Author Topic: Cask Ale Corny Keg  (Read 6758 times)

Offline Splocal

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Cask Ale Corny Keg
« on: August 11, 2014, 09:26:01 AM »
So after reading an awesome article in BYO magazine Dec. 2013 issue on how to convert a Corny Keg to serve cask ale I was pumped up and ready to give it a go. I had only tried Cask Ale a few times but always loved it. Wanting to bring my homebrew to the next level this seemed like the answer. I love English beers and to get the Real Ale taste it must be served from a cask. Granted CAMRA would not approve of my cask CO2 breather everything else should meet their criteria.

The Cask Ale journey really starts with the secondary or conditioning phase. Everything before that point is the same for any beer. What differentiates a beer as cask ale is the conditioning of the ale after primary fermentation. Many homebrewers are performing this step when they add priming sugar before bottling. The remaining yeast conditions and carbonates the beer in the bottle with the new priming sugar introduced. Yeast give off esters and other awesome flavors during this process. The only difference between the bottle and the cask is the vessel it is stored in. A Pin, Firkin, or Kilderkin are the traditional cask sizes typically used to serve beer. However for us homebrewers we like Corny Kegs for many reasons and it doesn't take much to serve some pretty authentic Cask Ale from these Kegs if your willing to put in a little effort. 

So here's how it's done....

First when the beer has finished the primary fermentation you will need to transfer it to your cask or Corny Keg. Before you transfer priming sugar is added to the keg but much less than is needed for bottling I used just over 1/3 cup of corn sugar. The head space in a keg is much less than all those bottles so don't over due it or you beer will be a beer fountain. Condition your beer at a temp close to primary fermentation temps.

Traditionally a spiel is used to vent extra CO2 before serving. Since a Corny keg has no bung hole you will need to vent the ale in another way. I made an automatic pressure release with common brass fittings and an adjustable pressure relief valve. You will want to allow the keg to vent and settle a few days before serving. Real Ale should be clear, excess CO2 will stir up cold break and sediment which you don't want in your glass.

After you've vented move the cask to the final resting place or serving location and wait 48 hours for the beer to clear before serving.
Cask ale should be served at cellar temps about 55F. I picked up a used wine fridge for this and it holds at just the right temp with room for the keg and CO2 tank.

Traditionally a soft spile is inserted into the cask bung before serving, this allows air to enter the cask so beer can flow. Unless your planning on tapping your keg in 24 hours I would not advise open venting like this or your beer will Oxidize and taste stale. This is where CAMRA and I disagree. I used a CO2 breather to keep a low pressure (0.5 psi) blanket of CO2 on the beer. It does not push the beer out of the cask but prevents a vacuum from forming so beer can flow but stay fresh. A simple propane BBQ regulator serves this purpose well.

Now the fun part! Cask Ale should be either served by gravity or with a beer engine. A new beer engine will run you about $400! That's way more than I wanted to spend so I picked up an RV hand water pump for about $25. Although it takes a good 8-10 pumps to fill a glass, it serves the purpose. I didn't want to see the pump as it's not the nicest looking piece of equipment, so I built a wood box with my friend Jim Russell who is amazing with wood. I found some great Tiger Wood that looks awesome. I installed a small filter in the box to filter out hops but that's only because I was a bone head and dry hopped my ESB by dropping hops right in the keg. I will use a bag for that next time and probably remove the filter.

Next I was not a big fan of the little black nub on the hand pump so I used a die to thread the handle and accept a standard tap thread. Jim had some Koa and Mango wood that he donated and we made a beautiful tap handle out of it with his mini lathe.

I picked up some Stainless Steel tubing and formed a swan neck. I used stainless swagelok fittings as a bulk head and for other connections.

Next is a bit of an English debate but in the lure of curiosity I decided to make a sparkler. I used a 1/4" brass cap and drilled many small holes in it for the beer to flow through. It is detachable so I can experiment with different beers to decide if I like it or not.

In the end I have a beautiful Cask Ale kegerator of sorts. The project cost me about $150 and I think was well worth it. Living in Hawaii I don't have access to a huge variety of beers but now I have one of the few if not only Cask Ale's on Oahu. I am looking forward to many interesting and delicious Real Ale's served at home in the future.

Matt H.


Offline Splocal

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Re: Cask Ale Corny Keg
« Reply #1 on: August 11, 2014, 09:31:05 AM »
Here's a few more build pics.

t

Offline tonyccopeland

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Re: Cask Ale Corny Keg
« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2014, 11:22:37 AM »
That looks really nice!  Love the box and swan neck. 
-Tony

Offline HoosierBrew

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Re: Cask Ale Corny Keg
« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2014, 12:13:51 PM »
Wow. Beautiful job !
Jon H.

Offline Splocal

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Re: Cask Ale Corny Keg
« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2014, 05:28:44 PM »
Thanks! To me a big part of this project was presentation. Of course I needed functionality, but I wanted it to show just as well.

Offline tress

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Re: Cask Ale Corny Keg
« Reply #5 on: September 11, 2014, 01:44:15 PM »
THAT is a thing of beauty.  Great job!
"Beer. Now there's a temporary solution." - Dan Castellaneta

Offline SiameseMoose

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Re: Cask Ale Corny Keg
« Reply #6 on: September 13, 2014, 12:44:10 PM »
This past February one of our local craft pros did a presentation for our club on cask ales. His presentation was much more about doing it cheap and easy, as well as portable. If anyone is interested, we videoed his presentation, and it's on our website. It's about 30 minutes long.
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Offline tonyp

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Re: Cask Ale Corny Keg
« Reply #7 on: September 13, 2014, 03:42:05 PM »
Impressive work!
Live from the Jersey Shore!

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Online dannyjed

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Re: Cask Ale Corny Keg
« Reply #8 on: September 13, 2014, 05:01:25 PM »
Here's a pic of my club's easy Cask Ale set up(the Gravitree) at Club Night.
Dan Chisholm