I’m sometimes asked by bar owners about how to install and use a beer engine to serve cask ale, also known as ‘real ale.’ The implication is that this simple hand-pump device will somehow ‘improve’ the cask ale that’s being served, increasing the level of carbonation and extending the lifespan of the beer. That is, of course, patent nonsense. A handpump does neither; it’s simply a hand-pump.
To that point, here’s a guest post by Steve Hamburg, one of the foremost cask cellarmen in the United States. It is taken from Cask-USA, an online forum devoted to cask-conditioned ale in the US, hosted at Yahoo! Groups.
In theory there should be NO difference between a beer served by gravity or handpump, unless you expect all your handpumped beers to be served through a tight sparkler. There’s simply no way that gravity pour can replicate the thick, cascading head, but that doesn’t mean the beer should be flat and lifeless.
The issue, as it almost always is with cask ale, is poor cellaring technique. Too many bars/pubs will over-vent their cask beers (breach the cask and leave the porous soft spile in too long) and then use the handpump and a tight sparkler fitting to artificially compensate for what is essentially a pretty flat beer in the cask.