Pam had her turn in the spotlight; now it’s my turn! I can’t tell you how many times I’d been wine tasting with Pam while living in Italy. And even with that count, Pam went a handful of times without me (so I could stay home and watch the kids, also known as “woodworking”).
Pam loved the wine tasting! I was just kinda along for the ride. Wine tasting for me always brought back college memories of this stupid “proper etiquette” training I had to go through to make me a gentleman and shit: over a nice dinner with wine you supposedly learn how to stand up for ladies, which utensils to use with what meal, and the intricacies of different types of wines and how to match their qualities to accentuate them the most. At that young age, none of us cared about proper etiquette; we just cared how to properly get drunk on free wine. That was then… and I hate to say it, things for me haven’t changed much either. I couldn’t taste all that much difference in the offerings during my recent wine tastings in Italy… so at some point in the session, I switched from concentrating on the subtle differences to concentrating on what they all have in common: alcohol.
Beer tasting is different though. Maybe it’s because I used to brew my own beer, but I can readily taste subtle differences in each type of beer I drink. Regardless, the sun was out today and Pam was itching to do something outside the house. I had just got my Harley registered and out of the shop and wanted to ride it. The local cask brewer was a 40-minute’s drive from us, so on a whim we decided to pack up, go to the Brewery (I on the bike), get some lunch and go on a tour. It’s been one of the sunnier days here, and I got to ride my Harley with the promise of bringing home a fresh 6-pack. That is a great day, indeed.
The tour was interesting and brought back the tastes and smells from the days when I used to brew. The Brewery we went to got its beginnings housed in horse stables back in the 1870s. Really though, everything was as I would expect for each of the steps of brewing.
There were a few things I was surprised about:
- They used pelletized hops, just like a home-brewer does. I guess I assumed that pelletized hops were just a consumer-oriented product, and the leaf hops (unpelletized) were reserved for the industrial brewing. I was wrong. Bateman’s used a combination of both for their beers. Furthermore, they only ferment their beers for 7 days prior to kegging and serving. If my memory serves me correctly, 7 days was the absolute minimum to properly ferment beer. 7 days usually happened because I got too impatient and anxious to taste what I had created, so I cut it to 7 days to see what I made.
- I always figured an industrial wort chiller (the way you cool the pre-yeasted beer down to fermentation temperatures) would be an in-line process that almost instantly worked as you ran the hot beer through the piping. Bateman’s had the wort chiller built into the fermentation tank… and it’s just a plate chiller that works externally (like putting a cooling stick into a hot cup of coffee)! On my old brewery setup, I had an internal through-the-pipe heat-exchanger kind of chiller that worked more like a car radiator. I wasn’t expecting a simple “cool-stick” permanently mounted in the fermentor. But hey, I guess it works!
- They use open fermentation! I was always so paranoid of contamination… especially during the fermentation process. I think most homebrew books even recommend you use a closed system of fermenting, sealing the concoction off from the outside world with the use of airlocks. Now I realized as I became more experienced at brewing that contamination can be easily combated. Brewing is all about contamination: you contaminate it with your bacteria (the yeast). The problem lies where some other bacteria starts eating your sugar-water first. So if you can get your yeast to start eating your wort and reproducing, then you’re relatively safe from contamination… however, that still makes it vulnerable from when it’s cooled and when the yeast starts to consume it (usually a period of about 12 hours).
And finally, the most interesting thing the brewmeister told me:
Cask Ales are naturally carbonated. They do not have CO2 hooked up to them to carbonate them and force them out (as most lagers do). To achieve this natural carbonation, pubs must acclimate the keg of newly acquired beer for about 2-3 days prior to tapping and serving. Once a keg has been tapped to drink, the clock starts counting down; the beer has now been exposed to oxygen (again, because it is a Cask Ale and poured naturally without CO2) and has about 3 days’ worth of freshness until it starts to go flat, succumbing to the environment. Some pubs may buy more keg than they can sell, and rather than dumping the beer after 3-4 days, they continue to serve it to not lose their profit.
How not to get swindled with expired beer at the Pub.
So, you see the white plastic tip on the beer tap at the pub (in the red circle)? That acts as a “shower faucet” as they pour the beer, which converts about 90% of the carbonation into head. This is how pubs serve Cask Ale. To ensure the beer’s freshness, have the bartender take off that plastic cap and pour you a sample. It should pour like it’s flat; there will be minimal head. That is because, rather than most of the carbonation getting converted into head during the pour (through the shower faucet), the carbonation stays in the liquid (without the shower faucet)… so now 90% of the carbonation is in the beer and only 10% of it gets converted to the head. Taste it and swash your tongue around the mouthful. If you’ve ever had carbonated water, you know that the carbonation is kinda like putting your tongue on a 9-volt battery… it leaves a tangy sensation in its wake. With that white plastic spout removed, you should get that same tangy sensation on your tongue with the beer… then you know it’s fresh and proper! If you don’t get that sensation, then you know the beer has been on tap for more than a week and the bartender is trying to serve you old beer to turn a profit. You’ve been warned; don’t get swindled…