Monday, 1 October 2007

Natural carbonation - it isn't just for ale

Here's a drum (or rather a barrel) I've been meaning to bang for a while. Most of the breweries and bars we visited in Franconia served beer directly from barrels, perched on the bar top. The kegs that leave UK aleheads apoplexed were nowhere to be seen. The picture to the left is of my mate Andy serving Lowenbrau Buttenheim's Annfestbier direct from the barrel in that brewery's Forchheim keller. Pictured right is a wooden barrel set up for gravity dispense in the Schlenkerla tavern in Bamberg.
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As Andy was fond of saying, "there's no drama". The barrel is vented at the top, and the beer served via gravity from a tap fitted at the bottom. It's the same principle as a British cask. The beer needs to turn over quickly to avoid going stale, but any popular bar dedicated to beer shouldn't have a problem. The barrels are insulated to keep the temperature down.
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This method of dispense results in a perfect beer ever time, beautifully smooth with a thick, creamy head. On the few occasions we tried beer dispensed from a modern keg, the difference was startling. The beer in the glass was coarsely carbonated - often unpleasantly fizzy - due to the additional CO2 that had been absorbed when it was under pressure then forced through the lines.

Although there's only one type of carbon dioxide, forcing extraneous gas into the brew from cylinders has a negative effect on the drinking experience. Anyone that tells you lagers somehow benefit from such treatment doesn't know what they're talking about. If you try a naturally carbonated German beer alongside one served under gas pressure from a sealed keg, you'll see what I mean.

13 comments:

  1. Matt (RutgersBeerGuy)October 01, 2007 12:11 pm

    Stonch...you are really right on this one. I had the opportunity to try a Shwarzbier on cask side by side with the same beer kegged, and the difference was mind blowing...I then had 3 more pints of the cask.

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  2. I'm glad you agree, Matt. I wish a few pubs in Britain would start importing the type of German beer barrels I've described. They get shipped over here for beer festivals and always prove very popular. Most British real ale drinkers steer clear of even quality lagers because of they way they're dispensed. That isn't because they're necessarily closed-minded (although many are) - why should we accept gas pressure keg dispense for lagers, when we won't for ales?

    There'd be no problem with turnover in the right setting - I'm sure folks in pubs like the Wenlock and the Pembury would polish off a barrel of quality German beer in a session.

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  3. Best homebrew experience I ever had was draining a 5 gallon 3.2% highly dry hopped pale ale on gravity drop that I brewed for the occassion. There are a number of craft brewers in the US that do a Firkin Friday gravity drop in their tasting rooms. Middle Ages in Syracuse does that.

    Alan
    AGBB

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  4. Vom Fass as the Germans call it, and a very fine thing it is too. If you're ever in Bavaria again, The Bratwurst Gloeckl restaurant in Munich has a "secret" door round the side. Open it, and you'll find a tiny space crammed with jovially pissed Bavarians getting Augustiner Vom Fass from a red-cheeked bloke behind a hatch. Avoid the locals attempts to get you to ring the bell above the hatch - you'll have to buy everyone in there a drink.

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  5. I couldn't agree more. I was so disappointed to find St Georgen Keller Bier being force carbonated at their Buttenheim Keller when I went in August. I have had it the proper way and indeed served it the proper way (at GBBF) and there is no comparison. Fortunately the Lowenbrau Keller next door does it without extraneous CO2. Viel besser!

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  6. You make a good case there Stonch, German beer served "in situ" is now on my list of things I need to experience. It's not a very big list drinking real lager and a trip to the great barrier reef are also on there. I have managed to tick off brewing my own beer, seeing Radiohead live and watching Shane Warne bowl.

    I suppose I better get me a passport!

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  7. [Forgot the link...so I'll post again]

    Hey - do you know the name for those small casks? Have a look at Paul's post from the Ipswich Beer Festival - the bottom photo shows a whole row of the wee beauties: http://beerblog.genx40.com/archives/2007/october/paulgoestothe

    They would be dandy for home brew experiments in terms of their size and overall handiness.

    Alan

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  8. Over here in Amsterdam the Wildeman has a small cask of German beer on the bar a couple of times a month. It usually gets polished off in just an hour or two, so no chance of it spoiling. Absolute highlights this year have been Sclenkerla Ur bock and Schlenkerla Fastenbier. I guess I'm just lucky.

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  9. If I may be a lone dissenting voice, this type of barrel-serve is scarce practical on a busy bar and - in my humble opinion - not particularly pleasing from an aesthetic point of view, either

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  10. Dumbledore: Why do you think it's impractical? It certainly doesn't take longer to serve beer direct from the barrel than it does from a keg tap.

    As for the aesthetic point, seeing the barrel behind the bar looks fantastic to me. Maybe I'm odd.

    In any case, you're missing the most important point here: if this type of dispense is used, the beer in your glass is better.

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  11. It's impractical because in many pubs, particularly those with a smaller bar serving area, it becomes difficult for the barman to administer other drinks as pouring space is limited. It also limits the number of beers one can offer, as well as other offerings such as sandwiches, snacks etc.

    Aesthetically, I much prefer the traditional brewers' shields and tap - what a pub should look like.

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  12. I think you're missing the point here. I'm not talking about getting rid of handpumps and pumpclips in British pubs. I simply suggested a few specialist beer bars might import these specific barrels of German beer, and serve them appropriately. That way we'd get to try naturally carbonated lager in Britain, instead of the fizzy stuff.

    Tiny pubs with tiny bars aren't the places I'm talking about! I'm thinking of the likes of the Pembury Tavern or the Wenlock Arms. There'd still be room for the pork scratchings, trust me.

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  13. Apologies Stonch. I misinterpreted your suggestion. These barrels would be most unwelcome in my local but I can see they may have a place in the locations you suggest

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