20 January 2008

Back to School With Real Ales and Firkins

As Jason recently posted, we spent Thursday evening at the Monarch/World Class Beverages facility. Our trip out wasn't just for a tour; We also sat in on World Class' salesperson training where we learned about Real Ales, Firkins, Fruit Beers and Strong Ales from World Class' professional beer geek[1], Bob Mack.

Real Ales and Firkins

According to the folks at Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), real ale is "is a natural product brewed using traditional ingredients and left to mature in the cask (container) from which it is served in the pub through a process called secondary fermentation." This container can be a cask, firkin, bottle or even an aluminum can - the defining characteristic is that the beer is matured by secondary fermentation in the container in which it is dispensed.

Often times you'll hear real ales refered to as "firkins". By definition, a firkin is a container (made of any material) for real ale that holds 10.8 gallons of real ale (9 imperial gallons, or 1/4 a British beer barrel). So while a real ale can also be a firkin, a firkin is not necessarily a real ale.

[1] Unfortunately, we can only aspire to be professional beer geeks. Good work if you can get it.


  1. Cool info. I definitely thought a firkin was synonymous with real ale.

  2. "real ale never leaves the container in which it is fermented before it makes its way into your glass". Not true I'm afraid. Once beer is fermented it is then placed into a cask or bottle, and without getting too technical, this is where a secondary fermentation takes place. The beer is live in the container and when it is served. Dead beer like most lagers are given an injection of CO2 to give it an over the top amount of fizz.

  3. Paul is right. The initial round of fermentation would leave too much yeast slurry and hop residue (sludge from hop pellets or leaf particles from whole hops) and that wouldn't lead to very clear beer. Once initial fermentation ceases, the beer is racked (aka transfered) into the cask or bottle and it has had a certain amount of priming sugar added to let it do a final fermentation that causes that lovely carbonation we do so enjoy. Bell's beers and Dark Horse beers are bottle conditioned, that is why you decant them into a glass and leave the yeast sediment behind. The yeast is still there and makes the carbonation, thus the beer is alive.

  4. Thanks for the correction, Paul. I'll take the incorrect statement out and issue a correction.