Day 262

Once beer has finished fermenting and maturing, it is most often filtered as it is moved from the fermenter to the bright tank, then carbonated before being kegged or bottled. Kegging the beer like this is a highly efficient way of making money, since it  takes less than an hour to clean a skid of of 58.6 L (15 US gal) kegs using the automated keg washer, then another hour to fill them. That’s almost 500 litres (240 US gal) of beer ready to be delivered in less than two hours.

Compare that to ale presented in a firkin (a 45 L metal cask). Efficiency is not the name of the game here. There is no auto-cask washer (at least not at this brewery), so each cask has to be rinsed by hand, washed with caustic, rinsed again, inspected with a flashlight, sanitized, and a wooden plug called a “keystone” hammered into the small hole in the end of the cask. Often a cheesecloth or nylon sack filled with hops is added to give some added hop aroma to the beer before the cask is filled with freshly fermented beer from the fermenter.

Carbon dioxide is not injected into the cask, so in order to generate some CO2, we add some yeast or perhaps some actively fermenting wort as well as some glucose. (Skip this step if you’re looking to emulate a southern English ale, which is “flat” compared to the livelier northern English variety.)

Hammer home a large wooden plug called a “shive” into the hole in the side of the cask, and you’re finished. Only a couple of hours of work, and you’ve got one cask of ale. Oh wait, before you send it to the bar, you have to leave it for a few days to settle.

So that’s two hours for 500 L of kegged beer versus 3-4 days for 45 L of casked beer.

Needless to say, casks are not a high-revenue item for a brewery. Nevertheless, there’s nothing like an unfiltered, dry-hopped ale refermented in the cask to generate buzz and good will with the beer geek crowd.

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2 Comments on “Day 262”

  1. Matt Says:

    First I want to say thank you for keeping this diary/blog. As someone interested in taking this program it’s pure gold! I’m curious to know what you think of the job prospects upon graduation? Do you plan on starting your own business? Thanks again!

    • Alan Brown Says:

      At the moment, job prospects for Niagara College graduates look good. The craft brewing industry is booming in several markets in Canada–notably Ontario and BC–and across the States. As long as the boom continues, there will be a shortage of qualified workers. During the summer of 2012, all but 1 or 2 students found summer jobs at breweries, some as far away as Saskatoon and Edmonton.

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