• The Basics
  • Macro vs. Micro
  • The Law
  • Ingredients
  • Cask Ale

Beer: The Basics

Beer is a fermented beverage principally made from four ingredients; water, malted barley, hops, and yeast. Each one of these ingredients will impart its own flavour characteristics to the finished product, one which is almost as old as civilization itself.

One Egyptian recipe called for bread to be left out in the rain and then allowed to ferment. The result was a soggy but mysteriously invigorating concoction.

Some aboriginals in South America still make a brew called chicha. It is made of corn that is chewed by the tribal women, spat into a bowl, and allowed to ferment for a few days before being consumed by the whole tribe. This could possibly put a whole new spin on the role of women in advertising beer if it were introduced to Canada.


Macro vs. Micro

What is the big deal about a “micro-brew,” isn’t beer all pretty much the same?
Microbreweries (the little guys, however you want to define them) almost universally use craft brewing techniques. This is the traditional method of making beer in single batches. Each recipe is produced to maximize the desirable characteristics of one beer.

On the other hand, macrobrewers (the globally present brand makers) almost always use high gravity brewing to produce their products. Although it may sound like work for NASA, the gravity that is referred to here is just another word for alcohol. In this process beer is fermented to an alcohol content approaching that of wine and then cut with water. The high-­‐alcohol brew is often referred to as a “wort stream” which can be further processed to produce more than one brand. These practices usually result in a less malty and more estery (fruity) product.
Another macro technique is the high budget advertising campaign to convince consumers that there actually is a difference between their brands.


Rhine heights go… what?

You may have heard of the “Bavarian Purity Law,” also known as “Reinheitsgebot.” This German law, dated 1516 and still enforced today, stipulates that only barley malt, hops, and water may be used in the making of beer. It is one of the earliest, and longest running, examples of consumer protection legislation.

Inventive brewers, like inventive cooks, have experimented with the addition of other ingredients in their search for the perfect brew. These additional ingredients are called adjuncts and are any source of carbohydrates other than malted grains. Many brewers, in their search for the perfect bottom line and a stable beer with a longer shelf life, add ingredients such as cane or corn sugar, molasses, corn, and rice in order to provide the sugars required for fermentation without incurring the costs of more expensive malted grains. Though these cheaper ingredients, in restrained quantities, can be used with intelligent care by a craft brewer, macrobrewers tend to be unrestrained in their use.

Japanese sake, has for years been mislabeled “rice wine.” Because rice is a cereal grain, sake is really a form of beer. The Old English word “draught” meant “to pull,” like the draught horses that used to deliver beer kegs back in the day. Before pressurized carbon dioxide and nitrogen were widely used to push beer from the kegs through the lines to the tap, the beer had to be “pulled” with a beer engine (a hand operated piston). Hence the term “draught beer.”



Water, comprising about 96% of the final product, is a key ingredient. While some brewers like to evoke images of pristine glacier fed springs, effectively, water is an easy ingredient to modify by filtration (usually to remove chlorine) or the addition/ subtraction of salts. Hard water tends to be more appropriate to ales while soA water compliments the subtler flavour profile of a lager.

The early Egyptians drank their beer through reeds or tubes so they would not choke on the barley husks leR in the unfiltered brew. Many of the ruling class had golden straws made for sipping their beer.


This ingredient is made from grain, usually barley, that has undergone a process of wetting and drying called malting before the brewer can use it. Raw grain is soaked and begins to germinate (sprout) releasing enzymes that help convert its carbohydrates into fermentable sugars. It is then roasted to stop the germination process. The roasting can vary in duration in order to create different degrees of roasty flavour. The germinated/ roasted grain introduces to the beer; colour, malty sweet flavour, body, and protein to form a good head. The yeast will consume the sugars and produce beer’s intoxicating ingredient (ethanol) and its bubbles (carbon dioxide, CO2).

Single malt Scotch is basically distilled beer. The beer that is produced for distillation is not bittered with hops but the malted barley is often roasted over peat fires which imparts a distinctive smokiness to the whisky.


Hops are the cone-­‐like flowers of a female climbing vine in the cannabis family which can grow as tall as
18 feet. Hops contain oils, bitter acids, and resins that counterbalance the sweetness of the malted
barley, add flavour, provide aroma, and help preserve the beer. Preservation is a key word -­‐ the
same resins and acids that flavor the beer have been found to delay the inevitable effects of bacterial
spoilage, thereby giving beer a longer shelf life.

