Keg and cask beer barrels

In English we have two terms to refer to the two types of barrels we can find in the market: “Keg” and “Cask”. Depending on the type of barrel we operate, we need a different pump, in the image below the pumps in the middle are for cask type barrels while side ones operate Keg type barrels.

Keg and Cask beer shooters in a pub.

A keg is a barrel that operates by injecting pressurized gas.

In the other hand Cask type barrels doesn’t have injected gas and therefore it is necessary to exert pressure on the liquid to reach the beer shooter. This type of beer barrels can be found in some British pubs (the only place I’ve seen them) and, unlike the Keg barrel type, they need some kind of lever for the barman to serve the beer by manual injecting air.

Keg beer barrels often contain pasteurized and filtered beer, that kind of beer is the most common one worldwide. They use CO2 or N2 gas for gas injection. CO2 produces a beer foam in the style of Heineken beer, ie normal. The barrels that injects N2 gas produce a denser and finer bubble as the Guinness style foam.

Meanwhile Cask beer barrels often contain unpasteurized or filtered beer, for this reason the beer obtained tends to be denser and tastier. By contrast, it is not filtered or pasteurized which means that while consuming this kind of beer we drink some remains of the spent grains and all bacteria involved in the fermentation of beer. This might cause some minor stomach issues in some people.

Such barrels also has a much shorter life than those containing pasteurized beer.

But in this web we talk about mini beer kegs and casks. And I must say that within those barrels sizes we also have two classes.

Pressurized beer barrels and unpressurized beer barrels.

The former are more like the beer kegs you can find in any pub, to operate them you need a connector compatible with the outlet valve of the beer. As far as I know all mini beer kegs have the same valve and domestic beer dispensers support it. Most pressurized beer barrels are sold with a small plastic handle that is enough to run almost any pressurized mini beer keg that you can buy.

The most famous keg of this type is the Heineken one, which is usually easy to find in supermarkets. As said the shooter that is sold with the keg is usually enough to operate any pressurized barrel, but some have a plastic cover that prevents it from fitting well.

Heineken Keg

The second type of barrel is the unpressurized one, these barrels walk halfway between the Keg and Cask, in one hand they use to contain pasteurized and filtered beer, so it should be Keg, but in the other hand they have no gas pressure, so they should be Cask.

These kegs (or casks?) operate by gravity and thus they have a spigot at the bottom to release the beer. Operating them is very simple and doesn’t require any external component: the barrel need to be manually unsealed at the top, and then the bottom spigot can be operated for the beer to come out on its own weight.

The biggest drawback of these barrels is that they lose beer gas much faster than the pressurized kegs. While a pressurized keg can last 2 or 3 days, an unpressurized barrel should be consumed in a single day.

The most famous unpressurized barrel of this type is the Franziskaner one, which is usually next to the Heineken in supermarkets.

Franziscaner keg

If you can´t find these kind of barrels near you, please ask me where to buy them online.

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6 thoughts on “Keg and cask beer barrels

  1. I also have a Heineken Beertender. What options for 5 litre cans can I find in Northern Italy and from where?

    1. Heineken is removing the Beertender mini kegs from market, so it might be hard to find them right now.

      There are only 2 brands remaining (as far as I know):

      – Heineken itself, which might be found in supermarkets
      – Krombacher Which is not a brand owned by Heineken but has the beertender format licensed for their beer. This last one can only be found in Germany (or imported).

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