Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Real Ale Tap Rx

You've cellared the cask. You've spiled it and brought it into condition. It's ready, and you tap it. The tap malfunctions, and you can't draw any beer. What do you do?

What you do not do is invert the cask, keystone up, to remove the bad faucet. This would re-suspend the yeast and proteinaceous trub (otherwise known as sludge) into the beer, and you'd get cloudy beer. Worse, the beer would gain unpleasant off-flavors such as yeast-bite (agressive non-hop bitterness), meat-like flavors (from the yeast), and (if isinglass finings were used by the brewer) a fishy taste. (Isinglass is the ground-up remnants of the swim-bladder of sturgeon fish. It is a traditional agent used to clarify cask ale, a procedure not as common in the US as in the UK.)

So, what should you do?

Disturb the cask as little as possible, and:

1) Create a no-flow situation. Leaving the cask on its side, seal it by inserting a hardwood spile into the top shive bung. (In the photo, it's the small wooden plug on the top of the cask.)

Cask Rx (1)

2) Showing no fear, remove the tap. This may require a few soft taps with a mallet side-to-side to jigger the faucet loose. Stand clear! There may be a quick spurt of beer that will quickly end. Think of a finger on a drinking straw filled with liquid. Little flows until the finger releases. It's the same with the hard spile inserted.

Cask Rx (2)

3) Insert the new tap with one quick firm tap of the mallet. Remove the hard spile, and voila! Draw some beer.

Cask Rx (3)

  • These photos were taken outside at Rustico Restaurant in Alexandria, Virginia, on Saturday, 10 October, for its second annual OktoBEERfest celebration.
  • Caveat lector: As a representative for a northern Virginia beer/wine wholesaler, I sell beers to Rustico, including those from Clipper City Brewing Company.


  1. enjoyed the fest... esp the pumpkin beers. looking forward to pouring sunday morning at the brewfest!

  2. Brandon_Milhouse4410/15/09, 6:10 AM

    Too many times you see the cask up righted and the tap pulled and replaced. I stay clear of those casks. The other thing that gets me is when folks tip the cask to sell that last pint. ugh! Great post. A lot of breweries are new to cask conditioned ales they need to be educated.


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