Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Lukr At That Cask Ale

Take a moment to think about what a pub that specialises in cask/real ale looks like...

Chances are that when you thought about the bar itself it looked something like this:

The beer engine is synonymous with real ale, and has a history that dates back to the 17th century when Dutch inventor John Lofting developed the first beer engine. Joseph Bramah would, in 1797, improve on this to create the beer engine as we know it today. Until the introduction of the use of CO2 to push beer to the tap in the 1870s, the beer engine was the standard for serving beer.

As I was pottering round the old interwebs this week, digging further into the history of beer taps in central Europe - yeah, I am an odd one - I learnt that the beer engine as we know it today is not the only type of tap for dispensing real ale. Enter the Aitken Tall Fount, also know in some circles as the Scottish font. Taking a quick look at the Aitken Fount (actually pronouced "font"), it bears a very strong resemblance to the type of taps I discussed in my previous post (image from the "Beer Tap" page on Wikipedia.

Well, would you look at that, it's a side pull tap, in the same vein as the much vaunted Lukr tap. As Rob Sterowski pointed out in a tweet, the ball valve is the simplest form of valve, and possibly that we had engaged in this discussion before:

I still don't remember having discussed this before, so I am working on the idea that with was all new to me. Although I grew up in Scotland, I have no recollection of having ever seen these kind of taps in the wild. There are 2 main reasons for that in my opinion, although I have drunk beer for as long as I have legally been allowed, I never paid much thought to methods of dispense until about 2008, and secondly my reading would suggest the continued use of the Aitken fount is more of an Edinburgh thing than a West Highland thing, and I have only passed through Edinburgh twice - on the train to and from Harrogate for my few days in the British military. 

In my experience, if you go to any pub in the west of Scotland that serves real ale, you will see a line of hand pumps like the ones in the first picture, which was taken in Glasgow's wonderful Bon Accord. My preferred drinking hole when I am at my parents place near Inverness is a similar story, as you can see here:

I read on a forum a claim that Aitken founts were once the dominant method of dispense throughout Scotland, but that in the 1950s and 1960s they were ripped out in favour of newer CO2 driven taps, and only clung on in a few places, mostly in the east of Scotland - hmmm...where does this story sound familiar from?

From what I understand, one of the major differences between the hand pump beer engine and the Aitken fount is that the Scottish tap uses a small amount of top pressure to push the beer to the tap, which would immediately make such taps anathema in CAMRA purist world. Even so, this got me thinking...

The Aitken Fount is clearly part of the same family as the Lukr Tap, to Rob's point, a ball valve is the simplest form of beer tap, and it makes me wonder if there is an opportunity here in the US for fans of cask ale?

One of the challenges that real ale faces in the US, outside of the occasional place that really specialises in doing it "properly" is that to do it properly takes knowledge of cellarmanship, how to use a beer engine, and also if you are going to be purist, sufficient turnover of stock to make sure the beer is freshh. Thank goodness then for the cask aspirator that extends the shelf life of real ale to give it some hope of viability.

What then if a pub which already has Lukr taps installed for the lager offerings uses them for real ale? Could the Lukr tap be used for traditional British styles like mild and bitter in an attempt to recreate the Aitken Fount? From what I have read, there is no reason to limit Lukr taps to lager, and with the inbuilt filter screen, I imagine a pint of ale drawn through the Lukr tap would look very much like this picture that Tom Cizauskas took...

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Central European Tap Dance

Look at this glorious glass of beer...

If you've been keeping abreast of my mini-series about Schilling Beer Company in New Hampshire, you will hopefully recall that this is their magnificent Malý 8° lager, had on tap at the brewery's tasting room in Littleton. What I didn't mention in that particular post was the method of dispense, and fairly obviously, this particular beer was poured using a Lukr tap, also known as a side pour tap, sometimes also known as a slow pour tap. Whatever you want to call it, this was poured from a tap that is currently all the rage amongst the lager brewing and drinking community in the craft beer world, and is often touted as being the "traditional" method in Czechia.

