Saturday, February 15, 2014

Pic(k) of the Week: High Prime

High Prime (02)

As part of its 20th anniversary celebrations, Legend Brewing Company (of Richmond, Virginia) invited 'celebrities' from the Virginia beer world to prepare and tap casks of beer. I've been honored by the brewery to be one of those guest 'caskateers.'

To fill 'my' cask, I chose a beer that is more about the flavor of malt than the spice of hop: Legend Brown Ale.
Our most popular beer, Legend's is a full bodied version of a British Brown Ale. Expect a rich, malt-forward brew with a beautiful mahogany tone. Generous amounts of specialty malts bring flavors of sweet caramel, toasted nuts, coffee, and molasses, all perfectly balanced by a steady but cautious hop dryness. Fruity undertones provided by our house yeast strain bring the final flavor element to round out this world class ale. 5.8% Alc. By Vol.

Further, I wished to eschew the 'American-style' of cask ale: to avoid the twigs, berries, fruity pebbles, cocoa-puffs, and dingleberries so often added to American casks. Those encumbrances, as a fellow blogger wrote, make American casks, in effect, large stainless steel Randalls. 1 No, I wanted 'my' cask to taste of its ur-essence: a brown ale of brilliant from-the-fermenter freshness, unsullied by all that galling frou-frou. After all, I like the taste of beer; I don't need kiddy flavors in mine. Legend beers taste good as they are.

Above, at Legend Brewing, I'm filling a beaker with Brown Ale that is at the stage of high-krausen [pronounced CROY —like the 'oy' in boy— zin]. In other words, I'm filling the flask with some Brown Ale that has just begun its active fermentation stage, abundant with happily reproducing yeast, and containing almost as much malt sugar per fluid ounce as the wort had begun with. (You can see how active the fermentation is: just look at the 'overflow' in the foreground.)

I added that solution to a cask into which I had racked (filled) 5.4 gallons from a different batch of Brown Ale that was its opposite: quiescent, fully fermented. I stuffed in two ounces of whole leaf Golding hops (traditional English hops, appropriate to the style) in cheese-cloth bags, and then I sealed the cask by hammering in a shive bung. (Well, actually, it was Aaron Sanders, Legend's cellarman, who did the honors for me. My Keystone Kops story: here.)

The cask will sit for 10 days at about 65 °F, during which time it will come 'into condition,' that is, the frothy solution, that I had added, will fully ferment, infusing the entire cask with approximately 1.2 volumes of carbon dioxide bubbles. (Typical bottled beer contains around 2.6 volumes of CO2.)

Mr. Sanders and the cellar staff will then crash-cool the cask to 38 °F. At that cold temperature, most of the yeast, haze-proteins, and any loose hop matter will eventually fall to the bottom of the cask, below the level of the keystone bung, which is where the tap will be inserted. In other words, gravity and cold will have clarified the beer.

Legend February Anniversary Pin 2014

Before service, the cask will be allowed to warm back to proper 'cellar temperature,' about 54 °F. 2 All that will remain will be to tap it and to drink it. That, I'll be doing this Thursday evening, 20 February 2014, at 6 pm, in Legend Brewing's upstairs pub.

I should thank all the folk at Legend who made this happen. I'll mention four: Tom Martin, owner (for having the courage to start the whole thing 20 years ago); John Wampler, brewmaster (for brewing the beer); Dave Gott, vice-president of operations (for inviting me); and, Aaron Sanders, cellarman (for doing the 'heavy lifting' during the racking session).

I'm a 'celebrity'! Who knew?

Photo taken:
Legend Brewing Company
Richmond (Manchester), Virginia.
8 February 2014.

  • More about Legend Brewing's 20th anniversary celebrations: here.
  • More pics from the racking session (and the tapping) here.
  • 1 The whimsically-named Randall the Enamel Animal is an invention of Dogfish Head Brewing, in which draft beer is run through, what is, in essence, a large coffee press. Sometimes the device is filled with hops, but, more often, with herbs, spices, and other flavorings. It was the beer blogger D_I_N_G —a British ex-pat based in Atlanta, Georgia— who first drew the analogy between flavored casks and the Randall. Here's his post.
  • 2 I've edited my original post to include the observation that the cask will be served at the cask-proper temperature of 54 °F. See the readers' comments below.
  • Pic(k) of the Week: one in a weekly series of personal photos, often posted on Saturdays, and often, but not always, with a good fermentable as a subject.
  • Camera: Olympus Pen E-PL1.
  • Commercial reproduction requires explicit permission, as per Creative Commons.


  1. I've got no problem with unusual ingredients, but from the UK side of the pond, US cask-conditioned ale is, as you say, more about adding wacky ingredients than showcasing what a sublime pleasure an unfiltered, cellar-cool, gently naturally carbonated beer can be. Good on ya!

    I'm intrigued about the crash-cooling - is that in lieu of using isinglass to clear the yeast out? (I'd be worried it might dumb down some of the brown ale's esters?). Will you then allow it to warm to cellar temp (c.50-54F) before serving it?

    Anyway, it sounds great. Rich brown cask ales are sadly pretty few & far between in my local cask ale pubs. Cheers!

    1. Mike,

      Thanks for the comments and the question. I should have expounded on the finings issue.

      Many (but not all) U.S. breweries/brewpubs producing/serving cask ale do NOT use isinglass finings (although some are experimenting with a silica-based product know commercially as BioFine). In this case, Legend is using cold temperature (38 °F or 3 °C) as its substitute.

      But, when it comes time to serve the beer, the cask will have been allowed to rise to a serving temperature more appropriate, at or around 54 °F (12 °C). Serving it much cooler, let alone 3 °C, would, of course, defeat the whole purpose of the thing.

      I'll tell you how it is, Thursday!


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