Cask vs. fastcask

Continuing series of posts about ‘real ale’, today a few words about widely used steel barrels called casks.


Cask-ale is a beer that is a living product: contains live yeast, which is one of the conditions to be able to call it real ale. I wrote more about it in post titled What is Real Ale?”.

Cask-ale, or beer in a barrel. Formerly wooden today these are metal containers in which is the process of beer conditioning. In casks ale is refermented – existing there live yeast produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. The beer is naturally saturated with gas and naturally cloudy.


In order to clarifying beer fining agents are added the beer – these are finings.
Fining agents used in brewing may be, for example egg whites, isinglass (substance from dried fish bladders), irish moss, gelatin, carrageenan and many others.
Their purpose is clarification of the wort, or already young beer and are widely used by breweries. These substances bind particles of yeast which then fall to the bottom in the form of sediment.
Therefore, the most widely used fining agent is isinglass, so such beer is not consumed by vegetarians or vegans. Pub may ask brewery not to use finings to clarified beer and it can then be drunk by customers who want a beer naturally cloudy, without finings.
According to CAMRA website, in pub The Caledonia in Liverpool since 2011 is sold beer Liverpool 24 Organic Carrat without clarifying agents.
Also you can find there a list of pubs offering friendly for vegetarians cask-ales and shops with bottle conditioned beers, without use of animal products.


cask tapping

Returning to the main topic – cask with a beer, which comes from the brewery to the pub must be properly prepared, armed so as to ale dispense in the right way.
First, cask must be provided with a tap for dispensing beer, and secondly with a peg named spile.
Spile is mostly wooden and are used their two types – hard and soft.

When the beer is already sufficiently saturated and clarified stuffed into arming cask.
Tap is drive with a wooden mallet in sealed plastic plug hole (called keystone), and then sticks to a hard spile in a plug on the side of cask (so-called shive – usually plastic, although it may be wooden).
After dropping some beers (reducing the pressure inside cask) turns a hard spile with soft, porous so that as pouring beer was followed by gas exchange with the surroundings.
When there is a break in dosing ale (eg. when pub is closed) soft spile is replaced by hard again to carbon dioxide did not run away from inside of the barrel and the beer did not undergo degassing.

Arming cask some first drive a hard spile, which somewhat decreases the pressure inside the container, and secondarily fix the tap.


Below are two short videos presenting the steps describing above.

On the first nice lady Amy, brewer from the Scottish brewery Harviestoun, demonstrates arming of cask.



In next film Paul from the UK Brewing Supplies presents another way of arming.



To preserve the freshness and the quality (taste and carbonation) cask should be emptied within three days.

But it has a disadvantage associated with casks.

So, therefore, it is a live product, containing live yeast in the form of precipitate, every movement of cask, not to mention the transport, will re-clouding beer.
When cask-ale come into the pub, the barrel must lie still for up to 48 hours so that the yeast settle to the bottom and that beer was clarified.
Pub must have therefore always a reserve cask-ale in order to maintain continuity of sales.
For this reason, some bars resign from the traditional cask-ales for kegs or prefers filtered beers which no longer meets the definition of “real ale”.
It is estimated that 46% of the pubs do not want to “play” with casks.

Advice for this found Marston’s company, owner of the network of pubs and breweries, introducing the so-called fastcask.

The patent is as follows: first from beer are removed yeast.
Then, modified their structure in the form of gel beads are placed back into the beer.
There are still a live yeast, which continue their work, but they are much heavier and process their sink to the bottom literally takes several seconds.

I suggest you first watch a short animation of the fastcask idea, posted on the website of the product, and then click on the “Hobgoblin” in the menu 🙂




Most importantly, this method meets the condition of CAMRA and beer from fastcasks is called “real ale”. Live yeast are in fact existing in the process of refermentation, so that in a modified form.

Currently are available in that form five types of ales from Marston’s group.
These are: Marston’s Pedigree, Marston’s E.P.A., Wychwood Hobgoblin, Brakspear Bitter and Jennings Cumberland Ale.
Offering will be quickly expand.

And whether beers offered at fastcasks are more expensive?
Yes, but the extra cost is £1.75 per fastcask, which gives approx. 2p for pint of beer.


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