Flexible Cask Ale

Have you used a polypin? It’s a flexible, low-cost cask-conditioning solution that will serve you well.

Dave Carpenter Jun 6, 2017 - 4 min read

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If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at cask-conditioned homebrew but want to keep things simple and inexpensive, a polypin may be just the thing for you. A polypin is a plastic, food safe, flexible container—kind of like the bladder that holds boxed wine, but sturdier. Popular among homebrewers in the United Kingdom, polypins are available in the United States under the brand name Cubitainer. Poly refers to the polyethylene from which the container is fabricated, and a pin is simply a unit of measure (half a firkin).

The beauty of these little containers is that they collapse as they are emptied. Unlike rigid firkins and kegs, which require that gas displace lost volume as the beer is dispensed, a polypin crumples in on itself, changing shape to accommodate the amount of beer it holds. No air in the polypin means no oxidation, which means that your beer stays fresh. And there's no need for top-up carbon dioxide, which means minimal expense and complexity. Some commercial British brewers even sell polypins of their flagship beers to-go, kind of like growlers for real ale.

And polypins couldn’t be easier to use. You just prime your fermented homebrew with corn sugar, siphon the beer into one or more sanitized polypins, seal each polypin with a screwcap, and wait a couple of weeks. When it’s time to serve, you carefully remove the screwcap and attach a quick serve spigot. As you gravity-dispense beer from the polypin, à la wine from a box, the plastic vessel collapses and keeps oxygen from getting to your beer. Kept at a cool 50–60°F (10–15°C), your cask-conditioned ale will stay fresh for as long as you can keep your thirsty paws off of it.

You can rinse, wash, and reuse polypins many times. While they can take a surprisingly high amount of pressure (carbonated polypins swell up like balloons), it’s safest to stick to low carbonation beer styles, which is why they’re perfect for British cask-conditioned ale. For a 5-gallon (18.9-liter) batch, 1–1.5 ounces (28–43 grams) of corn sugar should be about right for priming.

Five-gallon (18.9-liter) polypins are readily available, but polypins also come in smaller sizes (e.g., 1-gallon/3.8-liter and 2.5-gallon/9.5-liter). Packaging in several smaller polypins offers some nice advantages:

  • You can dry hop each polypin with a different variety.
  • You can cask condition part of your batch for immediate consumption and bottle or keg the rest to enjoy at a later time.
  • You can experiment with different carbonation levels.
  • You can take one or two polypins to a party and leave the rest at home, thus ensuring that at least some of your beer remains safe.

If you enjoy British styles but have avoided cask conditioning your homebrew because of the cost and complexity, give the polypin a go. It’s a flexible, low-cost solution that will serve you well.

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