Developments in Traditional Practices Offer Real Ales for “Green” Drunkers
1. A revolutionary new method of storing cask beer in pub cellars “could see real ale reaching out to a new audience (sic) of drinkers,” run the claims for Marston’s Fast Cask enterprise introduced during Cask Ale Week (29 March to 5th April), “with the aim of attracting thousands of new pubs to real beer.”
2. Fast Cask involves a form of yeast treatment that allows beer to drop bright quickly while still undergoing a secondary formation. The system has been invented to tackle the problem that cask beer is not available in 46% of pubs and bars in Britain as a result of lack of cellars or the “misplaced belief” that real ale is “difficult to look after and serve.” Fast Cask will be used initially for Marston’s Pedigree and Wychwood Hobgoblin. It involves removing yeast at the end of the primary fermentation and replacing it with “beads” of fresh yeast specially encapsulated in a permeable cover. It could be compared with the functions and convenience of leaf tea in bags and with the encapsulation of volatile or unstable factors (such as enzymes and flavoring) as processing aids to clarify and filter many beverages, as well as to augment biological washing powders. Remnants of these finings would normally sink (drop), leaving a clarified liquid that could be poured or siphoned off, leaving a sludge at the bottom of the container.
3. Cider, wines, non-alcoholic drinks, or beverages can be “fined” in this way. In the cider process the sludge is called scrumpy. An alternative or ancillary procedure called chill-proofing produces similar results; on the other hand, there being no need to clarify the product, apart from customer preferences for “bright” liquors, a beer may be sold cloudy and unfined with little effect on taste or nutrient or alcoholic content: many wheat beers are sold unfined in bottles. Secondary fermentations and clarification are used in champain-style wines and some bottled beers have in the past been served “live,” the pressure arising as CO² from the fermentation enhances the “liveliness” of the drink and a release of gas when the bottle is opened.
4. Traditional methods of fining with proteinaceous agents can be slow, requiring several days, in casks in cramped space and needing freedom of disturbances. Spoilage may occur, with development of off-flavors in premises ill-furnished with the required cellaring facilities. Horizontal storage (or stillage) may be impossible, so many premises, eg in hotels and at functions such as parties and barbecues, may be unable to enjoy the benefits of real beers, even with mini-barrels. Customer demand is inadequate to persuade brewers to sell cask- beers unfined, ie cloudy but still to be regarded as conditioned.
5. Further, some consumers object on various grounds to the fining agents, which are not consumed and not disclosed on labels or at sales points. Millers and bakers are generally freer with their information, but the exemptions for beer and wines are attracting objections from the public (but still too feeble to inform a discriminating choice and regulation of sales of alcoholic drinks). Samuel Smith’s brewery in Tadcaster in Yorkshire deserves praise for informative claims and labelling, which include mention of alginates as the fining agents in the production of their bottled beers and ales, which extend to a range of porters and stouts. Alginates are polysaccharides, much used in the food industry as ingredients for the purposes of filtering and texturing. They derive from harvested seaweeds. Bentonite, a kieselguhr like fuller’s earth, has limited applications; the main proteinaceous agents are products such as isinglass (from fish), gelatine (from a wide variety of animal sources) and albumen (from egg white). Their use in social functions, for instance, embarrasses animal welfarists and environmentalists, among whom are vegetarians who enjoy “the occasional pint” of real ale in good company.
6. Many bottled beers and lagers are sold pasteurized (i.e.”dead,” with halted fermentation) and clarified with unexceptionable filtering agents. However, they would not be recognized as “real” ales. The hops used in some beers are bought in as beads. Such practices exclude the products from inclusion in drinks comprehended by the strict German Reinheitsgebot for beers.
7. The pellets for Fast Cask beers are produced by a process in which fresh yeast solidifies “into small beads that act like tiny sponges. The sugars in the beer diffuse into the beads and a secondary fermentation takes place,” explains Richard Westwood, inventor of Fast Cask. Marston’s is not yet prepared to reveal the process used to produce the beads, as patents are pending. As the beer drops bright almost immediately, it can be served from upright casks that can be moved around at will. In a demonstration at Bank’s Brewery in Wolverton, Richard Westwood produced 2 samples of beer in tall glass laboratory cylinders. One contained traditional yeast cells, the second the new beads. When he agitated the cylinders the traditional yeast remained in suspension, while the beads immediately dropped to the bottom of the cylinder.
8. Stephen Oliver, who runs Marston’s Beer Company, says that the system would eradicate the ages-old problem of casks being knocked in small, crowded pub cellars followed by a delay of several hours until the beer dropped bright again. While casks using the system can be stillaged in the usual horizontal manner in pub cellars, they can also be stored upright if no cellar exists and the beer has to be kept in small spaces at bar level. Both Oliver and Westwood were at pains to stress that casks will have to be tapped and vented to allow them time to breathe, but Fast Cask will enable real ale to become available in many more pubs and also to such outlets as trains and cruise ships. They also pointed out that pubs serving Marston’s cask beers in the traditional manner will continue to be supplied with beer that contains normal yeast cells.
9. We have sought CAMRA’s opinion on Marston’s Fast Cask. “We are certainly very interested in the development,” reports Iain Loe, CAMRA’s Research and Information Manager. “We believe that it does have a use, especially in outlets that would not normally stock cask-conditioned beer. One potential worry is that because the casks drop bright so quickly there might be a danger that some outlets may be tempted to put the beer on sale before a proper secondary fermentation (conditioning) has taken place. Marston’s have said that the casks will be kept for one week after racking so that there should be sufficient secondary fermentation to mean that it really is real ale.”
10. Iain Loe continues: “We are still discussing the matter, but I believe that the system will be rolled out to a number of pubs. I don’t think it will replace entirely “traditional” cask-conditioned beer with finings. Fast Cask is more expensive to produce than traditional cask beer…..Of course Fast Cask, as it does not involve the use of finings, will have a ready customer base with vegans and vegetarians. There is no choice in real ale for people who wish to avoid beers that use finings in their production or dispense. I expect we’ll be hearing quite a lot more about Fast Cask, and it will be interesting if Marston’s license other brewers to use the system.” (However, we wonder if beer sold after a secondary fermentation but unfined and cloudy cannot be sold as “real”. And what goes for beers seems likely to pertain to ciders and perries too).
11. CAMRA met Richard Westwood twice during March 2010 to “discuss and analyse the system,” but we haven’t heard of any decisions. Fast Cask has been used in a number of pubs since last November with no complaints over taste.
12. Consumption of alcoholic drinks has caused much human misery, both in health and behaviour. However, they can contribute in a varied diet, but be excluded when machinery is being used or vehicles being driven. Convenient supplies of cask-conditioned drinks may spread happiness in small doses but would be harmful if they just added to the boozing from tins and bottles that spoil enjoyment, and reserved for slow consumption in truly social occasions. Taxing and restrictions of sales to off-licences rather than in mass purchases in supermarkets must moderate drinking at home and at events. Drunken behaviour in streets and at special occasions should, in an opinion offered by VEGA, be appropriately punished by kWh for miscreants required to work off their excesses by green workouts on tread-mills. The electricity so generated could be metered and fed into the local supply.
13. On St George’s Day this year (23 April) Marston’s launched their EPA, which will only be available using Fast Cask, whereas the other brands are also available in conventional form. The firm thinks “it should be a lot easier to encourage trials of Fast Cask via EPA.”