First Firkin Fridays
They’re a great time: restaurants and bars run specials, art galleries have openings, and theaters run shows. It’s a time to see and be seen.
So, we figured, why not get in on the fun?
On the first Friday of each month, we’ll be tapping a special firkin available only in our Tasting Room.
“A lot of big cities do first Fridays as like a kick off for the month,” says Retail General Manager Kaitlyn Smith. “We’ve been working on new programming for the Tasting Room this year, and this seemed like such a great way to start.”
Chief Celebrations Officer Randi Friel loves the idea, as well.
“I’m hoping to see innovative and fresh new ideas from production and our fans should expect the same,” she says. “It will be something cool and different for our Friday crowds, something they may not see from us again, and something they may see up on the menu board one day.”
To kick off the series — and to celebrate Philly going to the Super Bowl — we decided to create a Tastykake-inspired firkin: Krimpet R.A.D. #005, our experimental lager conditioned atop vanilla, lactose, and “a few Krimpets thrown in for good measure,” according to Head Brewer Brian Hink.
While, in all likelihood, everyone’s heard of a firkin, we realized that Straight to the Pint has never really explained the concept.
“Cask beer has a very different feel to it than kegged beer,” says Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm. “It’s like the Unplugged version of modern beer: softer but with more subtleties.”
Casks — of which firkins and pins are, essentially, a size measurement — are an old-school way of packaging beer.
“They’re most popular in Britain where ‘Cask Ale’ is a whole ‘nother category of beer that is a precursor to ‘Craft Beer’,” Jimmy tells us.
These days, when we brew beer, we’ll close off — or “bung” — a fermenter, retaining a good amount of natural carbonation. We’ll send it through the centrifuge on its way to the Brite tank, and we inline carbonate the beer so it’s close to its final carbonation level. It carbonates further in the Brite tank, where it reaches its final carbonation level — usually around 2.6 – 2.7 volumes of CO2.
In the pre-Industrial Revolution days — before modern cooling methods were a thing — brewers would package beer just before it was completely fermented, leaving just enough residual sugars to carbonate the beer to the acceptable level.
“But for cask-conditioned beers,” Brian tells us, “we do the final conditioning and carbing in the vessel itself. We don’t add CO2 to the beer: we either rack into the cask with a touch of fermentation to go so it will naturally carb to around 2.2 volumes of CO2, or we’ll add in a touch of priming sugar and let the resident yeast naturally condition in the vessel, similar to bottle conditioning.”
We’ll leave a cask in a warm area for a few days to allow it to complete fermentation and carbonation.
“Cask beer is generally served at a higher temperature than kegged beer,” Jimmy says, “but this has more to do with tradition than anything.”
We serve them around 45-55°.
“Many bars or pubs these days also only have room for one or two casks,” Jimmy informs us, “so they usually end up going somewhere under the bar or behind it for easy access. They sit around at room temperature with a small cooling jacket on the outside of the cask, so they’re warmer as a result.”
“It’s great for letting the aromatics really pop,” Brian says. As we mentioned last week, colder temperatures suppress aromatics. “So, no, you don’t want your beer to be as ‘Cold as the Rockies’.”
Since the cask needs to be sealed in order for the little yeasties to do their jobby-jobs, we’ve got to knock out a little hole in the top with a “spile” so that the beer inside can be replaced with air — otherwise, no beer comes out, and that would be a freakin’ travesty.
Tapping a firkin is a little celebration in-and-of itself. You really tap these guys — you wield a hammer against a tap and knock it into the cask’s “keystone bung” — and, since the cask is under pressure due to the carbonation happening inside, fireworks follow.
“It’s always fun and often results in someone getting a bit of a beer shower,” Jimmy says.
You can either hand-pump the beer or “gravity serve” the beer and since we don’t (yet) have a hand pump, we’ll be using 9.8 m/s2 to serve our casked beer.
All of this results in a beer with a fresher taste but with a much shorter shelf-life, particularly once it’s been tapped. It’s also less consistent, since much of the process depends on the amount of yeast and residual sugar left before casking the brew, as well as — believe it or not — how roughly the cask was handled. If it’s not left to settle, the particles in the beer can get stirred up, giving the beer a much different flavor.
The guys in production love creating firkins. Since the beer has to naturally condition for a week or so, they get to add whatever they want to make it a particularly unique offering.
“Extra hops? No problem! Fruit? Even better! Spices, teas or coffees?! Hell yeah, we can!” Brian says. “It’s a fun way to make a single time-offering product, which can definitely help set a special event apart from a normal event.”
So, this series of events is not only a great time, but because of the uniqueness of each cask, the fun we’ll have while tapping it, and, of course, the general frivolity of a CMBC event, they’re sure to be a great time.
Set up a recurring event in your calendar — each First Firkin Friday is sure to be better than the last.
See you then!