For over 2000 years the wooden cask has been a marvel of logistical ingenuity as significant as the wheel. In fact due to the shape it provides its own wheel, allowing a single person to move considerable loads all by themselves.
Used for centuries as the go to pre-industrial shipping container it is now rarely used for anything other then furniture and imparting it’s subtle flavours into our favourite drinks.
Up until halfway through the 20th century, all beer was distributed to public houses in wooden casks in sizes* we still use to this day and so most breweries would employ a team of skilled coopers to build and maintain their fleet of casks. As the clear advantages of stainless steel (or the much lighter plastic like we use here at Stroud Brewery) outweighed the expense of craftsmanship required for wood, wooden cask use in brewing has drastically declined.
In the early 1960’s a small group of concerned drinkers who had noticed a change in the beer they were being served, established the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood. Many members would go on to form CAMRA but the original group remains, exclusively promoting the use of traditional wooden brewery vessels.
Garvan from the Drapers Arms asked if we had anything that would suit wood.
As a proud member of SPBW, Garvan from the very excellent Drapers Arms, Bristol, has taken it upon himself to obtain a traditional wooden firkin and has been working his way around local breweries and getting them to put something tasty inside. We were thrilled to be asked, and very excited when Garvan turned up to deliver it himself.
As he explained this is a traditional 9 gallon firkin made by Alistair Simms at White Rose Cooperage, from repurposed French oak staves that had had seven seasons in the Napa Valley with Californian white wine inside.
Previously the Drapers had put on two very successful evenings with the first-rate Good Chemistry and Wiper & True so we knew the patrons of the Drapers were accustomed to a very high standard. Fortunately we had something in the pot that we were confidant would do the cask, and Organic beer, justice.
Schwarzwälder, our Black Forest stout is conditioned for 8 days on Organic molasses and sour cherries, it is a very indulgent pudding of a beer and a firm brewhouse favourite. Perfect for winter evenings we thought it would be very sympathetic to the way an oak cask allows beer to breathe.
On the evening I was delighted to meet the team from Good Chemistry (photo of Garvan comes courtesy of Kelly) and Will from Wiper and True, all keen to see how the wood marries with the beer. I think it was well received and all 72 pints were sold in just over 3 hours which suggests people came back for more.
I suspect this particular cask has developed a bit of an attachment in the brewers who’ve used it and I for one will be interested in what goes in it. If you would like to try some beer from the wood then The Drapers are welcoming Twisted Oak Brewery on Monday the 12th of March.
*(Pin, 36 pints, Firkin 72, Kilderkin 144, Barrel 288 and Hogshead 432 pints)