Stylin’ & Profilin’: What Is A Firkin?

Stylin’ & Profilin’ is a brief look at different beer styles that will help you learn whether they’re right for you. Ultimately, words can’t truly turn you on to a solid craft beer. You have to smell, taste, and savor each sip to truly discover if it’s one you’ll come back to in the future. But the background info obtained in this post won’t hurt anything either.

What Is a Firkin?

This installment of Stylin’ & Profilin’ ventures outside beer styles and breaks down a beer container you may not be familiar with. Typically, craft beer is housed in kegs and bottles. More recently, breweries have added cans to their packaging repertoire. Cans are excellent for eliminating the potential of light destroying the contents.

FirkinBut one container that isn’t as popular and recognized, but actually houses some of the best craft beer you’ll ever have is a Firkin. A firkin is a small cask that was designed primarily to house liquids, butter, or fish. Its name is derived from the Middle Dutch word vierdekijn, meaning fourth. A firkin is about 1/4 the size of a regular barrel of beer, holding approximately 41 liters or 11 gallons.

A firkin is typically the receptacle for what’s known as Real Ale, or cask-conditioned ale. This is beer that has not been cold-filtered, pasteurized or carbonated by any sort of outside equipment. Rather, the beer is naturally carbonated by its resident yeast and the beer’s ingredients have not been processed in any way other than simple fermentation by the yeast. Hundreds of years ago, this was pretty much the standard for beer, but the evolution of different processes changed the face of beer and stripped it of vitamins, minerals, and, most unfortunately, taste.

These days, it’s pretty much impossible to come across a beer commercial from the mass producers that isn’t talking about ice cold beer. And while there’s plenty of reasons to turn a deaf ear to those ads, the typical beer drinker likes his or her beer relatively cold. However, a craft beer’s taste, when brought down to room temperature, is actually accentuated and more of the natural ingredients come to the forefront. 

Firkin-conditioned beer is otherwise known as cask ale and is typically stored around 55 degrees F. And while a warmer beer probably isn’t what you’re accustomed to consuming, the acquired taste is well worth it in regards to the pure flavor explosion you get when those natural ingredients escape inside your glass. I’m a living, breathing example of needing coached on the greatness of cask ale as I took my first sip and asked, “Why is my beer warm?” But I learned, and now consume cask brews on a regular basis. 

Piper's PubNot too many bars feature a firkin system, so if you come across one, be sure to partake. For those in the Pittsburgh area, your cask ale experience gets no better than what you’ll find at Pipers Pub. They have the full set up, including a hand engine that requires a series of pumps in order to draw beer from their cellar-stored firkins. Pipers is on the forefront of featuring exceptional cask options, with anywhere from 2-4 beers available at any time. Without question, this is one of the best ways to experience craft beer and all the amazing flavors they contain.

Other bars will have firkin specials from time to time, so be on the lookout and have your bartender pour you a flavorful cask ale the next time it’s available in your pub of choice.


WEIGH IN! What’s the best craft beer you’ve ever had on cask? GO!










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