This week Marston’s revealed what could be the next generation of cask ale: the Fast Cask. The hope is that this will revolutionise the quality and availability of cask ale.
Cask ale is very important. As much as I might champion kegged beer or canned beer or drink strong bottled beers, the British craft beer scene revolves around cask ales and there is nothing finer than a frothing, clean pint of real ale. The only thing that will improve the general image of beer in the UK is if the quality of cask ale improves. The trouble with cask is that it’s living and therefore needs looking after. It takes a good cellarman, which is sadly missing from too many pubs, to treat these beers properly and only serve them when they are ready to go. A beer which isn’t properly cellared or is served before it’s ready will taste like the relative equivalent of an undercooked dinner – the flavours might be there but they won’t be right.
Now, I won’t pretend to know the beer science here. I drink the stuff, I know roughly how the ingredients affect how it tastes, but beyond that and my eyes glaze over and I get lost in a world of scientific terms. So, this is my simplified understanding of what this new cask aims to do and why that is good, mainly stolen from what others have written.
The cask has live yeast in the barrel so it is still real ale, but this yeast has undergone a process which means that it does not dissolve and instead it acts as a sponge (to suck in and push out the beer) and still gives an extra fermentation (it works in a bead or pellet form with a permeable coating on the outside). This yeast doesn’t need time to settle, which is the point of the Fast Cask. Think of a bottle of real ale. If you throw it around then all the yeast is disturbed. You then need to leave it standing upright for all the yeast to settle before it is ready to drink. If you drink it with the yeast still floating around then the flavour is changed. Cask beer is the same. The yeast needs to drop and settle before it’s ready to be served.
The benefit of this is that beer can be served quicker. It also means that beer can be stored upright or on its side with no detriment to the pint. You can kick and shift the casks without effecting the beer. It can be delivered to beer festivals and it will be ready to go so it doesn’t need time to sort itself out and it’ll also work for sports events and venues where they might not get a regular turn-around on the beer. The casks are easier to use so hopefully will mean a better, less-changeable pint for the punter. It also removes the need for finings. Overall, it works to fill an area of market which is missing decent quality cask beer while also adding an extra option to publicans who sell cask ale.
There are also negatives. Callermanship is a real skill and a pub with a decent callerman is very important; the art of looking after a beer until it gets to its peak should not be overlooked or undermined. I think this is the kitchen equivalent of using a microwave; some pubs wouldn’t dare but for others it’s essential – a quick and space-saving alternative. I don’t know how long these casks will last for; will they have a short pour-by-date or will they store in the cellar for months? There’s nothing like a cellarman having the choice to store a beer for 1-, 3-, 6-, 12-months before deciding that it’s at its best ready to go. The choice is currently limited to a couple of beers – Marston’s Pedigree and Wychwood’s Hobgoblin – although if successful this would likely increase. Also, is this expensive? The yeast has to go through a process before it’s ready for the Fast Cask. Will it be limited to certain yeasts? How will a brewery make their house yeast usable in a Fast Cask?
I think this is a good step forward for cask real ale and hopefully it’ll help the quality of beers in certain situations – beer festivals, outside events, pubs which don’t (or don’t know how to) serve real ale. It’s a nice addition to beer and I think it should be looked at that way; an extra option, not the next step to which all casks will become. Ultimately, it’ll come down to a taste test – bring a Fast Cask in, tap and vent it and then pour it alongside a well-kept regular cask. If they taste the same then great. Hopefully we’ll get to try it during Cask Ale Week, 29th March to 5th April.
My next questions are: How do you get the fast yeast-thing out and is it re-useable? If this works with yeast, could it also work with hops and could beer be “cask hopped”?!
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