Friday, December 12, 2008

Nix on faux Fuller's casks

As if a US Governor selling a senatorship weren't bad enough, now a famous brewery is peddling its kegged beer as cask ale.

Alex Hall at Ale Street News on-line edition reports that the London, England brewery Fuller's may be promoting ersatz real ale as the real thing here in the US.

Real ale —or cask-conditioned ale— is brewery fresh ale: the beer is racked into a cask while fermentation is ongoing, and then shipped out. Most casks have a volume of 10.8 gallons and are called 'firkins'. So, in a manner, the brewery has shipped a pub a small fermenting vat. And that is, indeed, brewery fresh.

At the pub, the cask is traditionally served via a handpump —also known as a beer engine. As a server pulls back on the pump's handle, a piston mechanism 'pulls' the beer from the cask in a cellar or refrigerator up to the tap. No extraneous carbon dioxide pressure is needed or used.

cask cooler
A real beer engine at Rustico Restaurant and Bar in Alexandria, Va.

Hall reports that, here in the US, the historic English brewery Fuller's has been apparently installing what he calls 'simulators': bar towers that resemble beer engines, but are actually well-disguised standard taps, merely activated by a pumping action. These are used to dispense filtered, pasteurized, and artificially carbonated kegged beer ... as are most undisguised taps in the US.

What Fuller's allegedly has done —and fellow English brewery Marstons' before it— is a travesty. If Fullers' kegged beer is of good quality —which it is— the brewery should be proud to present it as it is. But Fuller's —or any other brewery— should not pass off its kegged beer as 'living' cask beer.

I don't have metrics to prove so, but relying upon anecdotal evidence, I can attest that more and more breweries in the US are producing cask ale. [While I was employed at Baltimore, Md.'s Clipper City Brewing Company from 2004 through 2008, its annual production of cask ale increased 20 fold.]

Even so, cask ale sales remain at only a tiny fraction of beer sales nationwide. This is a nascent thing; it should be encouraged and developed, not mocked with insincerity. So, shame on you, Fuller's.
  • Alex Hall promotes cask ale in the greater New York City area. At his informative site on cask ale, he has posted a photo of a simulator in a scatological pose:
  • At beer festivals and special occasions, casks are sometimes served without a beer engine but directly from the cask through a simple 'gravity' tap.
  • Working for a wine and beer distributor in northern Virginia, I sell cask ale from breweries other than Fuller's, and thus might have a conflict-of-interest.

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