Beer with strong hop aroma and flavour are said to be “hoppy.” Those who crave bitter beers are characterized as “hopheads.”

Prior to hop usage in beer making, brewers flavoured their beer with flowers, leaves, berries, spices, and a host of odd ingredients, many of which failed miserably. By the 16th century hops became the most widely accepted spice for beer. IPA or India Pale Ale was originally formulated with the idea of surviving shipping from Great Britain to India. It was aggressively hopped in order to survive shipping from the old country to the chaps in the colonies.


Yeast, although present in all fermented beverages, was not discovered until the 18th century. It is a member of the fungus family that, because of its cell-­‐ splitting capabilities, is self-­‐reproducing. Yeast has a voracious appetite for sweet liquids and produces abundant quantities of alcohol (ethanol) and carbon dioxide (bubbles) as a waste product. There are limits to the amount of alcohol that specific yeast strains
can tolerate without dying, one reason for the difference in alcohol between beer and wine.

In the not so distant past, drinking warm ale in cold weather was commonplace. Because all taverns had large fireplaces, small iron pokers called “loggerheads” were hung by the fire to be used for warming drinks. In the heat of argument these pokers were often brandished by inebriated patrons giving rise to the expression “to find yourself at loggerheads.”

Until the mid 19th century all beer was made with top fermenting ale yeast which work best at warm temperatures (15 to 24°c) and produce fruity, distinctive flavours. Advances in chemistry led to the isolation and development of bottom fermenting yeast. which thrive at lower temperatures (3 to 11°c). Lower temperature fermentation takes longer and lead to the term lager, from the German word “to store.” The cleaner, more subtle, flavours associated with lager fermentation have, with rare exception, swept the global mass market.

One of the first lager beers was produced in the town of Pilzen in The Czech Republic leading to the popular style pilsner or pils.

Beer Aromas

Aromas associated with beer mainly come from malt and hops. Malt can smell perfumey-­‐sweet to rich and carmelly. Roasty, toasty, chocolaty are characteristics that come from more heavily kilned malts. Hop aromas are often described as herbal, perfumy, spicy, grassy, floral, piney, and citrusy.

Brewpubs often offer beer for take-­‐out that is poured from the tap into glass jugs called growlers. This name dates back to pre-­‐Prohibition time, when factory workers regularly drank beer with their lunch. Children were paid to run to the local brewery or bar to fill the workers’ pails with beer. The pails were named after the growling stomachs of those waiting.

Definition of “Cask Ale”

Cask ale is unfiltered and unpasteurized. Traditionally cask ale is also cask-­‐conditioned, undergoing a secondary fermentation in the cask. This contrasts with “keg beer” which is generally filtered and carbonated. Cask-­‐conditioned beers are also referred to as “real ales”. It is common in Canada to find cask dispensed brews that are racked off from a larger batch of beer that is designed for filtering and packaging. These racked cask beers do not undergo secondary fermentation but will often have additional hops or other ingredients added to infuse additional flavours.

Beer Delivery Systems

It took until until the 17th century for bottled beer to become commonplace. Up until that time most beer was consumed by pouring it directly out of a cask. Along with advances in science in the later 19th century such as pasteurization and mechanical refrigeration the inevitable march towards tightly controlled, factory produced, mass made and marketed beer had begun. Filtering, pasteurizing, adding controlled amounts of carbon dioxide, and packaging in bottles eliminated the natural variability of cask beer, and the extra care that was needed to properly dispense it. Modern keg beer is identical to bottled beer except that it is pushed to the tap faucet from the keg using a combination of compressed carbon dioxide and nitrogen. The first kegged beer in England was introduced in 1936.

Casks were constructed out of wood until the 1950’s when the use of metal (mainly stainless steel) became widespread. The advantages of metal casks are many: they are airtight which slows the oxidation and spoilage of the beer, stainless steel is also easier to sterilize, is flavour neutral, and is a lot more durable than wood.


Most cask beers are delivered to the pub ready to be prepared for serving. In instances where a freshly casked beer is delivered the cask may have to be cellared for up to a week to let the secondary fermentation finish. It should be noted that cellar temperature is around 10° C plus or minus a couple of degrees, considerably warmer than the sub-­‐zero taste of “cold”.

