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The Secrets of British Cask Conditioning

From brewing to serving, pros from the other side of the pond share some of the tricks of the cask-ale trade.

Bryan Betts Sep 5, 2017 - 11 min read

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“I can make your beer taste like shit,” grins Pub Manager and Cellarman Robbie Douglas, startling the group of foreign brewers touring his cellar. “But what you’ve got here is beer that’s well looked after,” reassures Douglas, who manages the grand Crosse Keys (cellar pictured above) in central London, a pub that sells 4,000–5,000 pints of cask ale a week.

Although good care at the pub is a vital part of the cask story—poor care in the pub can wipe out the brewer’s hard work—there is a lot more to it than that. Unless the beer is properly brewed and prepared for cask conditioning in the first place, even the best cellar manager will not be able to make it sing.

At the Brewery

The first step is to make sure there are fermentable sugars left in the beer when it goes into the cask, preferably by stopping the fermentation slightly early. “The fermentation proceeds until it is close to final gravity, and then the beer is chilled to arrest yeast activity. I allow the beer to chill to 8–10°C (46–50°F) and stabilize at that temperature for a day or two, then rack to cask,” says Tom Madeiros, who brews at Quercus Devon Ales in southwestern England.

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