Cask beer, or “real ale” as the Brits say, is unique in that the beer is naturally carbonated inside the vessel from which it is to be served. The simplest way to serve this beer is called gravity dispense. This method is outlined below.
- Stillage (the stand on which the cask rests)
- 1 Hard Spile
- 1 Soft Spile
- 1 Faucet
1) SET UP THE CASK WHERE IT IS GOING TO BE SERVED
Ideally, the cask should be stored in a cooler horizontally for 24 hours prior to service. This allows yeast and any additives to settle and for the beer to pour clear. The stillage should be set up where the cask is to be tapped and I recommend placing a folded rag in the center of the stillage below the cask to collect any runoff of beer or condensation. It is best to bring the cask to the stillage and to let it sit in place there for at least ½ hour prior to service. See diagram below for proper set up configuration:
2) INSERT HARD SPILE INTO SHIVE BY MEANS OF MALLET.
It is useful to place a rag over the hard spile before driving it in to help prevent explosive messes. Remember you need to easily remove this hard spile with your finger in a few moments, so don’t drive it in too hard.
3) INSERT FAUCET INTO KEYSTONE BY MEANS OF MALLET.
If you drape a rag over the faucet and keystone as you drive in the faucet you will reduce mess. Be sure not to force the rag into the kestone as you strike. It takes less effort to drive in the faucet than one would think. If it starts to spray, keep driving until it stops. As with any valve, when the lever is perpendicular to the faucet, the valve is closed.
4) POUR A BIT OF BEER TO RELEASE PRESSURE.
About one glass should suffice.
5) REPLACE HARD SPILE WITH SOFT SPILE
Do this carefully and be sure you have rags ready. If beer spurts out, leave in the hard spile. Gently work the hard spile back and forth in the shive with your fingers until you hear the hiss of gas being released. Let the cask vent for a few minutes then try again.
If the soft spile becomes saturated with beer it will not breathe properly. For this reason, it is crucial to not insert the soft spile until enough pressure has been released from the cask so that no beer leaks from the shive.
6) TASTE AND SERVE
Please do not serve beer if there is something noticeably wrong with it. Be aware the carbonation level of the cask may fluctuate considerably.