It’s tough to romanticize the pouring of a draft beer. That is, unless your barkeeper gently fills your pint after several hand pumps from a beer engine.
A normal pint of draft beer served at a bar is pushed from the keg, through the draft line, and out of the tap into your glass via carbon dioxide (CO2) or nitrogen injected into the system. But the other method, one being used by only a few bars in the area is through a beer engine. It’s been around for hundreds of years, and still thrives in many areas, primarily England.
A beer engine is a manually operated hand pump that pumps beer from a cask, usually located in the cellar of a bar, through a tap and into your glass. This type of beer is referred to as cask ale, or real ale. A cask resembles a mini keg or barrel, and range in size, with the most popular being a nine gallon firkin.
How does cask ale differ from a normal keg of beer?
Cask ale undergoes a secondary fermentation inside of the cask. Once a beer has went through a normal fermentation and would be ready to transfer to a keg, it instead goes into a cask along with some of the residual yeast leftover from the primary fermentation. This yeast continues to eat the sugars that remain in the beer, which creates more alcohol, increases carbon dioxide in the cask, and changes the flavor of the beer. The excess CO2 in the cask then dissolves into the beer creating a natural carbonation, and thus a cask conditioned ale.
Natural carbonation results in a beer that’s less carbonated than a standard draft beer. It is not flat, but lacks the fizzy, gassy nature of a regular keg of beer.
A cask ale will taste different than a pour of the same beer from a standard tap. The secondary fermentation can increase the complexity of flavors, taking a regular beer and introducing new flavors from the yeast, as well as additions to the cask that a brewer might add. It’s commonplace for a pale ale or India pale ale to have whole hops added to the cask to enhance flavor and aroma. The soft mouthfeel of a cask ale provides the perfect medium for the interplay between the malts, hops, and yeast.
Cask ale is not served warm, but it is served warmer than your normal pint. A temperature around 55 degrees is appropriate. A proper pour from a cask should also be quite clear, not cloudy. The remaining yeast responsible for the secondary fermentation should drop to the bottom of the cask after a period of rest resulting in a clearer beer until the bottom of the cask is eventually reached.
Elmwood Avenue craft beer haven, Mr. Goodbar, is one of the spots in Buffalo that employs the use of a beer engine. In fact, they have two hand pumps.
On a recent evening at the bar, I enjoyed a Community Beer Works Espresso Whale on cask. The West Side nanobrewery takes their flagship brown ale, The Whale, and infuses it with espresso beans roasted locally from another West Side business, Public Espresso + Coffee.
The Whale is already a coffee forward brown ale, with a roasty flavor profile, but the added espresso beans bring these flavors out to a whole other level. This cask version intertwines the roasted malts, with the espresso beans, alongside a light fruitiness creating a perfect after dinner pint.
While Mister Goodbar is a great place to try a cask ale, you can also find beer engines at Blue Monk on Elmwood and both Pizza Plant locations.
Cask ale is as natural as a beer can be. With carbonation formed from its own yeast, and not from a CO2 tank, it is truly a living beer. Next time you’re heading out for a pint, make it a cask ale, and you’ll never look at a standard draft beer the same again.
Community Beer Works Espresso Whale (cask), $5 for 16 ounces, Mister Goodbar, 1110 Elmwood Ave., 882-4000, www.mrgoodbarbuffalo.com