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MeridianFC
01-21-2004, 12:41 PM
I wanted to open up a separate thread for this since we've already taken the other poor fellows thread requesting pub info miles off course. It was last seen run aground in the Irish Sea. I've been assured that rescue efforts are ongoing.

Anyhow, I wanted to follow up with something Richard English said in that thread regarding cask breathers. This is subject that is fairly new to me and I had been under a false impression about how the device operated. I had, wrongly it seems, assumed the device sat atop the firkin in the area of the bung, and as beer was pumped out and air came in, that this device would allow CO2 to build up naturally and blanket the beer. So sort of pressure valve variation. Well according to this:

http://www.shef.ac.uk/~racs/bmat/tech.html

it's a much different system. It actually works off of tanks of CO2 that would be around to dispense the keg beer. Seeing the schematic like that I can see why many in CAMRA would be opposed. There's nothing natural or real about hauling in tanks of gas to "blanket" the beer.

Now in the interest of fairness I did find that the Cambridge branch did a blind taste test in 1999 where they found "The trials proved that even experienced beer-tasters could not tell the difference", given what I think was a pretty extreme set of circumstances (3 day vented real ale v. 8-10 old "breather" beer).

http://www.cambridge-camra.org.uk/1999/cask-breather.html

There is plenty of opinion to be found pro and con (more con to be honest). I can definitely understand the benefit of the breather, especially for a pub that's struggling to keep real ale available, or places like the US where the demand just isn't there yet, but the system as set out above definitely seems to contrevene the core ideals that CAMRA espouse.

I'm sure this is a debate which will rage for a while.

Opinions?

Are there any other variations on the above described system that anyone is aware of?

K.

BTW this is some pretty top notch piss taking:

http://www.telfordpages.co.uk/camra/whatsboring.asp

Theakston
01-21-2004, 03:00 PM
Good idea to create this thread.
To me the objection to this practice is an example of the misguided orthodoxy that is often found in CAMRA. But it's good that they can take the piss out of themselves at the same time.

My experience with cask breathers are that they are good at preserving slow moving products. A good compromise in certain situations. The ones I have seen (and that is a good 15 years ago) consisted of an "on demand valve" on the side of the Cask where the bung hole or shive usually is.

This is the wooden bit where the cask is allowed to breath. When a cask first arrives in a pub it is prepared with a soft spile hammered into it to act as an exhaust for CO2. After it has settled out and, as it is drained so there is no longer enough CO2 to fill the space left as the beer is dispensed, so the spile is removed and air is allowed to replace the beer through this hole.

using a breather comes into play at this point. The cask can be prepared and spiled in the normal way. Once there is insufficient CO2 in the cask however, rather than allowing air into the cask which would cause it to spoil more quickly, the breather is connected to the shive. This replaces the air in the Cask with CO2 Used properly (i.e. with the gas pressure set to 1 atmosphere) the extraneous gas will not be absorbed into the beer.

This does involve hauling in tanks of gas however.
I can't belive this quote from the link you gave:

"it is generally agreed that by preventing all oxidation in the beer the flavour never gets a chance to fully develop resulting in bland mediocre beers."

Perhaps this guy only considers two-week-old skanky dregs to be fully developed! But seriously, at the start of the keg - which is when most cask drinkers would say the beer was on top form -there is no difference at all. Neither method would have exposed the beer to oxygen as far as I can see. the cask is still giving up its own CO2 which will prevent oxygen from interacting with the beer. It's only towards the end of the cycle that extraneouos CO2 would be pumped in.

chazwicke
01-21-2004, 03:17 PM
I wonder what the average life of a keg is in most pubs. It seems to me that the blanket may never be needed if the beer is consumed over a couple of days. This is an interesting discussion. Thanks for bringing it over to a new thread.

MeridianFC
01-21-2004, 03:19 PM
Thanks for the more techinical info Th.

I'm really of two minds on this subject. The purist in me says, outside CO2 tanks nullifies the ideal of cask. However, having worked in the trade and being an American cask supporter I can see many scenarios where a cask breather is the difference between a pub/bar being able to sell real ale and not.

Is there no system for re-hard spiling a cask, say over night, to rebuild some of the natural CO2 levels?

MeridianFC
01-21-2004, 03:23 PM
Originally posted by chazwicke
I wonder what the average life of a keg is in most pubs. It seems to me that the blanket may never be needed if the beer is consumed over a couple of days. .

Really depends on the pub and the season. Sometimes you rip through beer, sometimes business is slow. I used to work at this Oirish joint (Murphy's in Woodley Park for those local to DC) where we could race through 4-5 kegs of Guiness in a weekend. If business was slow it might be over a week without changing a single one. Some of the micros we carried moved very slow indeed, but hey we offered them in addition to the much quicker moving Lite and Bud.

If you've got the appx. 72 hours to kill a firkin that can prove difficult if business dips.

chazwicke
01-21-2004, 03:27 PM
Not to get this thread sidetracked but are either of you going to RFD next week for the tastings? I am trying to get there Wednesday.

MeridianFC
01-21-2004, 03:48 PM
This is the extreme beer thing right? I've been leaning towards not going as I'm just about done in with 144%abv and 25,000IBU beers. I love complex, strong, well hopped, etc. beer but I think the envelope was been well pushed. That said I always like to try that which can not elsewhere be got.*

I'll see what's on offer and get back to you.

*One of these days I'll experiment with sentence structure and correct grammar & spelling. Not today though. :cool:

chazwicke
01-22-2004, 09:04 AM
I hear you with the extreme beer thought. My usual session beer are fairly well balanced and may sometimes lean to the hoppy side. I can take extreme IBUs ove extreme alcohol anyday though.

