Author Topic: The Great Cask Experiment  (Read 1615 times)

Offline Phil_M

  • Senior Brewmaster
  • ******
  • Posts: 1506
  • Southern Maryland
    • View Profile
The Great Cask Experiment
« on: September 29, 2016, 05:33:36 AM »
Recently I purchased a pin, along with all the components needed to serve Real Ale via a gravity dispense.

This thread will be where I document my progress this fall in developing a recipe and technique to brew as real an ale as possible. I feel that homebrewing often falls into the "we don't have to do this because we brew on a homebrew scale" trap. Much like how the GBF guys are trying to mimic a modern German brewery, I'm working to mimic a 1900-1950ish British brewery. I'm becoming convinced that little details like this do matter. A co-worker is a Belgian beer geek, and takes a similar approach to trying to replicate Belgian brewing practices. So far all his beer have been spot-on. Why not try the same approach with British ales?

Recipe: http://barclayperkins.blogspot.nl/2013/11/lets-brew-wednesday-1923-courage-stout.html

No LODO mash techniques will be used. Great care will be taken to ensure that oxidation only occurs once the cask has been vented. Here's the plan:

Brew a test batch using my old method. I'll be taking gravity readings several times a day throughout fermentation, to try and get as much data as possible. This batch will be bottled, likely bottle conditioned. Might keg condition and get a bottling wand, so it can be tasted and critiqued sooner.

Any recipe tweaks will be applied to batch #2, which will be the first cask batch. Mashing will proceed as normal, fermentation will be like batch #1. When the beer is several points from FG, I'll rack to the cask, along with primings and isinglass finings. This beer is intended to be served on Thanksgiving, so timing will be determined by data from the first batch.

I'll rebrew a third batch for Christmas, again tweaking based on data from the prior batch. Here's where things might get different. Fermentation will be open, with a top cropping strain. (I'm leaning towards Wyeast 1318: London Ale III.) Yeast will be roused and skimmed multiple times throughout the fermentation, in an effort to keep the yeast multiplying and scrubbing O2. Beer will be racked out from underneath the yeast and into the cask, again with primings and finings.
Don't buy stale beer.

Offline Frankenbrew

  • Brewmaster
  • *****
  • Posts: 631
  • South Shore Brew Club, SE Massachusetts
    • View Profile
Re: The Great Cask Experiment
« Reply #1 on: September 29, 2016, 02:22:41 PM »
I'll be following this experiment for sure!
Frank C.

And thereof comes the proverb: 'Blessing of your
heart, you brew good ale.'

Offline Phil_M

  • Senior Brewmaster
  • ******
  • Posts: 1506
  • Southern Maryland
    • View Profile
Re: The Great Cask Experiment
« Reply #2 on: October 12, 2016, 09:00:26 AM »
The test batch is slated to be brewed on Friday, provided I don't have to go in to work.

Here's the final recipe:

OG 1.044

36.4% Irish Stout Malt
14.4% Fawcett Optic Malt
14.4% Golden Promise Malt
  7.6% Rahr 2-row Pale Malt
  8.4% Black Patent Malt
  5.8% Brown Malt
  6.3% Invert No. 1 (Lyle's Golden Syrup)
  6.6% Black Invert (Lyle's Golden Syrup mixed with Blackstrap Molasses)

29 IBU of Fuggles @ 90 min
10 IBU of Cluster @ 30 min

I'll dry hop this with Fuggles, but I haven't decided on a rate yet.

Wyeast 1469, shaken not stirred starter.

I'm going to take a little more care than normal to ensure as little trub as possible enters the fermenter. I haven't decided if this will be an open fermentation or not. On one hand, it's more authentic, and would be an excellent source of top-cropped yeast for the next batch. On the other hand, it's trickier, greater chance of infection, etc.

My target transfer gravity is between 1.016 and 1.020, assuming a 1.011 FG. Meaning that when the gravity falls within that range, I'll transfer to a keg, avoiding as much O2 intake as possible. I actually plan on keg conditioning, so I'll add primings/finings just like if I was racking to a cask. Let it sit and condition for a few weeks, then sample. Should be done around the end of the month, giving me plenty of time to rebrew this in time for Thanksgiving.

The largest risk here is that I miss my ideal transfer window.That's a risk I'll accept though, as the idea here to learn the time it takes to reach that point.
« Last Edit: October 12, 2016, 11:50:22 AM by Phil_M »
Don't buy stale beer.

Offline f00b4r

  • 1st Kit
  • *
  • Posts: 6
    • View Profile
Re: The Great Cask Experiment
« Reply #3 on: October 12, 2016, 02:55:09 PM »
Take a look on the British forum.craftbrewing.org.uk and Jim's Beer Kit forum, there are a number of people on there who regularly use casks, including some who work professionally with them.
Most people here in the UK who do use casks for home brew do appear to use beer engines rather than gravity dispense and often use cask breathers and skip the isinglass to avoid the need for the beer to be drunk almost immediately.

