English Cask Ale (all-grain)

English_cask_20140116_172259Inspired by a recent vacation across the pond, I decided to put together a recipe for an English ale and cask-condition it as “real” ale.  I’ve grown to really enjoy cask ales over the last two years – they’re incredible smooth, sessionable, and delicious with almost any food pairing.  For those who aren’t familiar, real ale is carbonated naturally in the keg/cask itself using just the last bit of remaining yeast and sugars in the beer (without the use of an external C02 tank), resulting in a very subtle, fine level of carbonation. So subtle, that most drinkers would call it flat. It’s also served slightly warmer (~50 degrees F) and using a hand pump to “pull” pints directly from the cask – a manual process that actually aerates the beer as it enters your glass (sometimes using a nozzle on the end of the tap called a sparkler) giving the beer a smooth creamy head. It also livens up all of the flavors and aromas, similar to using a decanter or aerator for serving wine. I’ve been doing a good amount of reading on how to properly condition, cellar and serve real ale; it’s a delicate and fragile process but the outcome is well worth it. I’m sure this brew will be highly unorthodox, but I’m going to try get it as close to the real thing as I can! Anticipated 5 gal OG 1.043, 36 IBU, 9 SRM, 4% ABV. All malts are Muntons.

  • 8 lb UK Pale malt
  • 0.75 lb UK Crystal 60
  • 0.2 lb UK Brown malt
  • 1 oz Fuggles 60 min (5.1% aa)
  • 1 oz Fuggles 15 min
  • WYeast London ESB

// Mash in at 1.8 qt/lb (4 gal strike water) at 152 for 60 mins, 168 for 5 mins. Sparge to collect 6 gal 1.040 wort, added 1/2 gal water to top up to 6.5 gal. Boil 60 minutes, chill to 70F. Collect 5.5 gal 1.045 wort. Pitch decanted 1 liter starter. Ferment at 68F. //

Somehow my efficiency was higher than normal, and my pre-boil gravity was already at what I expect my OG to be. I added 1/2 gal extra water to dilute it slightly and give me more breathing room before the boil started. I still wound up with a strong OG than normal (and more volume, but hey, that’s ok), so next time I might scale back on the malt a little.

UPDATE (12/4/13): Great malt aroma – light toffee and soft toasty bread crumb and classic English yeast presence smells amazing, with just a little bit of hop freshness. Still fairly cloudy and yeasty, but overall taste follows the nose well – a very soft malt profile with nice hints of caramel and toast. Not as much caramel flavor as I expected, but it’s nice where it is. Good amount of bitterness too – not offensive but slightly higher than neutral. This will definitely be great once it cleans up and conditions! SG 1.016. Racked directly to the keg on 12/5 (airlock bubbling once ever 40s) and added 1/3 cup priming sugar and sealed at room temp.

UPDATE (12/10/13): There was a good amount of pressure built up in the keg (I’d guess 4-5 atm from the audible PSHHH when I pulled the gas relief valve) and the carbonation level was perfect — very very subtle — just right in my opinion. The beer is still pretty cloudy which puzzles me. Not sure if I need to crash-cool to facilitate this, or if it’ll just clean itself up after secondary fermentation is over. The beer did gain a little sweetness; I think the priming sugar hasn’t been fully consumed yet unfortunately. Checked the gravity, and sure enough, it gained a point to 1.017. Flavor is still spot on otherwise, so I moved it to the basement at around 60F and filled with around 3 atm C02 to keep the oxygen out.

THE VERDICT

This was a beautiful English ale. Everything was on point about this beer – flavor was a comforting toasty English caramel, mouthfeel was smooth and delicate, aroma showed some yeast ester but also nice malt presence. Except… it was super cloudy. Initially while the beer was “fresh” from cask conditioning, it was cloudy. A day after the first tapping of the keg, I moved it to the fridge and force carbonated; even 2 months later it was still cloudy! I don’t know much about using “finings” to help clarify a beer, but i think some may be in order. Otherwise, I’m not sure what I did wrong.

I think the amount of Crystal malt could go up to 1 lb easily, and maybe up the brown malt just a little, but I think subbing it out for Dark English Crystal would be great too. I’d be interested in possibly switching out the English Pale for Marris Otter as a base, but I’m sure it’d pass either way. I probably didn’t do the whole priming sugar thing properly for conditioning, but it probably would have conditioned just fine coming out of the primary with the little residual sugar that was left, and slightly aerating from transferring to the keg to jump start the yeast a little. I’ll definitely be making this again!

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2 Comments

Filed under All-grain, Amber, Balanced, English

2 responses to “English Cask Ale (all-grain)

  1. Matt Gibson

    Hi Alex, so I saw that Wyeast is releasing a cask ale yeast. Did you just ‘cask condition’ this in a keg then or do you have an actual barrel? Cheers!

  2. Hey Matt. I don’t own any barrels so I just use my regular corny kegs as casks and a hand-pump for pulling pints. Corny kegs work great. Just rack to the keg from the primary and let it rest at room temperature for a few weeks to develop subtle carbonation. I don’t add priming sugar. Just be careful pulling the first few pints since there may be some sediment that forms at the bottom of the keg. I actually shortened the dip tube in one of my kegs by about an inch to avoid picking up sediment at the bottom, but conditioned in other kegs with normal dip tubes and they came out great too. Alternatively, you could crash cool the keg right before you’re about to tap in order to really help the yeast settle out.

    I typically use WYeast 1968 London ESB for my cask ales, and most English beers in general. It’s one of my favorite yeasts. WYeast’s description of it says it’s “a very good cask conditioned ale strain”, which is very true in my experience. Very flocculant (the beer becomes almost crystal clear in the primary without any finings or filtering), and tends to finish a bit higher in FG (it will bottom out around 1016 normally for a standard OG ale) which then drops a few more points in the cask to create the light carbonation. Haven’t heard about a specific strain for cask ales, what’s the called and when’s it coming out?

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