Cask Ales

steel firkin

Most firkins today are made of steel

empty firkin

An empty firkin, before the keystone has been inserted.


The keystone, which goes in the bottom of the cask

hops in hand

A variety of whole leaf hops are used in our casks

hops in cheesecloth

Several handfuls of hops go in each cheesecloth

cheesecloth bundles

Cheesecloths act as a filter for the hop leaves

adding the hops

The hops will be sealed in the cask, constantly imparting flavor and aroma to the beer


Kräusen is pulled from freshly filled fermenters

krausen closeup

Kräusen is actively fermenting wort

adding krausen

The kräusen kickstarts a secondary fermentation in the cask

shive and tut

The red center is the tut, which is replaced with a spile when a cask is gravity fed

hammering closeup

The wooden shive will swell to fill the hole completely

full firkin

A full firkin, with the keystone

In keeping with the Heavy Seas mission—to supply beer drinkers with the finest flavors and aromas we can conjure up—we concentrate especially on cask-conditioned ale. With close to six hundred casks in our keep, we believe we are the largest producer of cask ale in the United States.

Beer Alchemy

This old and once-neglected serving method delivers fresh, live beer to the consumer: before it’s filtered, carbonated, or kegged, the beer is racked, or siphoned, into a cask. Krausen—unfermented wort—is added to the unfinished beer. Then, the vessel is sealed off, and the beer matures within the cask. The process transforms the aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel of the ale inside, creating a brew at once unknown and familiar.

When cellared, the yeast in the cask settles to the bottom, resulting in a bright, clear glass of beer when served. Cask ale should be served at cellar temperature, between 50 and 55°. This opens up the beer’s aroma and flavor all the more. The gentle, natural carbonation creates a creamier mouthfeel. Atmospheric oxygen, entering the cask as beer is drawn from it, subtly alters the flavor, transforming the ale with each pour.

Wooden Casks & Fresh Hops

Sometimes, the vessel itself can alter the taste of a beer. In our collection of casks, we possess 11 wooden barrels. These barrels vary in age and make: American or European oak, toasted or untoasted wood, converted from wine or whiskey barrels. Wooden casks like these bring history and flavor nuances to the beer.

Our brewers fill and flavor all Heavy Seas’ casks. They cultivate a treasure trove of fresh, local hops. They source all types of hops—Zeus, Chinook, Cascade, to name a few—from farms in Maryland. These wet hops are aroma powerhouses in a cask. In addition, our brewers use dried, whole leaf West Coast hops and, occasionally, wet, West Coast hops.

Cask Ale Program

By spring of 2013, we hope to institute our Cask Ale Program, a three-part initiative.

We’ll offer two styles of cask ale year-round: our flagship beer, Loose Cannon, with added Palisade, Simcoe, and Centennial hops; and the sessionable Powder Monkey Pale Ale, with added Cascade and Centennial hops.

In the spirit of venturing into uncharted waters, we’ll create 100-cask lots of special barrel-aged beers, such as Siren Noire aged in bourbon barrels. These one-time releases will be rare, and we’ll produce them as the wind blows us.

Finally, we’ll welcome aboard industry retailers to customize their cask ale—choosing additional hops or woods through our build your own cask program. To participate, retailers can schedule times, to be mutually agreed to, to come and fill casks for their restaurants.

Our wooden casks can be made available for retailers’ special events, but need to be booked well in advance. Additionally, their availability is contingent on a brewery employee’s ability to transport the vessel. If you’re a retailer, contact your territory manager for details.