The Difference Between Casks and Kegs

Cask and keg are two popular types of beer containers with distinct characteristics. Understanding the differences between casks and kegs can help beer enthusiasts appreciate the unique qualities of each.

Casks, also known as cask-conditioned beer or ‘real' ale, are designed with a curved shape that aids in the settling of any sediment at the bottom. This ensures that the beer poured from the cask is clear and free from any unwanted solids. Cask ale undergoes a secondary fermentation process inside the barrel, which adds complexity and depth to its flavors. Brewers of cask ale follow a hands-off approach, allowing the beer to naturally mature and develop its unique character. They do not interfere with the beer by filtering or pasteurizing it, which can strip away some of its natural flavors.

On the other hand, kegs are typically straighter in shape and feature a single opening valve and an extractor or spear running through the middle. Unlike casks, kegs do not undergo secondary fermentation. Instead, they are often filled with beer that has already completed its fermentation process. This means that keg beer is typically clearer and more carbonated than cask ale. Kegs are commonly used in commercial settings, such as bars and restaurants, where they can be easily connected to a tap system for efficient pouring.

One major advantage of cask ale is its shorter shelf life. Once a cask is tapped, the beer inside needs to be consumed within three to five days. This limited time frame ensures that the beer is enjoyed at its freshest and most flavorful state. However, it also means that cask ale needs to be consumed relatively quickly, which can be a challenge for individual consumers who may not be able to finish a whole cask within the recommended time.

Kegs, on the other hand, have a longer shelf life due to their carbonation and sealing systems. This allows keg beer to stay fresh for a longer period, making it more suitable for commercial establishments where the demand for beer is higher. Kegs are also easier to transport and handle due to their straight shape and rolling rings that aid in movement.

In terms of price, cask ale traditionally tends to be cheaper than keg beer. This is partly due to the shorter shelf life of cask ale, which requires breweries to sell it quickly to avoid waste. Additionally, the simpler design of casks compared to kegs contributes to their lower cost.

Both cask ale and keg beer have their own unique qualities and appeal to different beer enthusiasts. Cask ale offers a more traditional and natural process, with flavors that evolve and develop over time. Keg beer, on the other hand, provides a consistent and carbonated experience, making it a popular choice in bars and restaurants.

Ultimately, the choice between cask ale and keg beer comes down to personal preference and the occasion. Some beer enthusiasts enjoy the complexity and unique character of cask ale, while others prefer the convenience and carbonation of keg beer. Whichever option you choose, both casks and kegs offer a wide range of flavors and styles to explore and enjoy.

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What's The Difference Between Kegs And Casks?

The primary difference between kegs and casks lies in their shape and design. Here are the key distinctions between the two:

– Shape: Kegs typically have a straighter shape compared to casks.
– Opening: Kegs have a single opening valve, which allows for easy access to the contents inside.
– Extractor/Spear: Kegs feature an extractor or spear that runs through the middle, enabling the beer or other beverages to be dispensed.
– Movement: Kegs are equipped with rolling rings that facilitate transportation and movement.

– Shape: Casks are designed with a curved shape, often referred to as a “bulge,” which aids in the settling of any sediment at the bottom.
– Sediment Settling: The curved shape of casks helps in the natural settling of sediment, ensuring a clearer pour when serving.
– Opening: Casks typically have multiple openings, including a tap hole and a shive hole.
– Venting: Casks usually have a venting system to allow for the release of excess gas and maintain the desired level of carbonation.
– Movement: Like kegs, casks are also equipped with rolling rings, which assist in their movement and handling.

While both kegs and casks are used for storing and dispensing beverages, their shapes, openings, and purposes differ. Kegs are straighter with a single opening valve and an extractor or spear, while casks have a curved shape to aid sediment settling and multiple openings for venting and tapping.

Why Is Cask Cheaper Than Keg?

Cask beer is typically cheaper than keg beer due to several factors. Here are the main reasons behind the price difference:

1. Shorter Shelf Life: Cask beer has a shorter shelf life compared to keg beer. Once a cask is tapped, the beer inside needs to be consumed within a few days, usually 3-5 days. This limited lifespan creates a sense of urgency for consumers to drink the beer quickly, which often leads to more frequent purchases. In contrast, keg beer can last for several weeks or even months if stored properly.

2. Lower Production Costs: The production process for cask beer is generally less expensive than keg beer. Cask beer is traditionally brewed using natural carbonation, meaning it undergoes a secondary fermentation in the cask itself. This eliminates the need for additional equipment like carbonation tanks or gas systems, reducing production costs.

3. Simplified Packaging: Cask beer is packaged directly into the cask without the need for additional packaging materials like bottles or cans. This simplified packaging process reduces costs associated with materials, labeling, and transportation.

4. Smaller Distribution Radius: Cask beer is often produced by smaller, local breweries and is primarily distributed within a limited geographical area. This localized distribution helps to reduce transportation costs and allows breweries to maintain lower prices.

5. Niche Market: Cask beer has a more niche market compared to keg beer, attracting a specific group of beer enthusiasts who appreciate its unique flavors and serving methods. The smaller market size and specialized demand can contribute to lower prices.

It's important to note that while cask beer is generally cheaper than keg beer, there are exceptions depending on various factors such as the brewery's reputation, beer style, ingredients used, and market demand.


Casks and kegs are both popular vessels for storing and serving beer, but they have distinct differences. Casks are designed with a curved shape to aid in sediment settling, while kegs have a straighter shape with a single opening valve and an extractor or spear running through the middle. Rolling rings are commonly found on both casks and kegs to facilitate movement.

One key factor that sets casks apart from kegs is their shorter shelf life. Cask ale, also known as cask-conditioned or ‘real' ale, undergoes secondary fermentation in the barrel. This means that brewers do not interfere with the beer by filtering or pasteurizing it. However, this also means that cask ale has a limited lifespan once it is tapped. It needs to be consumed within three days to maintain its optimal flavor and quality. This shorter shelf life may contribute to cask ale being traditionally cheaper, as consumers are more likely to purchase another beer after the initial cask is finished.

On the other hand, kegs are a more common choice for many breweries and bars. They offer a longer shelf life and can be used for a wider range of beer styles. Kegs are typically easier to handle and transport due to their straight shape and the presence of an extractor or spear for dispensing the beer. This convenience and versatility may explain why kegs are often preferred by establishments that serve a higher volume of beer.

While casks and kegs both have their advantages and characteristics, the choice between them ultimately depends on factors such as desired shelf life, beer style, and practicality for handling and serving. Understanding the differences between casks and kegs can help both brewers and consumers make informed decisions when it comes to enjoying their favorite beer.

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Thomas Ashford

Thomas Ashford is a highly educated brewer with years of experience in the industry. He has a Bachelor Degree in Chemistry and a Master Degree in Brewing Science. He is also BJCP Certified Beer Judge. Tom has worked hard to become one of the most experienced brewers in the industry. He has experience monitoring brewhouse and cellaring operations, coordinating brewhouse projects, and optimizing brewery operations for maximum efficiency. He is also familiar mixology and an experienced sommelier. Tom is an expert organizer of beer festivals, wine tastings, and brewery tours.