My views on sparklers are simple. I detest the demonic little things. Every time I see a small plastic implement fitted to the end of a beer tap, my heart sinks. I then have to go through the rigmarole of asking some puzzled Polish barmaid to unscrew it. You can read all the blog posts in which I've moaned about them here.
For those who don't know, a sparkler is screwed to the end of the nozzle of beer engine, as shown in the photo to the right. It's perforated with small holes like a shower head. The beer is forced through these into the glass, agitates and aerating it, producing a large head. Bittering agents migrate to the bubbles that form this creamy layer, altering the flavour and mouthfeel of the pint. I suppose that's a good thing for those who want a beer with less bite.
It's often said - sometimes by brewers themselves - that Northern beers are supposed to be dispensed through a sparkler. Sorry, but I'm unconvinced. Surely that relies on the baseless assumption that Northern beers are invariably more bitter than those from the South? And if these brewers really do think their beer is too harsh, why don't they tone it down, and spare the hops?
A pint from a fresh cask will have a natural head. If you want proof, check out the photo to the left. It's a pint of Timothy Taylor Landlord - a Yorkshire beer - I enjoyed at The Roebuck in Belsize Park, North London. As you can see, despite having fallen victim to an enthusiastic gulp, the beer is still crowned with a white head of rocky bubbles. When real ale is served completely flat, that usually means it's in poor condition. Applying a sparkler would only serve to deceive the customer's eyes, while dumbing down the already impaired flavour.
I've been criticised by a couple of commenters recently for my hard line on sparklers. Well, they've got me bang to rights. If I had my way I'd melt down every sparkler I could find on huge bonfires across Yorkshire, where the benighted natives have fooled themselves into believing their beers benefit from savage treatment. However, I recognise people have different views on the subject, including some who have been drinking ale a lot longer than me. I want to hear what you think. You know the drill - the poll is on the left hand side of the page, and will be open for the next week.