Zen and the art of cask washing


Last weekend, for the first time in over two years I pulled on a pair of steel toe wellies and got my hands dirty doing a bit of commercial brewing. I was helping out long-time friend Sean and his business partner Robin at their brewery ‘Pig and Porter’ over in Tunbridge Wells.

The schedule for the day was to brew ten barrels of Ashburnham Pale ale, wash a load of casks, rack some beer and clean a conditioning tank. Easy enough with three sets of hands. After Dirty Breakfast had been inhaled, and a fortifying coffee had been slurped, the HLT was up to temperature, and we mashed in. After we mashed in, we got down to the serious business of cask washing. Much as many brewers complain bitterly about cask washing being the most soul sapping part of brewing, I really don’t mind it all that much. The system at Pig and Porter is much the same as any other brewery I have been to or worked in. De-shive, scrub the outside with hot soapy water, pre-rinse, Caustic wash, cold rinse, peracetic rinse.

What I really like about it is that you can get a rhythm going. Time everything just right and you can put a cask on the pre-rinse and one on the caustic, turn the pumps on, run outside, de-shive and scrub the outside of a cask, rinse the soap off and carry it inside (but remember to splash some soapy water over the old sticker on the next cask so it has a minute to soak so it comes off easier!)  just as the rinse and caustic cycles finish. Put the next cask on and away you go.

Perpetual motion for a couple of hours. A flow of work, time flies. You don’t have to focus on what you are doing any more, you zone out on autopilot. You retreat inside your head to ponder things. Thinking out the next steps on the brew that is in the mash tun, or trying to extrapolate forward how much longer it is going to take to finish cask washing and whether you will finish them before the sparge ends. Sometimes if the conditions are just right, you can be tramping away at it, look up at the clock and have no idea what you have been thinking about for the last hour. Cask washing nirvana.

I have to admit though, I was thoroughly knackered when I got home and I’m certain it isn’t what I’d want to do all day every day anymore. As one now retired brewer once said to me ‘I only miss brewing when I’m not doing it.’


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