We become frustrated if someone takes five minutes to answer a text but think nothing of driving a car to the gym to run on a mechanical treadmill.  Families consume ready-made meals heated in the microwave in order to have more time to watch reality television.

Sometimes, it is worth going back to the traditional ways of doing things, including the seemingly simple act of pouring a glass of beer.

Modern beer taps are undoubtedly simple and effective. [1] The server simply flips down the tap handle, beer is drawn though a line from the chilled keg and the beer pours out under gas pressure until the handle is returned to the closed position. This is a relatively recent method of dispensing beer.  For many hundreds of years, people simply used gravity by pouring straight from the barrel or cask. The respected “Oxford Companion to Beer” tome notes that gravity dispense “is the original method for drawing beer from a cask, before the invention of draught systems.” 

“In essence, once the cask was broached with a tap, the beer was simply dispensed directly into a glass without travelling through a beer line. Although this is now rare in Europe, confined to speciality establishments, it is still a relatively common form of dispense for cask-conditioned beer in England. Today, gravity dispense is mostly seen in country pubs in England, at cask beer festivals, and at the occasional brewpub or craft beer specialist bar in the United States.  Some beer enthusiasts particularly enjoy gravity-dispensed ales because they are served with minimum agitation, thus preserving the gentle natural carbonation prized in these beers.”

Each Friday, Malthouse can be added to the exclusive list of outlets using gravity dispense with the famous Firkin Friday ritual. At noon on Friday, the staff will tap a special cask of traditional, low carbonated ale. This cask sits proudly on top of the bar and the beer will be poured from a spigot straight into a glass. The first pint each week is free [2] and usually there will only be one cask available. Previous weeks have shown that the Firkin Friday beer tends to go very quickly so be in early to avoid disappoint. [3]

This week’s Firkin Friday treat is Garage Project Hapi Daze (Batch 2). The first run of Hapi Daze was the eighth beer in their celebrated 24 Beers project. It was described as an attempt to “brew a really nice sessionable caramel blonde ale, assertively hoppy without being overly bitter and with a light fruity character.” 

There are two recipe changes for this version with New Zealand Cascade hops being replaced by Kohatu hops, a newish commercial hop variety from Nelson.  Those will bring a balanced but firm fruitiness to the brew. An English yeast strain will be used for this version and the alcohol percentage will likely be down to a more moderate/sessionalable level.  The name is a word play on their Happy Daze beer with Hapi being the Maori word for hops. 

One of the obvious limitations of the gravity pouring methods is that the casks have to be in the bar, taking up valuable space. It can also be difficult to keep the cask temperatures constant.  In the 1800s, many bars moved to using beer engines or hand-pumps. 

Again, the “Oxford Companion to Beer” tells the story:

“Invented in the early 1800s, the beer engine, or hand-pump, allowed the dispense at the bar of beer stillaged in the cellar below.  Before this time, casks sat either on the bar or behind it, and the barman simply opened the tap to dispense a pint.”  It is “a uniquely British dispensing device that is specifically appropriate for traditional cask-conditioned ales.  The beer engine is a piston pump that allows the casks to be kept in a cooler cellar below the bar and the beer to be pulled or drawn up to the bar.  Cask-conditioned beers have lower carbonation than standard beers and usually served at about 11 to 14 degrees Centigrade.”

“A version of the beer engine was patented by the prolific British inventor, locksmith and hydraulic engineer Joseph Bramah in 1797.  The modern beer engine has changed little since the early 1800s; it consists of a simple piston attached to a long sturdy handle.  Check valves assure that beer flows only in one direction, up from cask to glass.” 

Both the gravity poured and hand-pumped beers are only lightly carbonated.  This is considered more natural and some aficionados argue that “excess” carbonation masks the true flavours of beer.  Importantly, the Oxford Companion notes that “dispensing fully carbonated beer with a beer engine would yield relentless foam.” [4]

Currently on the Malthouse beer engines are two beers from Townshend in Rosedale, a brewery with a real focus on tradition. Townshend’s Weston’s Best Bitter (4.7%) is a balanced premium bitter while Townshend’s Foreign Extra Stout (7.5%) is a big, strong dark beer with plenty of body.  The stout took over four months to make and brewer Martin Townshend enlisted the help of the 666 Brewing Company to make it happen. 

Next in line for the beer engine is something very different, the Epic Orcon Pale Ale (5.5%).  It will be fascinating to see how a “beer inspired by the internet” tastes when served through a simple piece of machinery invented over 200 years before Al Gore invented the internet. [5]

Spare a thought for the Malthouse staff as they pull each pint.  The Oxford Companion warns “operating a beer engine in a busy pub is hard physical work, requiring patience, skill and muscle.  Experienced bartenders will switch back and forth between using their right and left arms to pints – otherwise they may suffer the so-called barman’s bicep, where one arm grows noticeably larger than the other.”

Finally, here are a couple of key dates for the diary. 31st October is Halloween and Malthouse will be celebrating with a “Zombies and Werewolves” event. This will involve the always popular Epic Hop Zombie Double IPA (8.5%) and the limited-edition Newcastle Werewolf (4.5%), an Irish Red Ale which apparently “pours blood red, starting smooth and ending with a bite.”

On 9 November 2012, 10 New Zealand craft breweries will be competing in the First Annual Malthouse Old World IPA Challenge. Their respective takes on the traditional English pale ale style will be judged by a panel of experts [6] before being released to the public. It will be a hugely popular event.

[1] Relatively simple and effective – I still cannot pour a proper pint to save myself. 

[2] Colin the Handsome Yet Softly Spoken Scottish Proprietor stresses that literally only the first pint poured is free.  It is not a “free first pint per person” deal and he further confirms that Malthouse will not accept orders placed by Twitter users trying to get a free drink.  This is known as the “Mike Conroy” clause.

[3] One deeply optimistic and/or misguided customer tried to order a Firkin Friday beer on a Monday afternoon and was shocked when informed it had sold out days earlier. 

[4] That would be both wasteful and sad.

[5] “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” (Al Gore, 1999)

[6] And me.


Beer Writer
Beer and Brewer Magazine


Garage Project – www.garageproject.co.nz
Townshend Brewery – http://www.townshendbrewery.co.nz/
Epic Orcon – http://www.epicorcon.co.nz/epic.html
Newcastle Werewolf – http://newcastlebrown.com/
Malthouse Facebook – www.facebook.com/pages/Malthouse/7084276173
Malthouse Twitter – www.twitter.com/#!/malthouse
Malthouse Taps on Twitter – www.twitter.com/#!/MalthouseTaps
Neil Miller on Twitter – www.twitter.com/#!/beerlytweeting
Beer and Brewer Magazine – www.beerandbrewer.com/