Had an interesting discussion with Brock Wagner at the Christmas ale pub crawl a few weeks ago related to the authenticity of Saint Arnold cask ale.
We spoke of the methods used to make cask Christmas and how it differs from authentic English ‘real ale’. Basically, Brock explained how he felt about cask ale and we talked about what made it unique. He explained how the hop flavor really comes through in the Christmas when it is dry hopped in the cask, and how the lower carbonation helps put those flavors together. He spoke about how much he loves the Christmas in the cask – and I completely agree. Cask Christmas is, in my opinion, the best cask aged ale Saint Arnold makes.
We went on to discuss the importance of the cellarman to so-called ‘real ale’. The Christmas Brock and I were drinking that night was really cloudy, because the cask (with all of it’s lovely active yeasties inside) had been moved around and shaken up quite a bit. The cellarman, in an authentic ‘real ale’ pub, is responsible for a number of things , all very important:
1 – keeping the kegs still – so that the yeast stay out of the beer and the pints are dispensed crystal clear.
2 – managing the spline – a porous wood spike pushed into the top of the cask. The spline allows a limited amount if air inside and helps the bar wench pull pints without (too much) effort
3 – priming the beer as it is dispensed to maintain appropriate carbonation. Unlike ‘normal’ draft beer, cask ale’ is naturally carbonated, which means that the yeast inside the cask consumes residual sugars and creates additional CO2. As beer is dispensed, the cellarman gas to make a judgment – add just enough sugar to the cask to feed the yeast and keep the beer carbonated without adulterating the flavor of the beer.
Bottom line – cask Christmas is pretty darn close to being ‘real ale’ – although not quite in style for a true English ale (it’s too darn strong!!), but we only have one pub in Houston that comes close to treating casks like they are treated in British ‘real ale’ pubs.