A spile is a small wooden peg used to control the flow of carbon dioxide out of a cask of ale.

Cask ale is served without externally-supplied carbon dioxide or nitrogen. The idea that it is served "flat" with no bubbles at all, though, is a misconception; properly conditioned cask ale contains bubbles of carbon dioxide generated by the natural action of the yeast living in the beer while it is transported and storedcref|1. In fact, the yeast will actually produce more carbon dioxide than is required, and it is for this reason that the cask is vented through the spile hole in the shive.

Two kinds of spile are available. Initially, "soft" or porous spiles are used, made of open-grained softwood, bamboo, or harder wood with cuts in. These allow the excess gas to escape. Once the cellarman judges this process to be complete, a hard spile is inserted which does not allow any more gas out of the cask. These are made of harder wood (usually still technically "softwood", but denser and more solid than soft spiles). Plastic pegs intended for sealing shives are occasionally used as hard spiles.

During service, the spile must be removed to allow air in to replace the beer drawn off. Once the spile is reinserted enough gas will come out of solution to replace what was lost, but the amount of carbon dioxide available in the system - free or dissolved - is limited, so it is important that the spile is kept in as much as possible. This is one of several reasons for real ale's short shelf-life once a cask is opened - if too much carbon dioxide is lost, the beer will be flat. Typically, the beer will be good only for two to four dayscref|2; this short life is why it is important that a pub serving real ale have sufficient turnover for casks to be emptied while still at their best.


Other Uses

Like many such older terms, the word spile has other local meanings. For example:

* The iron spigot driven into a sugar maple to produce maple syrup.cite web
publisher=Good Eats Fan Page
title="Flap Jack Do It Again Transcript"
date=May 21, 2006

* At Indian Harbor in Nova Scotia, the shores that hold up fish processing "stores" were once called spiles.


* "Cellarmanship - Caring for Real Ale", 2nd Edition, 1992. Published by CAMRA. ISBN 1-85249-063-2

ee also

* keystone
* spigot

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  • Spile — Spile, n. [Cf. LG. spile, dial. G. speil, speiler, D. spijl. [root]170.] 1. A small plug or wooden pin, used to stop a vent, as in a cask. [1913 Webster] 2. A small tube or spout inserted in a tree for conducting sap, as from a sugar maple. [1913 …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • spile — [spīl] n. [MDu, splinter, skewer, bar, spindle: for IE base see SPIKE1] 1. a plug or spigot, as for a barrel ☆ 2. a tap or spout driven into a maple tree to draw off sap 3. a heavy stake or timber driven into the ground as a foundation or support …   English World dictionary

  • Spile — Spile, v. t. To supply with a spile or a spigot; to make a small vent in, as a cask. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • spile — tap or spout for drawing maple sugar, 1844, from Northern English dialect spile “splinter” (1510s), from M.Du. or M.L.G. spile “splinter, skewer, bar, spindle,” perhaps related to SPIKE (Cf. spike) (n.1) …   Etymology dictionary

  • špile — špilè interj. BzF91; KŽ utukš (antis varant, baidant) …   Dictionary of the Lithuanian Language

  • spile — spile1 /spuyl/, n., v., spiled, spiling. n. 1. a peg or plug of wood, esp. one used as a spigot. 2. a spout for conducting sap from the sugar maple. 3. a heavy wooden stake or pile. 4. Mining. forepole. v.t. 5. to stop up (a hole) with a spile or …   Universalium

  • spile — 1. noun a) A spigot or plug used to stop the hole in a barrel or cask. So I felt my way down the passage back to the vault, and recked not of the darkness, nor of Blackbeard and his crew, if only I could lay my lips to liquor. Thus I groped about …   Wiktionary

  • spile — [[t]spaɪl[/t]] n. v. spiled, spil•ing 1) a peg or plug of wood, esp. one used as a spigot 2) a spout for conducting sap from the sugar maple 3) bui a heavy wooden stake or pile 4) to stop up (a hole) with a spile 5) to tap by means of a spile 6)… …   From formal English to slang

  • spile — /spaɪl/ (say spuyl) noun 1. a peg or plug of wood, especially one used as a spigot. 2. US a spout for conducting sap from the sugar maple. 3. a heavy stake or beam driven into the ground, etc., as a support; a pile. –verb (t) (spiled, spiling) 4 …  

  • spile — I. noun Etymology: probably from Dutch spijl stake Date: 1513 1. pile I,1 2. a small plug used to stop the vent of a cask ; bung 3. a spout inserted in a tree to draw off sap II. transitive verb (spiled; …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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