If you’ve ever wondered about the difference between cask and keg beer systems, or if you’re curious about the key components that make up a cask beer system, you’ve come to the right place.

In this article, we’ll explore the essential parts and components of a cask beer system, including the cask itself, the spile, spigot, beer engine, cask breather, and stillage. We’ll also take a look at the various supplies needed for cask ale, such as cask breathers, spigots, firkin keystone, shive, spile, gravity taps, and more.

So, whether you’re a beer enthusiast or a bar owner looking to stock your establishment with cask ale supplies, this article has got you covered.

Key Takeaways:

  • Cask and keg are two different types of beer systems, with cask being unfiltered and unpasteurized.
  • The key components of a cask beer system include the cask, spile, spigot, beer engine, cask breather, and stillage.
  • Essential cask ale supplies include a cask breather with spigot, cask-firkin breather spigot, cask-firkin keystone, wood, cask-firkin shive, wood, cask-firkin spile, hard, gravity tap, single cask widget, and soft spile.

Introduction to Cask Beer Systems

Cask beer systems offer a traditional and unique way of serving beer, distinct from the standard kegged beer commonly found in bars and pubs.

One of the key distinctions between cask and kegged beer lies in the fermentation process.

Cask ale undergoes secondary fermentation in the container it is served from, leading to a more natural carbonation and fuller flavor profile. This process imparts a delicate effervescence and allows the beer to mature and develop unique characteristics, making each pint a truly distinctive experience for ale enthusiasts.

Understanding the Difference Between Cask and Keg

Differentiating between cask and keg beer involves understanding the distinct methods of dispensing and conditioning each type of ale.

In terms of cask beer systems, one of the key differences lies in the dispensing method, where the beer is naturally carbonated in the cask, undergoing a secondary fermentation process inside the container.

This results in a softer carbonation and a more subtle mouthfeel compared to kegged beer, which is typically force-carbonated and served under pressure.

Cask ales are known for their unique characteristics, such as the velvety texture, complex flavors, and often slightly warmer serving temperature, allowing the intricate flavors to fully develop and shine.

Key Components of a Cask Beer System

A cask beer system comprises essential components like the cask itself, beer engine, cask breather, and stillage, each playing a crucial role in delivering authentic cask-conditioned ales.

Starting with the cask, it is the vessel where the beer matures and conditions naturally. The beer engine is the gentle, hand-operated pump that draws the beer up from the cask, allowing for a smooth pour without disturbing the sediment.

The cask breather maintains the correct pressure within the cask, ensuring consistent quality and preventing oxidation. The stillage provides a stable platform for the cask, enabling it to be correctly angled for tapping and serving the beer.


The cask serves as the vessel for cask-conditioned ales, providing a traditional and natural way of storing and dispensing beer.

The cask plays a crucial role in the maturation process of beer, as it is constructed of sturdy oak. This unique vessel is essential in the cask beer system, allowing for secondary fermentation and enhancing flavor complexity. Compared to forced carbonation methods, the cask introduces a subtle carbonation, resulting in a softer mouthfeel. By conditioning and serving directly from the cask, ales maintain their true character and often showcase nuanced flavors and aromas that can be lost in modern keg systems.


The spile is a vital tool used in cask conditioning, regulating the flow of air into the cask to maintain the ale’s carbonation and flavor profiles.

When a cask is filled with ale, natural carbonation occurs due to the yeast fermentation process.

The spile plays a crucial role in this by allowing excess carbon dioxide to escape while preventing oxygen from entering, which could lead to oxidation and spoilage of the ale.

By controlling the airflow with the spile, brewers can ensure that the ale retains its freshness, taste, and effervescence until it is ready to be served to customers.


The spigot, also known as a tap, facilitates the controlled dispensing of cask-conditioned beer from the cask to the glass, ensuring a smooth and flavorful pour.

Located typically at the bottom of the cask, the spigot plays a vital role in the cask ale system. When the spigot is opened, it releases the natural carbonation levels in the beer, allowing it to flow out smoothly.

This controlled release also prevents excess foam formation, ensuring the beer is poured at the perfect serving temperature. By regulating the flow rate, the spigot helps maintain the beer’s unique flavors and aromas, providing a delightful drinking experience for cask ale enthusiasts.

Beer Engine

The beer engine, commonly known as a hand pump, is a traditional dispensing system that draws cask ale from the cask to the tap through manual operation.

