Once upon a time, all beer was served with just the natural carbonation that was the byproduct of fermentation. Carbon dioxide is one of the compounds given off when yeast consumes the sugars in fermenting wort. Some of this CO2 is vented off (so excessive pressure doesn’t build up to dangerous levels) while some remains in the beer, giving it a pleasantly soft carbonation.
In the late eighteenth century, chemist Joseph Priestly discovered a method for infusing liquid with carbon dioxide and carbonated water was born. Techniques became more sophisticated and other liquids were carbonated. Over time, the much sharper artificially force carbonated beer in kegs gained ground. But cask beer or real ale remains popular, especially in England.
At the Civil Life, we have served beer on cask from early on and continue to refine our techniques. We try to have beer on cask every day and on weekends often have two cask offerings.
From the drinker’s perspective, cask beer differs from draught in three main ways: the beer is served less cold; it has only soft, natural carbonation; it is (usually) pumped out of a traditional English beer engine (rather than being pushed through draft lines by CO2), giving it a much creamier texture. All of these factors tend to accentuate flavors. Cold temperatures and sharp carbonation blunt the palate. This is why purveyors of fizzy yellow light lager often have signs proclaiming “Coldest Beer in Town!” or some such nonsense. These beers are undrinkable unless served as close to freezing as possible.
On the other hand, our less cold, less carbonated cask ales have pleasantly intense flavors. Bready, biscuity, and caramel malt flavors are richer, and piney, citrusy, spicy hop notes are more pronounced. The mouth feel of these beers is pleasantly full.
Some of our cask beers (like the porter) come off as creamier, more flavorful versions of their draft counterparts, while others (like our bitter) taste very different on cask. These two beers, by the way, are among staff favorites when it comes to cask offerings.
We are currently offering our bitter on cask. The delightful Northern English Brown Ale will be returning soon. Please keep checking with us to find out what’s coming to cask next. And stay tuned to the Civil Blog for updates on our cask program, including an exclusive interview with our Cellarman, brewer Brandon Stern, whose commitment to real ale is nothing short of fanatical. Until next time, drink more real ale!
~Dr. Patrick Hurley, Barman Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday Nights
The Civil Blog has returned. It is predominantly authored by Civil Life Barman, Dr. Patrick Hurley, who can be found tending to our bar patrons on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He is also responsible for tending to our draft lines, which is recognized as one of our most important tasks. Special guest writers will appear from time to time. We hope reading this blog will give you much insight about the Civil Life and most importantly help you understand a bit more about all of us that work here and the beers we put our hearts into.