beer anywhere on this site?)


Hopshackle – Hopnosis:

Lightly citrussy and ethereal. A tasty light maltiness and an excellent bitterness, Good pervasive and lasting after-taste


Oakham Ales – Scarlet Macaw:

On cask this is just like the bottle ( but even lovelier. All-round-excellent. Hoppy, bitey, makes you all screechy – just like a Macaw (that’s copied verbatim from my festival notes and was the last drink of the day…could you guess?)


Will definitely be going back to Hooky next year as long as there’s more opportunity to keep the kids amused while I sample beer…  :o)   I’m also happy to report that ALL of the money raised at the festival goes to charity.  So good on them.

Chadlington Beer Festival: 1st June 2013

Last Saturday saw the family and I take a trip out to Chadlington in Oxfordshire for a visit to their 10th annual beer festival.  The festival was held in and around the environs of the village memorial hall on what turned out to be one of those perfect English summer’s days.


There was more than enough in the way of diversions to keep everyone entertained:  a cricket match was in progress on the field to the left; around the hall, food stalls were serving up pretty decent burgers, pork rolls, etc.  Some small fairground rides were taking kids for a spin (with the obligatory bouncy castle) whilst the Charlbury Morris hey-nonnied the afternoon away.

To the right of the hall was a large football field with more than enough room for the youngest of the festival goers to gambol around in.  Live music provided a musical backdrop to the whole occasion too…and that music looked set to continue way into the evening, with some half-decent looking bands on the bill…

As mentioned before this wasn’t a gigantic festival, there being only 20 or so beers on offer…but those beers were obviously carefully selected, and there were representatives of quite a few styles – including a Belgian Dubbel, which I was surpised to see.

First beer for me was White Witch from the Wizard Brewery – Described on the Wizard website as “A pale fruity ale with a strong hoppy finish” and also “Chadlington Beer Festival Winner 2005” to boot.

It was certainly a decent drop but not nearly as distinctively hoppy or fruity as I would have liked.  I think beers these days need to stand out from the crowd, otherwise they just get drunk and forgotten – a bit like George Best before he popped his footballing clogs.

Second up was The Oak Leaf Brewery’s Hole Hearted, which the website tells me “The use of Cascade hops gives this golden ale powerful floral and tropical fruit flavours, and a delicate bitterness.” All I can say is that they know their beer well:  it does have a delicate bitterness, a bitterness that persists long enough to persuade you to sup again and again.

The cascade hopping is evident and is more subtle than I usually like my cascade-hopped beers to be, but it’s a very, very, drinkable drop.  I recommend this beer, order a pint if you see it.

Thirdly I tried Tring Brewery’s Colley’s Dog, described as “Dark ruby in colour but not over rich. Strong yet very drinkable, this premium ale has a long dry finish with overtones of malt and walnuts.”  When supped it did bring forth a lovely nutty maltiness, with a healthy alcoholic warmth, followed by a fruitcake sort of dryness – a bit like Dundee cake.  I liked it a lot.  A smashing “brown” beer.

StylecarronadeMy last beer was Tryst’s Carronade IPA: “Packed full of citrus flavours from the distinctive Washington state hops used, combined with pale malt and Carron valley water to create a real thirst- quenching treat.”  Now, those of you who read this blog regularly know that I like an IPA -preferably a glass full of mental, in your face, hoppiness- and I was expecting Carronade to be a fairly standard run-of-mill English IPA…but how wrong could I be; it turned out to be a lovely, lightly malty, cask ale in the English style but absolutely cram-stuffed with those US hop flavours that I really dig.

Easily the best beer out of the four I tried that afternoon.  I cannot recommend this beer highly enough.

In early June next year keep and eye out for the beer festival at Chadlington.  It’s one of the best I’ve been to as it is easily the most relaxed and well organized.