Brewing, in various forms, has been practiced for over 5000 years. The modern brewing process combines malted barely, hops, water and yeast to produce a moderate strength alcoholic beverage. Malted barley and other cereal grains are steeped in hot water to produce a sugary liquid called “wort” during a process called “mashing”. The wort is drained into a kettle as the grains are rinsed with more hot water- which is collected in the kettle during what is called the “sparging” process. The wort is boiled in the kettle for 90 minutes, during which time hops are typically added to provide bitterness, flavor, and aroma to the beer. (The timing of the “hopping” can be just as critical to the recipe as the type and variety of hops used). The beer is cooled to 67 degrees F and transferred to a tank where it is combined with yeast, and fermentation occurs. During fermentation yeast consumes sugar from the wort and produces alcohol, carbon dioxide, and flavor components. After one week of fermentation the beer is chilled to 32 degrees F and matured for another week. The beer is then clarified, carbonated, and (in the case of most Ales) ready to drink approximately two and a half weeks after brewing. Drink and repeat!
Cask conditioning is the process of maturation of beer in a cask, or metal barrel firkin, and is the traditional British method of serving beer. Cask conditioning employs the use of a secondary (in cask) fermentation, as opposed to a single fermentation method typically used in modern brewing. This technique was originally the only way to mature and carbonate beer before the advent of compressed CO2. Once the beer is sufficiently aged and carbonated it is served directly from the cask at cellar temperature (50-55 degrees F) without any additional CO2, using a hand powered pump called a beer engine. The cool, not cold, temperature and lower carbonation emphasizes the malt component of the beer and is an excellent way to present traditional ales and stouts.