The beer engine operates like a large syringe, using a piston and cylinder to create a vacuum that forces the beer up through the lines and out of the tap. This manual pumping action adds charm and authenticity to serving cask ales, creating a more hands-on and engaging experience for both bartender and customer.

Cask Breather

A cask breather is a device that helps maintain the quality of cask ale by preserving its freshness and preventing oxidation, ensuring a consistent pour with each serving.

When cask ale is dispensed, air enters the cask, leading to a decrease in quality and taste due to oxidation.

A cask breather addresses this issue by replacing the air in the cask with carbon dioxide, creating a protective atmosphere that prolongs the ale’s shelf life.

By maintaining a constant pressure within the cask, the breather also ensures that the ale retains its natural carbonation levels, enhancing the drinking experience for the consumer.


Stillage refers to the framework or stand on which casks are stored and positioned for dispense, providing stability and proper elevation for serving cask-conditioned beers.

In the traditional cask setup, stillage plays a critical role in maintaining the quality and integrity of the beer. By keeping the casks at the correct angle and height, stillage ensures that the ale settles and conditions properly, allowing the sediment to collect at the bottom while the beer remains clear.

The construction of the stillage must be robust enough to support the weight of the casks while also allowing easy access for tapping and venting.

Exploring Cask Ale Supplies

Exploring cask ale supplies reveals a range of essential tools and accessories crucial for maintaining and dispensing cask-conditioned ales with precision and quality.

One of the key tools in this realm is the cask breather, which helps to maintain the ideal carbonation levels within the cask. Alongside this, soft spiles play a vital role in releasing excess gas and allowing the beer to breathe as it conditions.

Accessories like taps, spigots, and shives are critical for ensuring a smooth dispensing process and preserving the flavors of the cask ale. Understanding the functionalities and proper usage of these tools is essential for any establishment or enthusiast looking to deliver a truly authentic cask ale experience.

Essential Cask Ale Supplies

Essential cask ale supplies encompass a variety of tools and equipment necessary for the proper storage, conditioning, and serving of cask ales in their traditional form.

These supplies include items such as spiles to vent excess gas, breathers to maintain proper air pressure, taps for extracting the ale without disturbing sediment, and cooling systems to ensure the ale is served at the optimal temperature.

Each of these components plays a crucial role in preserving the flavor, aroma, and overall quality of cask-conditioned ales. Without proper management of these supplies, the integrity and authenticity of cask ales can be compromised, leading to subpar drinking experiences for ale enthusiasts.

Cask Breather with Spigot

A cask breather combined with a spigot offers a complete solution for maintaining cask ale freshness while ensuring precise dispense control and optimal serving conditions.

By integrating a cask breather with a spigot, breweries and pubs can extend the life of their cask ales and reduce wastage significantly. The cask breather serves the vital function of preventing excessive oxygen exposure, which can lead to flatness and off-flavors in the ale.

The spigot allows for controlled pouring, ensuring that each pint is delivered at the perfect temperature and with the right amount of carbonation. This combination not only enhances the overall drinking experience for customers but also minimizes the risk of spoilage for the establishment.

Cask-Firkin Breather Spigot

The cask-firkin breather spigot provides a specialized solution for regulating airflow into casks, maintaining optimal carbonation levels and flavor profiles in cask-conditioned ales.

By allowing controlled entry of air, the breather spigot assists in preserving the ale’s freshness intact with its original taste intact.

This essential tool prevents excessive oxidation that can negatively impact the beer’s quality. The breather spigot is designed to ensure that carbonation levels remain consistent, offering a delightful effervescence with each pour, a hallmark characteristic of well-crafted cask ales.

With the precise regulation provided by the spigot, brewers can confidently deliver a remarkable drinking experience to patrons.

Cask-Firkin Keystone, Wood

The cask-firkin keystone made of wood serves as a crucial component in cask setups, providing structural support and stability for cask storage and dispense operations.

Its design allows it to fit snugly into the bunghole of the cask, holding everything in place securely. The keystone plays a vital role in maintaining the integrity of the cask structure, preventing leaks and ensuring that the cask remains airtight.

This is particularly important as any air infiltration can impact the quality and taste of the stored beverages. The keystone aids in the smooth dispensing of the liquid by controlling the flow and preventing sudden movements that could disturb the sediment within the cask.

Cask-Firkin Shive, Wood

The wooden cask-firkin shive acts as a vital component in cask conditioning, providing a seal and closure for casks to preserve the ale’s freshness and flavor integrity.