Offline Phil_M

  • Senior Brewmaster
  • ******
  • Posts: 1506
  • Southern Maryland
    • View Profile
Re: The Great Cask Experiment
« Reply #4 on: October 13, 2016, 09:16:35 AM »
I really wish I could afford a beer engine...Here in the states you're talking ~$400 for a reconditioned one, and ~$100 more for new. While one is definitely on my wishlist, I can't justify the expense right now.

I haven't invested in a cask breather yet, only because the pin will be emptied in a day, two at the most. Last year my family killed a 5 gallon keg of bitter on Thanksgiving, I expect similar results this year.
Don't buy stale beer.

Offline f00b4r

  • 1st Kit
  • *
  • Posts: 6
    • View Profile
The Great Cask Experiment
« Reply #5 on: October 14, 2016, 12:18:05 PM »
One of the manufacturers of beer engines in the UK, EWL, regularly does reconditioned ones for £100 (at the moment with the pound nosediving about $125 and they look like new), not sure if they deliver internationally but at that price it might be worth shooting them an email if that makes it more palatable. A few people have also had second hands ones sent out from UK board members as well, although this obviously carries a bit more risk. Just thought it might be good information considering what they seem to be charging in the USA for them relative to costs here in the UK. Good luck with the experiment though :)

Offline Phil_M

  • Senior Brewmaster
  • ******
  • Posts: 1506
  • Southern Maryland
    • View Profile
Re: The Great Cask Experiment
« Reply #6 on: October 17, 2016, 11:38:25 AM »
Looks like EWL with ship to the US, though at a cost of £100. Once that's added to the price and converted to USD we're back to the original ballpark.

In other news, brewday never happened. On the plus side, been working a lot of overtime lately...might be able to make that beer engine happen that way.

Next attempt at brewing will be this weekend.
Don't buy stale beer.

Offline Phil_M

  • Senior Brewmaster
  • ******
  • Posts: 1506
  • Southern Maryland
    • View Profile
Re: The Great Cask Experiment
« Reply #7 on: October 25, 2016, 03:27:50 AM »
So here's where things stand now:

Right now I don't think we'll have enough people at Thanksgiving to kill the cask, so I plan on just kegging the beer. This will be the test batch, still planning on doing a cask batch in December.
Don't buy stale beer.

Offline Phil_M

  • Senior Brewmaster
  • ******
  • Posts: 1506
  • Southern Maryland
    • View Profile
Re: The Great Cask Experiment
« Reply #8 on: November 11, 2016, 10:25:11 AM »
Managed to get this brewed last night. Hit my pre-boil gravity on the dot, 1.035. OG ended up being low due to my boil off being low, 1.041. I'm running a FFT to try and find the FG, because I'm going to try and cask this first batch after all.
Don't buy stale beer.

Offline Phil_M

  • Senior Brewmaster
  • ******
  • Posts: 1506
  • Southern Maryland
    • View Profile
Re: The Great Cask Experiment
« Reply #9 on: November 21, 2016, 05:21:01 AM »
FFT finished at 1.002, the actual beer at 1.004. (I've been having issues with my mash temps being lower than I'd like. Not really a big deal though.)

Racked to the cask last Friday, along with the primings. I opted not to use finings. Beer seemed to have already cleared pretty well, and I'd like to see how it works on its own first. I forgot to add dry hops...

The pin is currently conditioning in the place it'll be served. Still trying to decide when I'm going to vent it...
Don't buy stale beer.

Offline Phil_M

  • Senior Brewmaster
  • ******
  • Posts: 1506
  • Southern Maryland
    • View Profile
Re: The Great Cask Experiment
« Reply #10 on: November 28, 2016, 10:47:52 AM »
So last Tuesday night I vented the keg, using a hard spile. Reading online, it seems that you can skip the soft spile venting process if you have a few days to left it vent slowly via the hard spile.

Tapped the cask on Wednesday night, and pulled some samples. Beer was still pretty lively, but it hadn't seen temps above 48o since it had been tapped. Temps rose Wednesday night, and on Thanksgiving the cask was sitting pretty at 55o, and had good condition.

Beer turned out great, nice and smooth. Already planning on doing this again soon, as all this was actually a lot easier than I though it was going to be. Maintaining the proper temperature, allowing enough time to settle, and making sure the beer is going to be finished before it goes stale are the toughest part of the process. However, if you can handle those things this beats the pants off of kegs for ease of serving.
Don't buy stale beer.