The science of alcohol
The science of alcohol

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The science of alcohol

4.1 Cask conditioning

Cask ale or cask-conditioned beer is unfiltered. The beer is conditioned (including secondary fermentation) and served from a cask (a container traditionally used to store beer). It is then pumped up from a cellar via a hand pump. Sometimes a cask breather is used to keep the beer fresh by allowing carbon dioxide to replace oxygen as the beer is drawn off the cask. The term ‘real ale’ as used by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) refers to beer ‘served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide’.

James Clarke from Hook Norton now describes how beer should be presented to consumers. Given the number of proactive steps taken in the brewing process to ensure a high-quality product, it is important for breweries such as Hook Norton to increase customer awareness of how their finished beer should be stored and presented to consumers to ensure this is reflective of the actual beer quality.

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The category of beer is so broad in this country. Our traditional ales are probably what we're best known for. But now you're having beers brewed across a whole plethora lots, of new and different styles of lagers, someday even sour beers, which sometimes sour, in most beers would be an off flavour. But there are some beers that are of a sour style, particularly some of the Belgian beers. So seeing this whole range of diversity now, which is absolutely fantastic, the job, then, that you need to do is making sure that we're not just informing the consumer about the beers but making sure that the retailers, the people within that supply, that distribution chain before people drink them actually know how to look after them, how to care for the beer, and actually what the beer should taste like. So when they're dispensing it, it is the right standard. If it's a bottled or a canned beer, so what you'd call a packaged beer, that's more straightforward because, you keep it at the right temperature and generally the beer's going to dispense nicely. If it's a draft beer, so in a keg or a cask, then there are beer pipes from the cellar to the bar, they need cleaning. And if it's a cask-conditioned beer or real ale, then a bit more husbandry is needed, looking after the secondary fermentation in the cask. So it's quite complex. And then even down to glassware. And glassware is one of the last big challenges for us as brewers, because a nice, clean properly washed and properly rinsed glass will present the beer fantastically. And we're seeing different ranges of different styles of beer glass for different beer, so generally a stronger beer would be in a smaller glass, probably a stem glass. Whereas perhaps a lower strength beer might be in a slightly larger measure. But unless that-- no matter what size that glass is, and that's that glass has been properly cleaned-- which means having your glass washer properly serviced with the quality detergents and the water softener, everything, and doing a very simple test, what's called the water break test. Look it up online. It's worth doing. If the glass isn't clean, it will kill the beer. It will kill the head. If you have any fat residue, lipstick residue, or hard water scale, they'll tend to kill any head and presentation of beer. So some people find it slightly amusing when you talk about glass and the cleanliness of it, but unless that glass is clean, it's not going to dispense properly. And you wouldn't accept a plate of food on a dirty plate, so don't accept a beer if the glassware doesn't look clean or the presentation of the beer isn't right.
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