Beer: Cask vs. Keg

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Several months ago, Bodega boosted its hefty tap total to 51 with a small, sly looking rig at the corner of its bar.

This contraption is a hand-powered pump that draws from a small cask of real ale — a traditional beer type that’s unfiltered, unpasteurized and left to mature in the same container from which it’s served. Bodega keeps a cask of real ale on hand for anyone looking to sample beer the way it was brewed and served for centuries.

Bodega co-owner Collin Castore discussed the differences between casks and kegs.

Why use it?

Keg: Kegs conserve valuable retail space and reduce waste. One keg can hold the equivalent of about seven cases of bottles, and it can be refilled numerous times. This method is also more reliable than casks, which are somewhat unpredictable because of the active yeast.

Cask: Casks give craft-beer fans a chance to sample unique and one-off creations not sold in bottles or kegs. For example, Left Hand Brewing Co. created a special version of its Good Juju that matured in the cask with a small pouch of ginger.

How does it work?

Keg: Keg beer is pushed through lines with pressurized carbon dioxide and nitrogen. The process adds slightly more bubbles to the beer.

Cask: Bodega uses a beer engine — essentially a hydraulic, hand-powered device that works like a bike pump. Manually pumped air displaces the beer from cask to glass.

Will the same beer taste differently coming from a cask and a keg?

Keg: Keg beer usually is brighter, with more bubbles running from the bottom of your glass to the top. It tends to be slightly more crisp and refreshing, with a thinner mouthfeel.

Cask: Cask beer is heavier on the head but more still everywhere else. It comes out smoother and creamier, and more subtle flavors are allowed to emerge with the lack of carbonation.

Is the beer kept at a certain temperature?

Keg: Bodega’s keg beer is served usually in the low 40s.

Cask: Bodega’s cask beer is served usually in the low 50s.

Photos by Alysia Burton