I was recently in England and had an epiphany about the beer engine. I felt like a rube in the Continent - I should have known this a long time ago :-)
I was aware that the Beer Engine existed (it's a hand pump for beer) but thought it was an archaic method and that the recent use in craft breweries was just an affectation. When I engaged a barmaid in Lincoln, England about how it worked, she took the time to give me a full explanation and demonstration.
They use a 'tap' to dispense carbonated lagers from kegs - like we're used to seeing. They use the 'handle' (beer engine) to dispense ales from casks. She was aghast when I told her we dispensed force carbonated kegged ales from 'taps' in the US; "Like a LAH-GAH?".
The beer engine uses a nozzle called a 'sparkler' that's like a shower head which they submerge in the beer when filling the glass. It adds the carbonation and the head. They control the head by pulling the nozzle out of the liquid if necessary to get more (what we'd call a mixed pour) and have a little plastic cap that seems to kill the shower head effect which they use if the beer has too much natural carbonation. There is some skill involved in pulling the handle to keep the correct pressure on the sparkler.
The net effect is that the ales have a very nice tight small bubbled, tenacious head and are a little flat through the body. They don't have any of the 'soda' like body carbonation we're used to. It took me a bit to get used to it, but I really like the casked beer and it seems less filling.
I recently made a Brown Ale that came out to be too effervescent - it's carbonated in the body sort of like a soda. I think it would have been perfect if not force carbonated. Maybe I need to build a beer engine :-)
It was pretty interesting and I thank the girls at the Horse and Groom for taking the time to educate me.
There's a group there trying to raise awareness and promote cask beers - The Campaign For Real Ale.
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