Saturday, 7 March 2015

Cask beer in the 1950’s – temperatures and stillage

We’re still not quite at the really exciting bit. You’ll have to make do with cellar temperatures and stillaging. Two topics that often keep me awake at night.

We’re beginning with cellar temperatures.

The influence which temperature has upon the sensitive beers of these days it not realized by many persons, yet more depends upon it than is apparent. In spite of this fact, we have visited many cellars in which no thermometer has been found. In other instances, the thermometer has been broken and not replaced, or it is fixed in an entirely wrong position, and so conveys a false impression of the average temperature of the cellar. A wall is quite the wrong place upon which to fix a thermometer, because the temperature prevailing on the other side of it is bound to strike through and affect the reading. The correct position is as near as possible to the centre of the cellar, from the roof of which it should be suspended so that it hangs at a level in line with the centre of the casks.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 251.

All pretty bleeding obvious stuff. I must look next time I’m in a pub cellar to see if I can spot a thermometer. And if it’s in the correct location, hanging from the ceiling.

But what temperature should we be aiming for:

“As regards the temperature itself, 55º may be taken as a very safe figure for both summer and winter. Some trouble will need to be taken to maintain it during the extremes of outside conditions. During the summer, the heat may be kept within reasonable limits by frequently applying cold water to the floor. The contents of the casks may be kept cool by covering them with sacks soaked in cold water. In winter, if gas is available, a ring burner with a firebrick placed on the top forms a most effective heater. More convenient and cleaner is an electric stove. Failing both, an ordinary oil lamp is better than nothing. Should, however, the cellar be so constructed as to make it impossible to maintain the temperature named, then some other temperature which can be constantly kept should be adopted. This alternative temperature will be far more suitable to beer than attempting to maintain 55 degrees, failing, and constantly changing about. The beer can never become acclimatized before the temperature is again changed. Do not forget that warm beer is not an inviting drink during hot weather, nor is frozen beer on a biting frosty morning.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, pages 251 - 252.

Obviously that’s Fahrenheit. It equates to 12.8º C. Which is what I would guess is about the temperature to cask cellars still. I must ask Jeff what he has his set to.

You should try telling Australian pubs the latter one. In Melbourne it can get pretty chilly in winter – 5º C or so – yet beer is served at 1º C year round. I can sort of put up with freezing beer in the sweltering heat, but when you’re already freezing your grillox off, it’s really unappetising.

But what do you do if you don’t have a cellar? I’m tempted to say, then don’t try to sell cask beer. But there is another answer:

“Air conditioning with thermostatic control is of course the ideal, but is usually considered too expensive to instal in the average cellar. The use of a thermostatically controlled cold cabinet kept at 55º or thereabouts is often the best way of keeping beers for clubs and hotels which have inadequate cellar facilities. The cold cabinet can conveniently be housed under or near the bar and usually has room for four to six barrels. Of course this does not entirely solve the problem of storage of casks not actually in use, but if these can be kept under reasonably good conditions and if the cold cabinet has room for a spare cask of each beer on tap, so that there is time for it to settle down before tapping, then the system works well and the beer as sold should be in good condition. Often it is worth while for the brewery to make frequent deliveries for such customers to relieve them of the problem of storage. The cabinets are usually provided with adjustable cradles for the casks, which simplify the tilting process.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 252.

I can see how it would be a problem if you couldn’t always have a spare cask in the cold cabinet ready to tap. Which means you could only have two or three beers on draught. Which I suppose for a small hotel or club is reasonable enough.

Now for stillage:

By far the most serviceable method of storing casks of beer in a cellar is to place them upon brick stillions at a convenient height upon the floor. The stillion should be so arranged that there is a channel in the centre, running with a suitable fall over the entire length to one end. The stillion must be built of non-absorbent material, so that any beer which may work out of the cask will run away freely otherwise it may collect and go acid. The casks should not be placed directly upon the brickwork, but should be set upon a wooden frame. This frame must be firmly bedded down upon the brick foundation so that the cask cannot vibrate in the slightest degree. Plenty of wooden scotches are therefore necessary in order to make the cask secure. Any movement is likely to interfere with the brightness of the beer. When the cask is first set it should be perfectly level, and not, as is sometimes seen, tilting forwards or backwards, If tilted to any degree, the beer is thrown against the peg vent in the shive, and the CO2 gas generated cannot be emitted. If gas is generated in abnormal quantities by any chance beer will be forced through the vent, and considerable loss occasioned thereby.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, pages 252 - 253.

Very important, stillage. It’s a piece of kit only needed for cask beer. Kegs you just stand on end. And there’s no particular need to keep them 100% immobile. A scotch is a wedge, I believe.

Metal racks seem to be the way to go nowadays, based on what I can see here:

Now the tricky question of correct tilting:

“If the cask is tilted forward, the hopping-down hops and sludge are deposited close against the tap. Either the tap will be fouled and fail to work properly, or, for a time at all events, the beer will be charged with floaters and sediment as they are drawn off.

The correct time to tilt a cask is when it is down to one-third or quarter full. If tilting is further delayed, there is a great risk of permanently disturbing the contents. If this occurs it is impossible to draw off any more bright beer from the cask. Tilting is a process which must be carried out with care, and must certainly not be hurried. When correctly done, it enables the beer to be drawn off to the last drop. It is of vital importance to make sure that the cask is firmly and securely propped up after it has been tilted, and for this reason we are well disposed towards the various proprietary stillages in which the cask rests securely upon a cradle and the whole cradle can be tilted bodily to any desired extent.”
"Brewing Theory and Practice" by E. J. Jeffery, 1956, page 253.

Don’t tilt too quickly seems to be the main advice.

The posh modern version of stillage I showed above is fitted with titling cradles. Much better than messing around with wedges. And fairly less likely you’ll accidentally disturb the cask.


Jeffrey Bell said...

The trouble with modern autotilts, bearing in mind the advice in the book you quote, is that they tend to be calibrated to tip to their full extent when the cask is only about half empty, if that. And then when you put a plastic as opposed to metal cask on them they tip even earlier.

On the other hand most cask beers these days have little if any whole hops knocking around in the cask (notable exceptions in my experience - Adnams Bitter, Tetley Dark Mild).

Of course if you buy from a London Murky brewer there's bottom of the fermenter sludge distributed evenly through the cask, rendering the whole thing undrinkable anyway, so it doesn't matter what you do with the cask.

Ron Pattinson said...


interesting. Isn't the tilt adjustable?

Fermenter sludge - yummy! Just what I want to be drinking. I keep repeating that unfined doesn't mean a beer has to full of gunk.