How about you Theakson? Are you going to RFD's tastings?

threecb
01-22-2004, 09:36 AM
If indeed the pressure is set to just "blanket" the beer, then I say it's a necessary thing that can help spread the joy of cask in the US. It might not be true to the spirit of it, but it'll help keep the movement spreading.

What would you rather have, a nice, fresh-tasting "breather" beer, or a cask beer past it's prime because it's not moving as fast as it should?

Theakston
01-22-2004, 09:54 AM
That's the lupulin smackdown right? I don't know for sure. I may make it along to this - I'll know better next week. We'll have to do a cask at the Reef sometime too. This week we'll be working on depleting my stash as I just got another 3 deliveries from the beer club! (WitchfinderPorter, Malheur4 and Deus).

To get back to the thread:
1) Hard Spile - that's what they do under the normal course of events to keep pressure once the cask is flowing. They switch from a soft to a hard spile. The breather is kind of a last resort when the cellar guy thinks that it would spoil without it.
2) If I remember correctly the normal shelf life for a cask is 3-4 days, with the breather it can last 7-8 days.

MeridianFC
01-22-2004, 10:31 AM
I can see two separate themes here:

1. Breathers as they relate to CAMRA and beer service in the UK

2. Breathers as they relate to emerging real ale service in the US.

I think the lines can/will be drawn a lot harder in the UK as real ale is an established (under threat still?) part of the culture. In the US I think a lot of places that serve "real ale" would be forced to use such a device to even make cask coniditioned beer possible. I'd love it if there was a real ale bar around that moved through the firkins with much dispatch, but I think we all know that that place is a far off dream at present. The norm here is for a decent beer bar to have a handpump, two if you're lucky. I don't know about your experience, but I'm usually the only one drinking cask in any bar I happen to be in that has it. Unless I've brought someone with me that is.

BTW do any of y'all happen to have Ivor Clissold's "Guide to Cellarmanship"? It's out of print and when I last E-mailed CAMRA they weren't sure when or if they'd be bringing it back. I sent away for the Craft Beer Guilds guide weeks ago, but I've not heard back from them yet.

threecb
01-22-2004, 11:00 AM
For the bars/brewpubs that I go to that have a handpump, at least half of them have it set up where they tap on a particular day (Friday, more often than not) and it goes until it runs out, which is usually by the end of the weekend, maybe into Monday. Then they don't put another on until the next Friday (or whatever day). So I guess if it's gone through in 3 days, breathers aren't an issue. Though sometimes I'll go into my local on a Tuesday and they'll still have the cask from Friday going...may be questionable unless it's a breather setup.

I'm going to start asking around at some of the local spots and see how they're doing it with real ale...how fast does it move, breather or not...

Richard English
01-22-2004, 11:50 AM
CAMRA's view is that, if the publican is good at his job, the breather is not necessary. Remember, a cask is not just a cask. Casks come in all sorts of sizes in the UK - from a pin (4.5 Imperial gallons or just 36 Imperial pints) up to a tun, 216 Imperial gallons. Most pubs will use Firkins (9 Gallons) or Kilderkins (18 gallons). Any pub that can't shift 36 pints of beer before it goes off isn't doing much of a trade.

It is part of the craft of cellarmanship to order the right size of container to meet the demand - just as is the case for other sellers of perishable goods.

In the UK it is now rare to get poor beer - and quite acceptable to take it back for a refund or replacement if it's not right. Indeed, most good pubs (and all Wetherspoons) will let you have a free sample before you buy.

Breathers take away some of the risk; fizz beer kegs take it all away and this is the reason why chemical fizz beer is so liked by the brewers and the sellers. It is a sterile and highly profitable commodity - it's just a shame it tastes so foul.

In the USA, where the tradition of cask beer is only now being reborne, it may take some time before the skill levels are at a level where most bars can deal with the complexities of selling cask beer.

denver brewhoo
01-22-2004, 12:26 PM
as a homebrewer, in the USA, I just find it funny that if I brew a 6 gallon batch, and rack 5 gallons of it into a Cornelius keg with a little corn sugar, and seal it with the 5psi of CO2 that's necessary to seat the gasket (a"blanket", sort of), and let it naturally carbonate for 2 weeks, and then dispense it using CO2 at say 8psi, just to push it out of the keg, I'm now the proud creator of a chemical fizzy dead beer....

...but the other gallon, that I racked into a bottling bucket, primed with corn sugar, then bottled, and let naturally carbonate for the same two weeks, is a bottle-conditioned real ale.

I think that in this country, I'm in about the 99th percentile in terms of caring how my beer is made and insisting on the best. And I've posted elsewhere how much I love cask-conditioned bitters, when I'm in a place where they are available. But (and I realize this says more about me than about the debate) I just can't get too worked up about this particular facet of the real ale debate. And I suspect the same is true with regard to my fellow countrymen, for better or worse.

Richard English
01-22-2004, 01:42 PM
Quote "...as a homebrewer, in the USA, I just find it funny that if I brew a 6 gallon batch, and rack 5 gallons of it into a Cornelius keg with a little corn sugar, and seal it with the 5psi of CO2 that's necessary to seat the gasket (a"blanket", sort of), and let it naturally carbonate for 2 weeks, and then dispense it using CO2 at say 8psi, just to push it out of the keg, I'm now the proud creator of a chemical fizzy dead beer....

...but the other gallon, that I racked into a bottling bucket, primed with corn sugar, then bottled, and let naturally carbonate for the same two weeks, is a bottle-conditioned real ale..."


That is quite inaccurate and is indicative of a lack of understanding of the difference between cask beer and "chemical fizz"

I have reied to explain ofetn enough what the differences are; sadly I seem to have failed.