Firkin good beer

Cask ale has been considered for centuries to be draught craft beer in its finest form. The history of cask ale seems to have faded a bit in the late 20th century. Luckily for groups like CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) in England and breweries like Upstream Brewing Company in Omaha, this naturally soft and exquisite ale lives on!

The most common delivery form of beer has been in a wooden barrel (cask) until the 1950s. The tradition of cask ale, also referred to as real ale, is common in England. Today, visitors to London might think it is warm, flat, beer but this is simply not the case. Consumers gravitate to what they know as craft beer, which tends to be chilled and bubblier with the addition of carbon dioxide (CO2).

To appreciate cask ales, you need to understand what goes into them. Dallas Archer, head brewer at Upstream Brewing, has kept the tradition of creating cask ales for over ten years. Archer explained that these ales go through a process called cask conditioning. In this process, the beer goes through a secondary fermentation where yeast is still active in the cask. Small amounts of a sugar solution are added allowing the yeast to feed, thus producing CO2 naturally for softer carbonation.

Archer went on to say that the modern casks are no longer wooden and are now metal. Two of the most common sizes are Pin – 5.4 gallons and Firkin – 10.8 gallons. In these vessels, the beer conditions anywhere from 10 to 20 days before it is ready. The cask is tapped with a mallet and poured either from a gravity pour tap or a hand pump beer engine. The beer is served at cellar temperature, which is around 55 degrees.

Some favorite cask styles over the years at Upstream Brewing have been stouts, scotch ales, IPAs, and many others. Archer recalls a version of the scotch ale that had sriracha toasted pecans that was incredibly unique. One of the most recent ones was a Milkshake Hopfenweizen. There is beautiful hop aroma in this golden-orange beer. A nice creamy head on this ale with tropical fruit notes in an exceptional soft body.

The pandemic has caused the cancelation of events at this time. When things return to normal, Upstream Brewing plans on continuing to host a special cask ale charity fundraiser — one of the most special craft beer events in the Midwest. 

Take the opportunity to enjoy what cask ales are all about at Upstream Brewing in Omaha’s Old Market.


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