We’re getting all kinds of British up in here, and we really couldn’t be more chuffed. We just got a beer engine in the Tasting Room, and we think it’s brilliant!
Basically, it’s a tap. However, instead of using pressure and CO2 to force the beer from the keg, through the line, and into the glass, it uses a pump action.
“It’s a traditionally British method of dispensing beer, particularly cask beer or ‘Real Ale’,” says Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm. “Instead of using gas pressure to push the beer up to the tap like in modern systems, a beer engine uses a hand-powered piston that draws the beer up from a cask.”
They were invented in the late 18th century, and they made everything about drinking beer so much more pleasurable.
“They made it so that cask ales — which was pretty much all there was at the time — could be kept in a cellar below the bar where it’s cooler,” Jimmy says. “Cold beer is quite nice, after all.”
Jimmy had been pushing for one for a while, and, since we had a slushie machine and no beer engine, it wasn’t difficult to get Tasting Room Manager Chris Costello on board.
“It’s one of the classic ways of serving beer,” he says. “Not a lot of breweries have them, so it made sense to get one. A big part of it, too, was doing the Firkin Fridays.”
Previously, we’d just put the firkin on the bar. It looked nice, but it could be mistaken as being ornamental.
“It’s a nice little talking point,” Chris says. “And the brewers get to have a little fun with some small-batch stuff. When I brought up the idea of getting it, Jimmy, Brian, and JP were totally excited and onboard about it. They’ve wanted one for a while. They can do some real, true-to-style beers that should be served out of the cask.”
Jimmy is definitely looking forward to having more room for experimentation.
“Having more cask beers on means we can experiment more, play around with cool new hops, interesting fruit or spice additions, and even new yeast strains,” he says. “So, getting a beer engine enables us to have casks on more often. Pretty much all the time now.”
Furthermore, firkins tapped with a hammer and spile don’t keep very long. They’re good for about six hours, then the beer gets warm and oxidized. However, the beer engine adds a little CO2 into the mix, keeping the beers fresher, longer.
“This was a solution to better position the firkin, keep it fresher, keep it better,” Chris says.
Another added improvement is that the cask isn’t sitting on the bar, open to the elements: it’s kept cold in a fridge.
“It keeps it at 39° as opposed to ambient temperature,” Chris says. “Once it pans out on the counter for five or six hours, it really starts losing its appeal.”
However, the beer is a little different than what you might be used to. For one, it is a bit warmer, and it’s also not as carbonated.
Nonetheless, using the beer engine is certainly a cleaner method of tapping a cask. Our previous method involved hammering a spout into the cask, inevitably covering whoever tapped it in fountains of beer.
“Ask anyone who has tapped a cask before and they’ll tell you the same thing: it was fun, except for getting sprayed with beer,” Jimmy says. “With a beer engine you still need to tap the cask, but with ours, it can be done upright and not make as much of a mess.”
As much being the important words, here.
“I got sprayed on Friday when we tapped the New Year’s Resolution keg,” Chris says. “It’s not quite as bad as tapping a pin on the counter, but you can still get a little shower.”
This particular beer engine has a “sparkler” — a somewhat controversial apparatus that forces the beer through a series of small holes, causing it to be imbued with gasses.
“When you’re using a sparkler,” Jimmy explains, “you have to be sure to put the glass all the way up the spout and have the beer dispense into the bottom of the glass. Normally bartenders refrain from touching the glass to a tap spout, let alone sticking it all the way in the glass, but with this, you need to submerge the spout all the way into the bottom of the glass. If you don’t, and you have the sparkler at the top of the glass filling like you normally fill pints, then you’ll be mixing a lot of air in with the beer, oxygenating it and ruining it. But if the sparkler is submerged then it’s all beer and CO2 and you get a nice lovely, creamy head.”
Nonetheless, Chris had a full training session with the Tasting Room staff to learn how to properly pour from the beer engine.
“We learned how to pour, how to clean it, how to sanitize it,” he says. “But I think it’s more of a learning curve for the customers because they see it and don’t really know what it is.”
Regardless, Chris thinks the whole process is pretty cool.
“It’s cool to watch,” he says. “It’s more exciting than watching beer come out of a tap. You’re actually working for it. It’s more intimate.”
He’s definitely looking forward to the possibilities.
“It’s a different way to drink our beer,” Chris says. “A different style that we haven’t done before. We’ve been doing One-Off Wednesdays and it has quite the following, so I think it’ll be exciting in the summer when our seasonal fans come back, to see something new. We’re always adapting and innovating.”
And Jimmy is thrilled that we finally got a beer engine.
“I got to pour my own pint,” he says. “It was lovely. I lived in the UK for seven years and I missed proper cask ale, and now I’ve got it back again! In Jersey! And for the record, it was a DDH Always Ready and it was amazing. That beer is straight-up made to be a cask ale.”
You’ll get your chance to try it out! We have a cask of double dry-hopped R.A.D. #007 tapped today!
See you soon!