The beer soaked question we field the most frequently on this site is “what is cask beer?”

Since 1971, a group of men from England have worked to revitalize the purest form of beer consumption on earth: drinking ale from a cask. They are called CAMRA (Campaign For Real Ale) and they are a large part of the reason Great Britain, and the USA, have cask beer available in bars across the country.

But what is cask beer? In short, it’s beer that’s been brewed using traditional ingredients and aged in the cask (firkin) in which it is traditionally served. Unlike the beer you drink from the draft wall, cask beer is not artificially carbonated with carbon dioxide, instead the brewer induces a secondary fermentation in the cask that allows a natural carbonation to take place.The result is a smooth, lightly carbonated (some might say flat) brew that is unfiltered, served cool, not cold, and inestimably delicious-at least according to its acolytes. It’s the way beer was first served in pubs before the modern-era of introducing carbon dioxide into beer began.

Cask beer is served in one of two ways;

1) Gravity. The vessel is placed on the bar top, and a faucet is hammered into the cask through the keystone. After this tapping, beer is dispensed into glasses via the natural flow of gravity. Once a gravity fed cask has been tapped, the barman must ensure that the vessel is depleted quickly as to avoid oxidation in the brew.

2) A beer engine is a mechanical device used to pump the beer from the cask into the glass. If you were drinking beer in the 1800s in Great Britain this was the primary method used by bartenders to fill your glass in those halcyon days.

Modern bars across the world are still using beer engines to pull beer from their firkins.

You would see a cask beer aficianado drink an artificially carbonated co2 beer with roughly the same frequency of a Trappist monk drinking a can of Coors Light. Once you get hooked on natural beer there is no going back.

Please regale us with tales of your cask beer finds in Austin, Texas.

Visit our vast Austin craft beer scene archive

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