When the Lambs Go Bar in Fitzroy closed earlier this year, mourning was kept to a minimum with owners Jason and Adam King popping up just a few streets away at the refurbished Rainbow Hotel. One thing they didn’t take with them, however, was the 3 Ravens hand pump, one of very few in Australia pouring genuine cask conditioned ales. But now it’s back, reincarnated at North Melbourne’s Courthouse Hotel. And this time it has a sibling too, with a second pump installed at the Great Northern in North Carlton by the Thornbury brewery this week.
“Having the Holgate hand pump here was an introduction for people,” says Great Northern owner Al Carragher. “It created a lot of interest, with people coming in at weekends to try it. The market is starting to get to a point where they understand different beers so we wanted to get a real cask ale on. It brings us to 20 beers on our tap lineup too.”
Most of the wooden handled pumps you see being yanked in the few Aussie pubs that have them aren’t pulling cask-conditioned real ale, but beer from a keg that’s usually at a reduced level of carbonation; it gives you a different experience to a fully carbonated version of the beer poured from a tap, but it wouldn’t pass muster as a real ale, which requires the beer to undergo a secondary fermentation in the cask (or bottle) to qualify for that title. The 3 Ravens Stout pouring at the Great Northern and English Ale pouring at the Courthouse do, however, tick the requisite boxes.
“The beer spends a couple of weeks conditioning in the cask, then we put it on its side, tap it and vent it,” says 3 Ravens' Dave Brough. For those who want to get technical, this means knocking a spile into the cask’s shive, something explained in detail on this stunningly designed website. “Once it’s sat for 24 hours, we take out the spile, releasing the pressure, pull through some beer until we get a partial vacuum, and then the clock starts ticking. You want the beer to be drunk in a maximum of seven days.
“You get a completely different beer. In the case of the English or the Stout, it’s probably how they’re supposed to be, with a lot more malt intensity and a fuller mouthfeel. With the lower carbonation, you get full of beer instead of bubbles too.”
3 Ravens plan to pour pretty much all of their ales into casks at some point, including the USB and Golden. Once they’ve got it working properly, they also plan to install a third pump at Penny Blue in Melbourne’s CBD.
If you’re on the lookout for real ale elsewhere, Canberra’s Wig & Pen has been serving a range of cask ales year round for years, while The Local Taphouse has plans to send casks to Aussie brewers to fill with ales for forthcoming cask systems in both St Kilda and Darlinghurst. Tasmanian brewery Two Metre Tall cask conditions all of its beers, which you can find at the brewery bar, Preachers in Hobart, Knoppies, Penny Blue and, coming soon, in Sydney too. Meanwhile, Moon Dog has bought five 25 litre casks they plan to offer to venues whenever they have beers they feel are suitable. And look out for an experiment of sorts at the Great Northern early next year.
“We’re going to mix up what we pour through the pump,” says Al. “We’re going to pour Foster’s through it on Australia Day just to see what happens.”
If you’re serving real ale in Australia or know somewhere that is, let us know and we’ll update the article accordingly.