Sunday, October 14, 2012

Campaign for Real Ale

It's funny, I never cared much for cask conditioned ale when I was a native of England, despite living in the Thames Valley and Kent at various times, two places with strong ale histories.  I did enjoy the odd pint here and there but it wasn't until I returned to visit and spent some time in the Cotswalds that I began to really see what it had to offer.

Cask conditioning at the homebrew scale, like aging in a whole bourbon barrel's worth of beer, is simply not possible.  I did however come across one clever suggestion of storing the beer in screw cap bottles so the build up of carbon dioxide can be periodically released.  My first attempt went really well.  I used a London Ale yeast strain, bottled after about 5 days and let a little carbonation escape every couple of days for about a week.  If anything I overdid it a little and some bottles were too flat.  Nevertheless the result was a delicious bitter.

My second attempt has given me a few problems.  This time I used an ESB yeast.  It was a smack-pack so should have worked well but I didn't check the date on it.  I suspect since it was the last one in the fridge at my LHBS it may have been quite old.  The pack certainly didn't swell as much as they usually do.  As a result, after 5 days when I bottled, the beer had a very bad sulphury smell and taste.  It turns out that this ESB yeast strain can but badly behaved even in the best conditions, so between the old pack and me not aerating sufficiently the fermentation was dirty and left some off flavors.

Luckily, I am 'cask conditioning' this beer!  With beers that don't turn out as expected, patience is the key.  Under the right conditions, the yeast in the bottles will clean up the off flavors and the beer will turn out fine.  How much time that will take is hard to say, but there is plenty more drinkable beer in my house so this one can just hang out for a while.  The fall is here and my house is basically cellar temperature!  I have sacrificed one bottle that I open even now and they to see how it's doing.  So far the smell has improved.  Hopefully the taste will too!

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