When the cask-firkin shive is carefully inserted into the cask, it creates an airtight seal, allowing the ale to undergo secondary fermentation while also preventing any unwanted contaminants from affecting the brew.

This traditional method of conditioning contributes to the development of complex flavors and natural carbonation that are unique to cask ales. Preserving the original essence of the brew, the wooden shive plays a crucial role in maintaining the quality of the ale until it reaches the eager glass of the patron.

Cask-Firkin Spile, Hard

The hard spile is a critical tool in cask conditioning, controlling the venting of excess gases and maintaining proper carbonation levels in cask-conditioned ales.

It acts as a regulator, allowing just the right amount of carbon dioxide to escape from the cask, preventing over-pressurization that could lead to off-flavors or even cask explosion.

By managing gas levels, the hard spile ensures that the ale dispensed from the cask maintains its intended flavor profile, aroma, and texture, providing a delightful drinking experience for cask ale enthusiasts.

The presence of a proper hard spile in cask supplies is crucial for pubs and breweries to maintain consistency and quality in their cask ale offerings, reflecting their dedication to traditional brewing methods.

Gravity Tap for Cask or Firkin

A gravity tap is a traditional dispensing method that relies on the natural force of gravity to pour cask or firkin beers, ensuring a smooth and controlled flow without the need for additional pressurization.

Gravity taps are often preferred for cask ale systems due to their ability to maintain the integrity of the ale, preserving its flavors and aroma. This method allows for a more nuanced pour, giving the bartender greater control over the dispense rate, resulting in a perfectly poured pint each time.

Controlled flow characteristics are crucial in the realm of craft beer, where every detail counts towards the overall drinking experience. By leveraging gravity, the tap delivers beer in a gentle manner, minimizing agitation and excessive foaming.

Single Cask Widget

The single cask widget streamlines the dispense process for cask beer pump systems, providing efficient and consistent ale pouring capabilities with minimal effort.

A key benefit of the single cask widget is its ability to maintain a steady flow of beer without the need for excessive manual intervention. This is achieved through a sophisticated design that regulates the dispense pressure and controls the carbonation levels, ensuring each pint is poured with precision and a perfect head formation.

In addition, the use of a single cask widget significantly reduces the possibility of wastage. By optimizing the dispensing process and minimizing the introduction of excess oxygen into the beer, the widget helps preserve its freshness and flavor, ultimately providing a better drinking experience for customers.

Soft Spile for Cask and Firkin

A soft spile is a key tool used in cask and firkin dispense, regulating the release of excess gases and maintaining the ideal carbonation levels for cask-conditioned ales.

When a cask ale undergoes a secondary fermentation, it produces natural carbonation, creating a unique and flavorful drinking experience.

By carefully controlling the gas release through the soft spile, brewers can ensure that the beer retains its optimum carbonation level, enhancing the taste profile and mouthfeel. This delicate balance of gas management is crucial for preserving the quality and character of the ale until it reaches the pint glass, providing drinkers with a traditional and authentic cask ale experience.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main components of a cask beer system?

The main components of a cask beer system include a cask (or a vessel for storing and serving beer), a hand pump or tap, a spile (a small plug used to seal the cask), and a beer engine (a device used to draw beer from the cask).

What is a cask breather and why is it important?

A cask breather is a small device that regulates the flow of air in and out of a cask during the beer serving process. It helps to maintain the ideal pressure and temperature inside the cask, ensuring that the beer remains fresh and properly carbonated.

What kind of supplies are necessary for a cask beer system?

Aside from the main components, additional supplies such as cask jackets (to insulate and maintain temperature), spile pegs (used to release excess pressure), and keystone taps (used for connecting multiple casks) are also essential for a cask beer system.

Are there different types of cask beer systems available?

Yes, there are various types of cask beer systems available including traditional hand-pump systems, gravity systems (where the beer flows naturally from a higher cask to a lower one), and pressurized systems (where the beer is pushed out using gas).

How do I clean and maintain my cask beer system?

It is important to regularly clean and maintain your cask beer system to ensure the quality and longevity of your beer. This involves proper cleaning of all components, checking for any damage or wear, and replacing worn parts as needed.

Are there any other supplies that can enhance my cask beer system?

Yes, there are various accessories and upgrades available for cask beer systems such as flow restrictors (to control the speed of beer flow), sparklers (to add a creamy head to the beer), and cooling coils (to maintain the temperature of the beer). These can enhance the overall experience and quality of your cask beer system.

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