Cask vs Keg?

What’s the difference between cask ale and lager or keg ales?

Cask Ale
Alternatively known as real beer, cask beer, real ale, cask conditioned beer, beer from the handpump

  • Is a fresh, natural product full of flavour and character.
  • Is one of the best tasting, most satisfying drinks in the world when served in good condition.
  • Is made from 4 wholesome ingredients: water, malted barley, hops and yeast
  • Is an unpasteurised, fresh product containing live yeast (the bio-yoghurt of the beer world)
  • Is fermented twice, once at the brewery and once in the cellar of the pub
  • Isn’t fizzy or over-creamy because it has no added gas. The light sparkle, or ‘tingle on the tongue’ in cask ale is from carbon dioxide produced naturally during the fermentation process
  • Can be identified by the ‘handpull’ on the bar
  • Casks are ‘barrel’ shaped containers, mainly stillaged on their bellies to help trap the yeast sediment with a tap in the cask ‘head’ and a ‘spile’ inserted in the filling aperture which is used to control the ‘condition’ or CO2 content of the beer. In restricted cellars, it is possible to dispense cask beer from a cask set vertically by inserting a long stem into the tap hole which does not quite go to the bottom of the container where the yeast sediment lies.
  • Needs very special care and attention by licensees: they receive from the brewery an unfinished product. The quality of what they serve to the customer depends on their routine, care over hygiene and their commitment to standards. Once put on sale, a cask should be sold within 72 hours at the most as it is a living product.
  • Should be totally clear and served at a cool 11 – 13 degrees centigrade (cool and refreshing and allowing all the full flavours and aromas to be savoured)
  • And most importantly of all, unlike keg products cask ale is a product which can only be experienced in its full glory in the pub

Keg beers, smooth beers, lagers and stouts are different from cask beers. They:-

  • Most of the world’s beers are pale lagers making the ale market in the UK and particularly the cask sector very special indeed. Lagers are cold fermented with a yeast strain which can tolerate a cooler fermentation. They are served cold with a higher carbon dioxide content than keg ales which tend to have nitrogen added to the dispensing gas which gives the beer a creamy head and, to some, ‘less bloat’.
  • All keg beers are brewery conditioned: they undergo only the primary fermentation, are cold stabilised in the brewery and are then pasteurised or sterile filtered.
  • As they are filtered, they contain no live yeast
  • Have gas added in order to give them a fizz or a ‘smooth’ texture
  • Can be identified by the type of font or tap (they are served by switching on rather than pulling through) on the bar.
  • Are usually served at a chilled 6-8 degrees centigrade or if they are extra cold then between 0-5 degrees C.
  • In the cellar, kegs will be stood on end for dispensing with a coupler attached to the single aperture which feeds gas into the keg to push the beer towards the bar.
  • Not all keg beers are produced by our multi national brewers. A number of smaller craft breweries have invested in the chilling equipment needed to produce keg beers, particularly lager. In a competitive cask market, this gives them access to sports clubs, restaurants etc which may not have the cellar space to serve traditional cask beer.