Mini-Cask vs Mini-Keg – What’s The Difference?
Mini-casks and mini-kegs have been one of the most popular ways to enjoy beer at home in 2020, but what is a mini-cask, and is it different to a mini-keg?
We’ve put together this wee blog to help clear things up in terms of what we do and how we package our beers, so you know what to look for when you’re ordering – keep in mind that other breweries might have slightly different definitions – this is our guide of what to expect when ordering from Fyne Ales online shop.
What’s the difference between mini-cask and mini-keg?
On the outside, mini-casks and mini-kegs are the same – we use the same recyclable five-litre vessel for both, but the difference lies in how we process the beer that we put inside the big cans.
Mini-casks are small versions of the 9-gallon casks we send to pubs, filled exactly the same way with the same beer and live yeasts that give it a soft carbonation (or ‘conditioning’) to the beer.
Mini-kegs are filled with five litres of filtered, pre-carbonated beer, so they require less time to settle, but they also need to be consumed a lot quicker once opened to enjoy the beer at its best.
In the same way that we have beers that we only sell in cask (Avalanche, Hurricane Jack, Highlander etc) and some beers we only sell in keg (Fyne Lager, Workbench and Easy Trail), we offer both mini-casks and mini-kegs depending on which format best suits the beer.
Some of our classics lend themselves to the soft carbonation that comes with conditioning on live yeasts, which is why we fill our mini-casks in the exact same way as we fill full-size casks for pubs. And some of our beers taste better a bit colder and a bit more fizzy – which is why we also offer mini-kegs of filtered, carbonated beers.
Whatever you choose, mini-casks and kegs should have at least six weeks of shelf life on them when they arrive at your door (check the sticker on the bottom for exact dates), so if you’re planning ahead, don’t worry about ordering too early – just keep them somewhere cool and dark until you want to use them. The only exception to this may be small-batch specials, which are not filled as regularly and may have shorter best before dates – we will endeavour to list this on the product page of the online shop.
Mini-Casks – In Detail
Mini-casks are not pre-carbonated, but instead are packaged with live yeast which continues to gently ferment the beer inside the cask, creating a soft fizz; this process is known as conditioning . Most of the conditioning takes place in the time between filling up the casks at the brewery and arriving on your doorstep, but because of the live yeast, they require at least 24 hours to allow the yeast to settle to the bottom of the cask before opening. During the colder months, you may find you get a little more conditioning in the beer if it’s kept at 10-12°C for a few days before opening, but make sure that if you’re moving the beer somewhere cooler between conditioning and drinking, that you give it the full 24 hours to settle again.
Once the yeast has settled, follow the instructions on the back of the mini-cask (or below) and enjoy your perfect cask beer at home, remembering to leave the last half pint in the bottom (as that’s where all the yeast will have settled), and using within three days of opening Once you have opened the mini-cask for the first time, it will slowly lose carbonation as the fizz escapes (through the vent or through pouring), so the quicker your drink the mini-cask (responsibly), the better it will be.
Some mini-cask beers are brewed with a combination of hops that mean it’s intentionally hazy. This means that even when all the yeast has settled to the bottom of the mini-cask, there will still be some soft haze to the beer – this is perfectly normal and the beer is completely fine to drink. If you’re not sure which beers are intentionally hazy – check the product page which will usually give you a good idea of the style of the beer. All our year-round beers (Jarl, Highlander, Hurricane Jack, Avalanche, Vital Spark) are not designed to be hazy.
- Rotate the tap (front) in the direction of arrows to the horizontal position.
- Pull the tap out, away from the body of the mini-cask, until it stops.
- Press the red button on the tap to dispense beer into your favourite glass – it will be quite powerful at first, but slow down quickly.
- To increase flow of beer as it slows, carefully open the air-release (top).
- When you’ve finished pouring, push the tap back into the mini-keg and close the air-release (top) to help retain fizz – trying not to move the cask too much as you do.
Mini-Kegs – In Detail
Mini-kegs are filled with filtered, carbonated beer with no live yeast – this means that beer is fizzier and doesn’t require as much time to settle, but also means it doesn’t keep as long once opened – think of it as a bit like a big bottle of fizzy juice – if it’s a bit shaken up, best to give it a little while before opening, and the longer it’s open, the flatter it gets.
Mini-kegs are definitely best shared at a socially distant gathering – we recommend consuming them within 24 hours of opening and 8.8 pints in a day is probably a bit much for one person to enjoy responsibly.
While our couriers DHL and APC are generally brilliant, we can’t always ensure the mini-kegs haven’t gotten a little shaken up in transit, so when they arrive on your doorstep, get them in the fridge and give them a good few hours before opening – your first half-pint is likely to be a bit foamy even with a chance to chill, but if you open it straight away your first pour will be extra lively.
In terms of how to pour your mini-keg, DO NOT FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS ON THE BACK – these are for mini-cask, and instead there should be a sticker taking you to this blog (hello!) and you can find mini-keg instructions below or an illustrated version here.
So far, we’ve only packaged Fyne Lager in mini-keg format, as it’s the only beer in our keg range that isn’t available in bottle or can, but we’re looking at potential Easy Trail mini-kegs for the future – let us know if that’s something you’d be interested in over on social media (Facebook / Twitter / Instagram)..
- Slowly open air-release (top) by turning 90 degrees, allowing excess carbonation to escape. It may hiss and foam a bit, so maybe have a cloth ready just in case – wait until it stops. If you don’t do this, you’re going to be pouring pints of foam for a while.
- Rotate the tap (front) in the direction of the arrows until horizontal.
- Pull the tap (front) out, away from the body of the mini-keg until it stops.
- Press the red dispense button on the tap to pour beer- the first half pint might be foamy, let it settle and it’s good to go.
- When you’ve finished pouring, push the tap back into the mini-keg and close the air-release (top) to help retain carbonation.
So there you have it, the full lowdown on our mini-casks and mini-kegs – not too complicated, eh?