Author Topic: Cask ale conditioning/carbonating.  (Read 2794 times)

Offline kerneldustjacket

  • Assistant Brewer
  • ***
  • Posts: 179
    • View Profile
Cask ale conditioning/carbonating.
« on: December 19, 2010, 07:23:48 AM »
Looking for advice from those with first-hand experience with conditioning/carbonating in a cask (SS firkin or pin; I have a pin).

I bought a stainless steel pin from UK Brewing supplies back in February 2006. To "test it out," I brewed a simple Mild Ale from extract, racked it into the pin, primed it, and drive in a wooden shive. Now here's where I think I made my first mistake; I left it to carbonate at room temperature. About ten hours after sealing it up, CO2 was escaping from around the shive...not sure if this should happen or not...but I suspect it is normal, as the CO2 held by a cask ale is a function of the solubility of CO2 at "cellar" temperature. (yes?) Five days later, after cooling it for a day, I tapped it. The ale was tasty, but was too flat...not as in the American response of "this English beer is flat," but "just about devoid of carbonation" flat.
I did some research and decided my error was in not conditioning it in low 50s temperature. At the time I had no space to do this properly, and was at a lack for getting together enough people to drink up five gallons before it staled, so the cask was used to age 5 gallons of lambic...for two and a half years.

So...fast forward to now: emptied the cask of lambic, cleaned it VERY well, filled it with a low gravity American brown ale, dry hopped it with Liberty, primed it and placed it in a temperature controlled fridge @ 50 F. Tapped it 6 days later; good taste, but I still think it failed to carbonate. Maybe too cold on the conditioning temp?

Anyway, if a few kind folks with cask conditioning experience would share their knowledge, I would be humbly grateful.
And maybe I should name the first successful cask ale after whoever you are...
« Last Edit: December 19, 2010, 07:43:35 AM by kerneldustjacket »
John Wilson
Savannah Brewers League
Savannah, GA

Offline gordonstrong

  • Senior Brewmaster
  • ******
  • Posts: 1355
    • View Profile
    • BJCP
Re: Cask ale conditioning/carbonating.
« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2010, 07:54:52 AM »
The problem is your shive isn't holding pressure.  It's probably not traditional, but the way I handle that is to run a bead of keg lube around the shive before pounding it in.  It works sort of like a bead of caulk in helping form a seal between the wood and the metal.  Or you could try a plastic shive, which might fit better on its own.  Or you can pound on the shive more, but I was always concerned about breaking it.

Once it's carbonated and conditioned, the whole serving ritual is (can be) somewhat involved.  The CAMRA Guide to Cellarmanship is an interesting little book, but it's written mostly for the English publican.  It doesn't cover your question since carbonation is the responsibility of the brewery not the cellarman.

To keep your beer from going off, get a cask breather.  It fits to your CO2 tank and provides a 1 atm push of CO2 through a fitting that serves the function of a spile.  CAMRA seems to believe these things are evil, but it keeps you from getting lambic.  It won't carbonate the beer, it will just keep it from going stale.

I don't think it's a temperature problem.  Carbonate your beer in the cask at fermentation temperatures.  Carbonation is done at the brewery.  Once carbonated, you can move it to cellar temperatures to mature.  Some English yeasts won't do anything at 50F (WLP002 comes to mind).

Gordon Strong • Beavercreek, Ohio • AHA Member since 1997 • Twitter: GordonStrong

Offline kerneldustjacket

  • Assistant Brewer
  • ***
  • Posts: 179
    • View Profile
Re: Cask ale conditioning/carbonating.
« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2010, 08:06:06 AM »
Wow, simple problem, simple solution. Thanks Gordon...
I'll try keg lube. (I also wonder if a wrapping of teflon tape might work?)

I had considered that might be the problem, but dismissed it because I thought the little plastic thing inside the shive was leaky anyway.
Which brings a second question: when do I put a spile in place?


Now then...does "Gordon's Bitter" sound English enough?
John Wilson
Savannah Brewers League
Savannah, GA

Offline gordonstrong

  • Senior Brewmaster
  • ******
  • Posts: 1355
    • View Profile
    • BJCP
Re: Cask ale conditioning/carbonating.
« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2010, 08:19:44 AM »
The spile question is covered in the cellarmanship book.  You can knock in the spile basically any time after the cask is in its serving position.  You do it in advance of serving so that you can check the carbonation.  If the cask is lively (over carbonated), then you can put in a soft spile and let it naturally reduce.  If you are happy with the condition, then you can use a hard spile, which you'd then remove at service (or replace with a cask breather).

Gordon's Bitter sounds more Scottish than English, but at least you're on the same island.
Gordon Strong • Beavercreek, Ohio • AHA Member since 1997 • Twitter: GordonStrong