Thursday, October 8, 2015

Real Ale Homebrew

I love a good pint of cask conditioned beer, something which is painfully difficult to get in this part of Virginia at times. None of the breweries here has a regular cask lineup, and worse yet when they do decide to have some kind of 'firkin' special they invariably bastardise the beer by adding stupid shit to the beer, and slap it on a bar for gravity pouring without proper stillage. The resulting beer is so murky that it would do London beer proud, and no that is not a good thing.

The only places I have enjoyed pints of well cared for real ale in the last 6 years have been Beer Run here in Charlottesville and ChurchKey in DC, though sadly Beer Run stopped having a regular cask offering a few years ago. What then is a chap to do? Make you own obviously.

I have written before about using a 1 gallon polypin, called a cubitainer in these here parts, for replicating cask conditioning. It really is a pretty simple process:
  1. Put priming solution/conditioning tablets into the cubitainer to achieve about 1.2 volumes of CO2
  2. Rack fermented beer from primary into cubitainer, filling it about 90% full
  3. Close cubitainer with tap attachment (edit: store the cubitainer with the tap on the top of the cube)
  4. When the cubitainer swells bleed off some of the resulting CO2 so it doesn't burst - usually have to do this twice
  5. After about a week drink it
The picture below is of one of my cask experiments, an 80/- ale from a few years ago.

Now, gravity pour is all well and good, but I about a year ago I decided that I wanted to be able to pump my cubitainer real ale. Beer engines are pretty bloody expensive in and of themselves, and I don't have a home bar to add the necessary kit to, and did I mention they are bloody expensive? An answer I found on the old interwebs was to use a 'Rocket' pump, which is more usually used in mobile homes to pump water. One of the guys at the homebrew club I go to had a similar idea, but attached it to a cooler so that he would have portable real ale, so I must admit I nicked his idea to build my own 'caskerator'.

It's a really simple set up, and so easy to build that it took me about 10 minutes to do, and most of that was drilling the holes in the top of the cooler to attach the pump to. The entire outlay for this was:
Real ale for less than $45 can't be bad. To make it work:
  1. put a freezer gel pack in the bottom of the cooler to keep the previously cellar temperature stored beer at about the right temperature
  2. put cubitainer in cooler, tap to one side and pointing upwards
  3. connect the pump tubing to the tap (this can be fiddly)
  4. turn tap on
  5. close cooler lid - taking care not to kink the tubing, though this kind of replicates the behaviour of a sparkler
  6. pump - it takes about 10 pumps to get an imperial pint
  7. drink

There you have it, how to produce a reasonable approximation of British style real ale at home and on the cheap.


  1. Excellent. I just did a 5-liter gravity "cubitainer" of cask saison. I didn't enjoy it as much as I'd hoped — I was missing the carbonation — but I'll try it again with a style that's better suited to cask. Great post!

  2. "When the cubitainer swells bleed off some of the resulting CO2 so it doesn't burst"

    How much beer did you have to mop up before getting this one down pat?

  3. None, because while it is conditioning the tap is on the top side of the cube, thus I can bleed it without spilling beer.

  4. This is the post that I've been waiting for. Thanks for sharing!

  5. When using the cubitainer to connect to the hand pump, does the cubitainer need to be primed and pressurized (sorry if this is a strange question: i'm completely unfamiliar with beer engines, but yearn to make a home approximation of cask ale)