Every week we offer a new cask on tap that is one of our beers, but with some additional love sent its’ way. Our architect, inventor, master chef, the guy who crafts these cask creations is our own Paul Trail. You’d never guess it, but I’d say he’s the most sensitive out of all of us here…
This week I got to trail the trail (all puns intended), and you can bet that it was the best thing that had happened to him all day – considering I showed up a 9 AM, it’s a safe bet! I asked PT (Paul Trail) what he liked most about making the casks and he said, “It is the most similar around here to home brewing, and that is where I started.” If that’s not the most romantic answer, I don’t know what is.
Now that we’ve introduced you to Paul Trail, lets get down to the juicy details of how we make a cask. The way we choose which beer to make into casks isn’t based on personal preference (which is a misconception that a lot of people might have – I definitely thought it), instead it is based on which beer happens to be at the right fermentation stage.
This week the beers that happened to be at the perfect stage for the pickings were our always favorite Scepter Head IPA, the beautiful”That’s What She Said” Cream Ale, and sassy “Shadow Caster” Amber Ale. We paired Scepter Head IPA with lemongrass and ginger, “That’s What She Said” Cream Ale with Evening in Missoula tea, and Shadow Caster Amber Ale with apples and cinnamon! What a treat we have coming up!
Now, before we begin, let us answer the question, “What is a cask beer?” A cask beer is unfiltered and unpasteurized. The cask is naturally carbonated by active yeast that we obtain from wort, which is young beer that is in the first stages of fermentation meaning it has been fermenting less than 24 hours. Wort contains the sugars that will be fermented by the brewing yeast to produce alcohol. Casks are generally warmer than beer on tap, and is a traditional British style of beer. They are warmer because when they used to make the beer, there was limited refrigeration, so instead they would place the casks in a cellar. Casks are also called real ales, which you can learn about the differences here from a previous post of ours.
Okay, the crash course is over. Let us get to the real reason you’re here – to learn the process in which we make our casks! Take a look…
Steps to making a cask:
Our steps to making the cask first begin with retrieving the casks. Whew – tough task. Casks can hold up to 10.5 gallons of liquid, which equals out to about roughly 80 beers – so you better be the first one here on Wednesdays to ensure a taste of this intricate brew. Also, our casks are made of stainless steel, but many can be made from aluminum or even wood, too.
Next is to hammer in the keystones, which will hold in the cleaning liquid that is costic and hot water. Costic is a cleaner that will eat all organic matter that is in the casks. PT says costic is probably the most dangerous chemical that we have here at the brewery, and has to be handled with gloves or it would burn the skin. But I don’t know, drink enough of our 2 AM Beauty Queens, and dangerous might take on a whole new meaning.
Once the cleaner is in, it is time to go shopping! You better believe this was my favorite part of learning how to make the casks! When I asked PT how he comes up with the combinations, he said he takes a similar approach as he would to cooking. He looks at all the ingredients that make up the beer, and thinks of ingredients that have like flavors, and those that will enhance the flavor of the beer. Mainly he looks as what is being offered, the farmers market in the summer time allows him to really expand his options, but during the winter he has to be a bit more creative with limitations of cold weather. To the Good Food store we journeyed, and scoped out the ingredients we had at our disposal.
After our shopping was finished, we came back to rinse out the casks and sanitize them. While they were being sanitized, the prepping of the ingredients to go in the cask came next: sanitize the fruit, peel the ginger, and bag the tea. But don’t be fooled, we didn’t have a peeler so it was harder than it seemed!
Next, we dumped the sanitizer, and rinsed the cask. Then we filled the casks with the ingredients specific to each beer, and filled them with the correct beer. While they were being filled, we added the wort to the cask as the natural carbonation. It was a very interesting process!
Once filled, we left the casks at room temperate for 48 hours to give the yeast time to eat the sugars and carbonate the cask. We don’t refrigerate right away because it would basically put the yeast to sleep and not allow it to finish its job.
Then for the final stage we put the cask in the cooler at 34 degrees Fahrenheit for at least two weeks. This conditions the cask, and gives it a few weeks to get rid of any off flavors that might appear, and that way when it is time to serve the cask the flavors have fully acclimated to the beer.
And that is it my friends, the way we make our real ale pours that come out every Wednesday! Now, something to note during this process, let’s be real – when I said “we” I meant Paul Trail, I was just the water boy on the sideline!