I moved over to the UK in 2003, having grown up in South Africa. I grew up thinking that I loved beer. I always ended my day with a Windhoek or a Hansa Pilsner, I was aiming high. Those were the “premium” lagers. I had discovered international beers at a few pubs in Cape Town during the 90s. These beers were few and far between. We had a small smattering of microbreweries in South Africa, but they were very few and scarce, and cask beer was unheard of. Castle was on draught, along with the other SAB offerings; the ales we could get from Mitchell’s, for example, were all bottled beers.
I moved to the UK and promptly went through the lager offerings at the corner shops, also something new as you can only buy beer in South Africa in a bottle store, or off licence, and the offerings were huge. I found some Ales and that led me to a pub where I had a cask. I can’t remember what it was, but it blew me away. And that was that.
After a long interval of work and life, I had fallen out of love with my job and into a love affair with ale. I quit my job and went to work for Twickenham Fine Ales, where we only racked cask. 100% cask, nothing else.
Cask beer is alive, it is unfiltered and unpasteurised, the yeast is still active. The beer is racked into the cask with a bit of priming sugar and a small amount of finings. This is where I think a lot of controversies comes in. Many brewers still use isinglass to clarify their beers with, this cuts out a huge segment of people who are either vegan or vegetarian. We never used finings as we wanted everyone to enjoy our beers with us. Lack of isinglass creates a haze in beer, which for some people is still unacceptable, for me not so. I love cask beer, I don’t mind the haze, if it’s an unfined beer. Refraining from fining and leaving sediment can, paradoxically, improve the flavour of beer thanks to not stripping it of some of the protein and hop particles. Not to mention that it can help it sustain its body and mouthfeel.
Cask beer needs looking after. One must treat it with respect. Cask beer is meant to be drunk fresh, once the cask is opened it needs to be served quickly. It starts oxidising and losing its carbonation in a blink of an eye. Moncada Notting Hill cask beers are amazing. We do our cask well. We treat it with care and attention it deserves. We encourage our customers in pubs to show the same amount of love for our casks and casks in general. We still don’t use isinglass, our beers are still vegan and vegetarian-friendly, slightly hazy and full of flavour.
I love good cask ale. Partially because I know of the sweat and tears that went into that pint. I know how back-breaking it feels to be cleaning casks for 3 days running. I also know of the effort made by the publican to condition the cask, to have racked it and tapped it and got it the glass in perfect condition.
Article by Raph Basan, Brewer