Most cask-­‐conditioned beers have “finings” added to the cask to help settle the yeast. Finings are most commonly made from a seaweed called Irish moss, which is processed into carrageenan, or Isinglass, which is derived from the swim bladder of various fish. Finings attract particles floating in the beer and drop forming a somewhat gelatinous cake at the bottom of the cask and leaving the brew clearer.

After the cask has been cellared it has to be rolled to distribute the finings through out the brew. The cask is then put into its final serving place and is vented. In the traditional rack setup the cask is vented by knocking a “spile” into the “shive” on the side of cask. When using a spear the cask is vented through the keystone. The cask is left to set for 24 to 48 hours to allow the excess carbon dioxide to vent and the finings to drop. Once the beer has dropped “bright” it is ready to be served.

Liquid Heaven

The lower carbonation, and warmer serving temperature, although not suitable for all beer styles, yields a more aroma=c and flavourful brew that truly “tastes better and is less filling”. While many modern craft brews have their own merits when kegged or bottled there are no shortcuts that reproduce the undeniable charm of the cask-­‐ dispensed beer.

Cask Dispensing

There are two ways of dispensing a cask beer: Gravity or pouring the beer directly out of the cask and pulling the beer out of the cask using a piston called a beer engine or hand pump (patented, 1785). Etymologically speaking, keg beer is not draught as it is pushed to the tap faucet.

A gravity dispensed cask beer is set on its side in a rack that is gently inclined towards its tap end. A tap is hammered into the “keystone” in the end and the brew is poured directly from it. If the cask is located remotely in a cellar or refrigerator a hose will be attached to the tap at one end and the beer engine piston in the serving area. The use of a hand pull also allows you to bypass laying the cask on its side in a rack. The cask can be left upright and beer pulled out of it using a spear or “cask widge” tube that takes the place of the tap. It is also common to pull the beer through a “sparkler”, the beer world equivalent of a kitchen faucet aerator. Forcing the beer through the holes in the sparkler encourages the carbon dioxide to break out of solution and, with the help of proteins in the beer, form a foamy head on top of the brew. There are different grades of sparklers depending on the type of head desired.

Casks and Kegs

As with many traditional systems of measurement definitions of common terms such as barrel vary from country to country. When it comes to casks, British terminology seems to rule. The most common size of cask is a Firkin at 9 imperial gallons or ¼ barrel. The standard keg size at The Beer Store follows American traditions and is ½ barrel or 15 ½ US gallons (12.91 imperial gallons or 58.67 L).

Cask sizes: Pin (4.5 gal.), Firkin (9.0 gal.), Kilderkin (18 gal.), Barrel (36 gal.), Hogshead (54 gal.), BuL (108 gal.), Tun (216 gal.).

The Trouble With Air

Oxidation is the biggest threat to cask beer. As beer is drawn out of the cask air fills the space that remains. Air has an oxygen content of about 21% its effect on the flavour of beer is rapid and not very pretty. The presence of oxygen also encourages the growth of various non-­‐beneficial bacteria that can lead to off-­‐flavours. Heat speeds up both of these detrimental processes. For this reason, you have about three days to consume a refrigerated cask ale and as little as a day for one stored at room temperature.

However science can help even the most natural of products. To the rescue is the cask “breather” a device that will allow an inert gas to enter the cask instead of air. The inert gas of choice is nitrogen, which is about 78% of the air we breathe but does not interfere with the chemistry of the beer. The use of a breather should not be confused with kegged beer that is pushed in the beer lines under pressure. The cask breather does not pressurize the keg or introduce carbon dioxide into the beer.

C’est What’s Craft Beer Manifesto

In the absence of any meaningful brewing standards from government or industry we have implemented our own. C’est What will only serve beer that meets these criteria:
1. Single batch brewing. The contents of each
brew kettle are used for one brand only.
2. All natural ingredients. The ingredients used should be easily recognized as “natural” and, if modified, must retain their essential character.
3. Fresh and un-­‐pasteurized. Beer tastes best fresh, not when it’s processed to sit on a ship or shelf for months. Our beer list is Canadian made only.

Alcohol is necessary for a man so that he can have a good opinion of himself, undisturbed by the facts.

Finley Peter Dunne