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What is real ale?

It is the same as cask conditioned beer or ale.   It means that it is a live product, containing yeast and fermentable sugar so that the ale continues to ferment and mature in the cask or bottle.  Natural carbon dioxide is created during this secondary fermentation, giving the ale bubbles or “condition” as it is known.   Before the ale is served the fermentation stops as the fermentable sugars are used up, and the ale is stored at below 45 degrees F below which temperature the yeast does not work.   The use of isinglass finings in cask conditioned beer causes the yeast to drop to the bottom of the cask or bottle and form a sediment so that it is not present in the glass.  Cask Conditioned ale is dispensed by gravity, either straight from the cask or by using a hand pump to pull it through a hose to a Beer Engine on the bar.

What are Isinglass finings?

Isinglass is a gelatinous substance  made from fishes’ swim bladders.   These are the organs fish use to change their level in the water.   The magnetic field of yeast molecules is attracted to the magnetic field of isinglass.

What is brewery conditioned beer?

Is is the same as “keg” beer; not a live product.    The yeast is filtered out of the beer in the brewery and the bottle has carbon dioxide added during the bottling process.   For keg beer the carbon dioxide is used to push the beer out of the keg and mixes with it in the hose on the way to the bar.   There is no sediment in the bottle or keg, but isinglass may well have been used in the brewery.

What is a cask?

It is a container with curved sides with a hole at one side of one of the round flat ends, where the tap is normally inserted, and a hole in the curved side, at the top when the cask is lying down in its serving position.   This second hole is used to allow air to enter the cask so that beer can be dispensed without creating an airlock, and causing the liquid to churn about which would disturb the yeast sediment which is lying the in the curved bottom of the cask below the level of the tap.   Casks come in many sizes which have traditional names:  A Pin holds 4.5 gallons;  a Firkin holds 9 gallons;  a Kilderkin, 18 gallons;  a Barrel, 36 gallons;  a Hogshead, 72 gallons, and so on.   The most popular size is a Firkin, holding 9 gallons, or 72 pints.

What is “bright” beer or ale?

It is ale that has been fined with isinglass in a cask and the sediment allowed to settle, and then the ale has been poured or “racked” into another cask or container, so that is can be used immediately without having to be left to settle.   This is very useful if you want to take Real Ale on a picnic, or buy it and drink it on the same day, as ale usually takes 24 hours to settle, and the container then cannot be moved.

What is a polypin?

A polypin is a bag in a (cardboard) box.   It can be used for “bright” or “sedimented” ale.   The ale will last well in a polypin as no extra oxygen can enter the liquid – the bag collapses as it is emptied.  A cask must have air entering it, or the liquid cannot flow out, so it starts to oxygenate and deteriorate as soon as it is tapped.   This process is considered by Real Ale afficionados to be part of the maturation or life cycle of the product, but it means a short shelf life.

How long does real ale last?

So long as it is stored at cellar temperature around 11C, and the cask is not tapped an average strength ale will last about 6 weeks;  but once it is tapped it should ideally be drunk in 3 – 7 days.   In a polypin, at cellar temperature, it should last for a week to 10 or 14 days.   If Real Ale gets too cold it will develop a “chill haze” as the cold acts on the protein molecules in the ale.   As it warms up, the haze will disappear, but if the process is repeated it will take longer…Also, if the ale is too cold the full flavour will be masked.   So it is not a good idea to keep real ale in a fridge for longer than about half an hour.

How much real ale do I need for my party?

A rough rule of thumb is as many pints as people;  about half the people will drink the ale so they will get 2 pints each.   Of course each party will vary according to the type of people and the type of event.   You will have to decide whether to err on the side of caution, or generosity; and whether you will want to finish up any ale left over.

Is real ale difficult to set up and serve?

Bright beer in a polypin is very easy –  you cut out the perforated square of cardboard that covers the tap;   put the box on a table and serve.    Sedimented beer whether in a polypin or a cask must be allowed to settle for 24 hours, at cellar temperature, and then not moved.   A cask, before settling, must be tapped – a wooden or plastic tap must be hammered through the wooden bung in the end of the cask – and spiled – a wooden peg must be hammered through the wooden bung in the top of the cask – this will be removed whilst the beer is being served and put back afterwards.   A 9 gallon Firkin weighs around 50 kgs, so the table or stillage must be sturdy.   There must be room to get your glass under the tap so you can’t put it on the floor!   If you are planning to use up all the beer in a cask in one day, you can probably put it on a table in your garden, in a place that’s going to be shady all day, leave it to settle overnight, with a cold wet towel over it.   Keep the towel cold and wet till your party starts,  then take the towel away, take out the spile so that beer will come out of the tap, and serve it.   If there’s any left over at the end of the day, put the spile back in, replace the towel, and leave overnight again, and it will be fine for another day.   But possibly not for a 3rd day, and not if standing in the sun.

Do you run brewery tours?

Yes we do, please take a look at this page for more information and to download our information sheet

Ballards Brewery

The Old Sawmill, Nyewood, Hampshire GU31 5HA
Telephone: 01730 821362 or 01730 821301

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