Casking or Kegging beer? This question divides people as much as whether the wedding dress was blue and black or gold and white. Some people believe casking beer is the only true form of beer storage, while others believe there is space for storing beer in kegs and that actually in certain circumstances this is actually preferable. So which camp is right?
Firstly to understand which might be the best storage condition we need to understand what is involved in each storage condition.
Casking - More commonly known as a 'real ale' or a 'cask conditioned beer'. This involves the beer undergoing a secondary fermentation in a cask or barrel with no one interfering with it. This results in yeast still being present and requires great skill from the publican to ensure the beer is stored and then served at its best once the yeast has converted the sugar to alcohol and the beer has taken on some of the flavours of the cask for added depth of flavour. CAMRA have been championing this form of beer since the mid 1970s and have been almost solely responsible for its renaissance in the UK.
Kegging - Typically used for the storage and serving of lager, where the beer is stored in cold conditioned tanks, placed into pressurised barrels often after filtration and then poured with the addition of carbon dioxide to add some bubbles to the beer in your glass. This method has been the mainstay of most mainland European offerings.
Now that we know a bit more about both methods how can we decide which way is best? Really it comes down to the type of beer you want to drink. Kegs appear to have found a new home and are starting to thrive in the craft beer scene. The addition of the carbon dioxide can actually help very hoppy beers as the bubbles pass over the tongue and help to clear the strong flavours away leaving your mouth ready for the next swig.
That said, the craft beer scene is not just all about hoppy strong pale ales. There are a lot of brewers pushing the boundaries of what we can expect from stouts and porters and these beer styles are much more suited to cask storing and ageing, where the flavours develop over time. So there is plenty of room for both and we should no longer look down our noses at the kegs and neither should we see the casks as the domain of the real ales only. There is plenty of scope for craft brewers to use both methods and really continue to push the boundaries of what we can expect to receive from our drinks.