The Difference Between Cask and Keg Beer

Understanding the difference between cask ale and keg beer production, and how they are served can really enhance your appreciation for this beloved beverage. Whilst cask and keg may seem similar at first glance, there are distinct differences between the two that influence everything from taste to texture.

Here are some of the main differences between cask and keg beer.

Cask Beer

Cask beer, also known as “real ale” hold a special place in the hearts of many beer enthusiasts. Here in the UK, we’ve got CAMRA which champions and promotes cask beer up and down the country. The defining feature of cask beer is its natural conditioning process, which occurs within the vessel from which it is served. Here’s how it works:

After a beer is brewed and put into cask, it undergoes a secondary fermentation, also known as conditioning (the first fermentation happens in tank and is responsible for the alcohol level in the beer). During this process, the residual yeast and sugars left in the beer after brewing as finished, are allowed to settle for a period of time and it’s during this conditioning phase that carbon dioxide is produced which creates a gentle fizz within the beer.

Things that characterise real ale in pubs:

  1. Temperature: You’ll find most cask ales are best drank when they’re served around 11-13 degrees. This is typically the temperature of the cellar where the beer has been stored and allows the full flavours of the beer to be released.
  1. Serving: Cask beer is often dispensed using a gravity-fed system or from a traditional hand-pump where the beer is pulled directly from the cask and into the glass being filled. It’s a pretty simple setup but means the beer is being served direct from cask to glass. You’ll find these setups almost always include a sparkler on the dispensing nozzle to produce a long lasting, and creamy head to the beer, but whether or not to use one is an age old debate, separating North & South!
Brightside Cask Beer
  1. Freshness: As with all food and drink, there’s an optimal time frame during which it is in peak form, and cask beer is no different; it’s classed as a live product, after all! With most real ales, once the cask has been opened and is being served on the bar, the beer is at its best for around 3-4 days. A good cellar manager will be tasting the beer every day before service to check for quality, as off-flavours can begin to creep in as the beer ages (not a bad job if you ask me…)
  1. Flavour Profile: Cask beer drinkers appreciate the nuanced flavours and aromas from this style of beer. The natural conditioning process allows the beer to develop complex tastes over time and the lack of additional carbonation during this process allows the subtle flavours of the beer to shine through.
Cask handpump

Keg Beer

Keg beer, on the other hand, is a more modern method of serving beer that has become increasingly popular, particularly in venues where serving cask ale can be difficult, such as hotels and restaurants.

Key characteristics of keg beer:

  1. Carbonation: Unlike cask beer, which naturally carbonates in the cask, keg beer is artificially carbonated during kegging. This is typically achieved by injecting carbon dioxide (CO2) and sometimes nitrogen into the beer under pressure, resulting in a higher level of carbonation compared to cask beer.
  1. Temperature: Keg beer is usually stored and served at colder temperatures, normally around 3-7 degrees Celsius. This is primarily to keep the CO2 in solution while being served but has other benefits – the main one being that the resulting beer is crisp, refreshing and very satisfying to drink, especially on a hot summer’s day!
Radcliffe Market Helles Lager
  1. Pressure: Keg beers are dispensed under pressure, using a gas powered system (either by CO2 or nitrogen) that applies pressure to push the beer through the tap.
  1. Shelf Life: Whilst cask beer has a relatively short shelf life after being tapped, kegged beers have a much greater shelf life. The filtration process it undergoes helps to preserve the beers freshness, allowing it to be served over a much longer period. Depending on filtration levels and whether or not the beer is pasteurised, it can be up to a few weeks (but as brewers you’d always hope a keg was done in a week!)
  1. Consistency: Properly cared for keg beer can potentially offer greater consistency in terms of flavour, carbonation, and appearance from the start of the keg to the end, thanks to the lack of yeast present and the addition of a CO2 blanket on top of the beer that reduces oxidisation.
Brightside Keg Beer

To Finish Up

Now you understand the difference between cask and keg beer, why not try a few and taste the differences for yourself? If you’re looking for a place to check out the differences between cask and kegged beer, why not visit some of these places:

For Cask Brightside Beer

For Kegged Brightside Beer:

Looking for another place to find Brightside in cask or keg? Contact Us

Cask and Keg