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:

Keepin’ it real: Cascade Party Ale (Real Ale in a Real Cask!)

20150803_113036Well, this is all very exciting isn’t it?  I’m brewing up in time for a party where I’ll be serving REAL ALE from a REAL CASK, just like what they do in a REAL PUB.

I mean, it’s not as if my ale isn’t real enough already – but I do force carbonate my draught all-grain beers in a cornelius keg, so by the CAMRA definition, my draught ale isn’t quite real enough…

But this time it will be…due to some VERY generous sponsors, I’ve managed to source a 4.5 gallon (36 pint) stainless steel pin (i.e. half a standard size firkin) and all the taps, shives, keystones, spiles and all that other good stuff required.

I’ll cover these beautiful people and their contributions when I post the article on the serving and tasting – this article purely deals with the brewing up of the beer.

My brewing brief was to make something that was close to Dark Star’s marvellous American Pale Ale – only just a little bit less bitter (there’ll be mainstream-lager drinkers there for chrissakes, so we need to “turn” them onto ales instead of their usual yellow mouthwash)

I wanted to keep body in the beer, without making it too “chewy”, the bitterness light without letting it get too sweet, and the hop aroma high because, well why the hell not?

Magnum hops will do a more than excellent job of imparting a very clean bitterness, while the Cascades will be doing most of the heavy-lifting in terms of flavour and aroma.

Here’s the recipe:

Cascade Party Ale

I mashed in at 38C, did 80 minutes at 66C and them a 10 minute mash-out at 76C. A small sparge of 3 litres or so and a 60 minute boil got me about 22L of cooled wort into the fermenter.

I aerated it with a minute of pure oxygen and then pitched the re-hydrated S04 yeast.

I will dry hop in the primary with 30g of Cascade, because that’s how I roll; obviously, I’d love to cask hop, but I can’t be doing with potential blockages in the cask on the big day…

The beer’s merrily bubbling away at an ambient temperature of about 20c*, which is a bit more than I would have liked but it should be OK.

I need to be fermented, casked, fined and conditioned before mid September as that’s when the party is…

Wish me luck!

(*oh, yeah…that thingy in the picture?  That’s a temperature logger – the probe of which, I’ve taped to the glass of the carboy with some insulation over the top – it will take a temperature reading every 15 minutes, so we can see how the temperature goes during fermentation.  Isn’t that EXCITING?  Eve says not.  Find yours on ebay, today.  I paid about £15 quid for it, think…)

Sharp’s Brewery: Doom Bar

Doom barAs you may already know Sharps make their most famous beer and name it in honour of a legendary sand bank in the mouth of the camel estuary in Cornwall – not that far from Padstow harbour.

Did you also know that according to this article: Doom Bar is the UK’s favourite cask beer?  I didn’t…and with that sort of weight of public opinion I really ought to like the bottled version, oughtn’t I?

When poured out into a pint glass the hazelnut reddish brown of Doom bar gave off heavy malt notes in the aroma, along with warm alcohol and some autumnal red berry fruit backnotes.  Not much in the way of hoppiness, but not the poorer for that.

The mouth-feel was quite difficult to discern at first, but once you were past the effervescence it rated in the light to middle range.  Taste-wise: there was a dry maltiness that lead on through to caramelly notes that tailed off into a medium bitterness.

The after-taste was again dryish and malty with some residual bitterness, so I was happy that it all fitted together and felt joined up.

I must admit to being somewhat under-whelmed by Doom Bar.  I mean; it’s drinkable enough but I didn’t get any spark of originality in the taste or anything that made me sit up and say “Hey, this is a great beer”

But saying that it is apparently the best selling cask beer in the UK.  Maybe a catchy name and an easy-going middle-of-the-road drinkability counts for a lot in the drinks business…

Maybe I’ll really dig the draught version….we’ll see.


Can you believe it.  I wrote the above during my lunch hour – and that very evening, when I got home, my wife asked if I fancied an Indian takeaway for supper (which of course I did).  Our local takeaway/restaurant is based in the Carpenters Arms in Middle Barton: “A Taste of India”.

Abdul is the main man when it comes to running this enterprise, and with an extensive menu and a – brace yourself – Garlic Chicken Tikka Jalfrezi to die for, we’re regular customers.

Of course while you wait for your food to be cooked you may as well have a pint hadn’t you?  And this particular visit yielded Doom Bar on draught – happy days.

I found a draught pint of Doom Bar to be much more enjoyable than the bottle, it does sport a vaguely sour note in the bitterness alongside that same inevitable dryness that the bottled version had.

I’m sad to say I still can’t work out why it’s so popular?  I mean it’s nice enough, but it’s not my top beer by any stretch…unlike A Taste of India which now runs Tiffins in Kidlington a very close second.