Celebrating Cask Ale Week

Those who brew, serve and drink cask ale are being encouraged to get behind a campaign that offers an 11-day celebration of Britain’s national drink. Cask Ale Week 2020 runs from Thursday, 24th September to Sunday, 4th October 2020 and is a free platform to help shine a light on all things barrel shaped. It looks to build on work in previous years that has helped bring this special product out of the cellar and into the spotlight.

On Saturday 26 September, Adnams is being honoured as ‘Brewery of the Day.’ Alongside this, Broadside is being declared ‘Beer of the Day’ and Beer Writer, Adrian Tierney Jones will be sharing his thoughts on this classic, strong ale. Synonymous with all the rich, big-hitting fruity flavours you can get from a cask beer, Broadside is a great choice for the campaign and its key messages.

Take a trip around any cask beer brewery and you will hear the familiar, resonating sound of mallet on metal. That's the racking team, filling row upon row of shiny containers with foaming, fresh beer. They're sealing in all that freshness with a shot of yeast and a swift blow to a bung and then handing on the baton to the warehouse, transport and finally the publican and their colleagues at the bar. Cask Ale week is a great opportunity to highlight the real teamwork behind every pint.

Cask Beer takes time. Cue smiling customers patiently waiting at the bar while the heave of the handpull slowly draws beer from cellar to glass. But cask beer doesn’t just take time to serve or savour. It also takes time to brew, and once delivered, time to prepare. It makes the journey from brewhouse to cellar and even then, it is still not quite ready to make an appearance. It is lovingly prepared for service and it is this unseen art that ensures the beer in your glass is as good as it was when it left the brewery.

Cask beer isn't filtered, pasteurised or played with – it goes straight into the casks. It is a live product and therefore demands care and attention. The yeast in a cask will continue to do its thing - maturing the beer in the vessel. This secondary fermentation or 'cask-conditioning' not only adds additional depth of fruity flavour, it gives the beer its life. That refreshing fizz you feel when you take a sip is all natural. The yeast consumes any residual sugars in the beer and expires CO2, providing a light, palate-pleasing carbonation.

Although this process happens naturally, it can't be left to chance. There are plenty of things along the way that could end up spoiling things. Turnaround is quick. Adnams casks only spend around a week or so waiting in the warehouse before being whisked off to the pub. There, the responsibility is handed over to the cellarman. Careful storage and preparation, clean beer lines and shiny glasses will all ensure they pass on the perfect pint.

Casks have a belly, an important and purposeful curve to their sides, making them bulging and barrel-shaped. They are laid on their sides in the pub cellar, so they require a special cradle or 'stillage' to rest in. Once wrestled into position, they are left to acclimatise to cellar temperature (around 11 degrees) and the belly acts like a hold into which the yeast drops and settles. The pressure is released by popping in a wooden spike or ‘spile’ and then you can hit in your tap. It goes in above the level of settled yeast and when the beer line is connected, you can pull on the handpull at the bar and draw clear, bright, lively beer up from the cellar and into the glass.

Adnams Head Brewer, Fergus Fitzgerald sums it up: “Brewers deal with uncertainty and controlled chaos every day. Every batch of malted barley or hops is slightly different. Our house yeast buds new daughter yeast cells that contain some cells which operate differently to the mother cells. The exact timings and temperatures also vary ever so slightly on every batch. So, we spend much of our time anticipating and minimising those changes to provide as much consistency as we can. We see the differences every day, in every batch, but we try to make sure drinkers don’t.

“Why then do we love cask beer? Cask is an historic way of dispensing beer; a link between brewers across generations, but at its heart it’s a partnership between brewers and publicans. It involves an unknowable number of people who will all need to be trained in finishing off the process of conditioning the beer in cask and bringing it to its best, and then act as gatekeeper to ensure the drinker is only ever served great quality cask beer.

“Those people, the cask whisperers operating the pub cellars, need to listen to the beer and coax the best out of it regardless of the temperature outside, or the journey the beer had to get there. it’s a simple process to get right but requires skill and patience. Of course, this brings more variability with it.

“So again, why do we love it? Well, because when you get it right, that variation can add subtlety and nuance that other methods can’t. It can bring something new to a beer and it can show a different side to a beer that maybe even the brewer didn’t see when it first went into cask. It has the potential to be the best beer on the bar - to surprise and hopefully delight, in a way that other methods of dispense don’t have.”

The care and attention spent in the brewery is clearly mirrored in the pub. This is a real selling point for discerning customers with a genuine interest in the craftmanship and care behind their drink of choice.

Cask Ale Week is a great opportunity to engage with customers against the backdrop of a national campaign, so lend your support to some carefully crafted local products. Licensees and brewers across the country are being invited to create a special promotion or activity and shout about what makes cask ale great - so there should be plenty of opportunities to get involved. Order a recommended beer with your meal, try something different and support the great British pint!

To learn more about Cask Ale Week visit https://caskaleweek.co.uk and look out for posts from Adnams during the campaign.

Watch Head Brewer Fergus and brewers Dan and Ed discuss their relationship with Cask Beer below!