My friends Charlie and Veronica are off overseas and had a party to farewell friends. Knowing Charlie is a big fan of cask conditioned real ale I offered to do a brew for the party that would be suitable to be served with a beer engine (a handpump).
Using a recipe for a NZ pale ale (a recipe that won a gold medal in the national homebrew competition) I dropped the alcohol content to about 4.5% and dropped the late hopping levels back a little so that we would have a session beer that tasted good all evening.
The brew went to plan and the beer was in the fermentor for 3 weeks before I had time to try and figure out how it was going to be prepared for serving. I had initially been under the impression that hand pumped beer is served with almost no dissolved CO2, but with a little research I found that traditional cask conditioned ales are actually served with light carbonation that is present in the beer due to natural fermentation in the same way that bottled home brewed beer is carbonated by the secondary fermentation.
I had made about 33L of the beer, and soon figured out that my normal plastic containers that I use for fermenting and conditioning were not going to be suitable to hold any pressure and so I got hold of a 50L stainless steel sanke keg. Getting the circlip off so I could get in and clean the keg was a bit of a mission, but I eventually had the keg cleaned and the beer in the keg with enough dextrose to carbonate the beer to about 1.5 volumes. With only 4 days until the party I was concerned that I had left it a little late, but kept the keg warm and my fingers crossed.
I transported the keg to the venue the day before the party and managed to chill it to about 4 degrees overnight before the party.
I had attached a normal keg coupler to the keg, with a regulator on the gas in line to stop the pressure flowing out and a picnic tap on the beer out line. The night before the party we slowly let the pressure off the keg by using the pressure to pour a few glasses of beer through the picnic tap. These first few glasses were quite cloudy but were tasting good. As the keg had not been chilled at that stage it is possible that the beer had not dropped bright by then, but most likely it was the sanke spear picking the beer up off the very bottom of the keg, and taking any yeast that had sedimented out at the same time.
The evening of the party the hand pumps arrived and we hooked the keg up (picnic tap and regulator removed, beer out line put into handpump). The beer served beautifully through the hand pump and was a hit with the party people. Even the kiwis who are used to being served fizzy cold beer were complimenting the cask conditioned real ale. I was pleased to see that the 33L in the keg emptied before the 2 other handpump beers at the party!
Now with Christmas only a couple of weeks away I need to get some more brews down as my beer collection in the shed is getting very low.