I still remember the first time I saw a Lukr tap in the wild back in Czechia. It was around 2009 and Mrs V and I had gone to Purkmistr, a brewery and hotel on the outskirts of Plzeň, for a long weekend. Said tap was, for whatever reason, in the room that the hotel used for serving breakfast. I don't recall if they were in use in the restaurant or bar, but I noted them because they were so different from the taps I had seen in pretty much every pub I went to at the time. Almost every pub I frequented had standard taps like those at Pivovarský klub or U Slovanské lipy...

From what folks back in Czechia have told me, the Lukr tap really took off when the concept of the tankovna pub blew up as well, around 2008. The whole concept of it being "traditional" never really sat that well with me, purely based on personal experience, and then I came across a picture in Der Böhmische Bierbrauer on the Austrian National Library website.

Look at those taps in this illustration. Ok, minus the more modern look, they are most distinctly "side pour" taps. Being side pour rather than the modern standard format, they would have relied on a ball valve to control the flow of beer from the tap to the drinking vessel. Then I came across this illustration, again from Der Böhmische Bierbrauer:

A tap system that bore an uncanny similarity to the one I had seen in Purkmistr, clearly there was something here...oh I didn't mention these illustrations yet:

Each of these illustrations came from an edition of Der Böhmische Bierbrauer which contained an article about the new innovation for pouring beer, attaching a CO2 tank to the barrel that would push the beer to the tap. The article had the glorious title of "The Practical Use of Carbonic Acid for Serving Beer" and appeared in Der Böhmische Bierbrauer in 1894. Before the use of CO2, it was traditional for beer to be poured either via gravity or pulled through the line by a hand pump.

Intrigued, I dug further, finding images of such historic side pour taps in use in Germany in the 1930s - sorry folks I am not paying $20 a piece for a stock images of beer being poured in Mannheim at a radish festival, so have a link instead. Eventually I came across the Historische Bierzapf-Säulen website and learnt that the idea for using CO2 to dispense beer from a tap was patented in 1877 by a high school teacher and chemist Wilhelm Carl Raydt, originally from Lingen in modern day Lower Saxony. The new method of pouring beer apparently took off in northern Germany and the industrial cities, but met resistance in traditional Bavaria, which for many decades stuck with the anstich method of tapping beer.

The Historische Bierzapf-Säulen site is a beer history nerd's wet dream. The oldest illustration on the site that shows a side pour tap in use is from the 1880s, and purports to show the Berlin pub "In der Katschemme". There is even a Pilsner Urquell pub in Hamburg in one of the pictures from 1900. The guy behind the website, who clearly has a love of historical beer taps, and the beautifully decorative towers that were once part and parcel of taprooms in central Europe is also the owner of Storchenbräu in Pfaffenhausen, about 100km/62 miles west of Munich.

From what I can ascertain, side pour taps were in use in Germany until the 1960s, and if film evidence from the former Czechoslovakia is correct, there also, being replaced by the more modern flow control taps we are used to seeing in central European pubs today. Though they did seem to still be in use in at least one Zoigl pub in around 2012, and judging by the design of the tap, it is not a Lukr made tap.

Central Europe, broadly modern day Germany, Austria, Poland, Czechia, Slovakia, and Hungary, is full of stories like this, where there are parallel foods, drinks, and ways of doing things that each group of people claim as "traditional". Of course, until the First World War, most of the region lay within either the German Empire or the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so such commonality is to be expected. To give a small example, recently Mrs V and I went to dinner with some friends. The husband is Serbian, the wife is German - weird fun fact, they met in Lavka in Prague, and lived there for a period that overlapped with Mrs V and I, though we only met them here in Virginia. Dinner that night was a traditional Serbian meal called "podvarak", basically pork shoulder slow cooked in the oven on a bed of sauerkraut. The Czech national dish is "vepřo-knedlo-zelo", slow roasted pork shoulder, dumplings, and cabbage. In Germany there is "sauerkraut und Schwein", erm....slow cooked pork with sauerkraut, often served with potato dumplings. Where modern borders create breaks and barriers, reality is a continuity of shared history and experience.

To come back then to the side pour tap, what we are seeing is a revival of a central European way of doing things that was lost in the rush to modernity that was the 1960s. The uniqueness of the Lukr tap is in an innovation within the tap itself, which I can find no evidence for in the old texts, a filter screen that in layman's terms, turns the tap into a shower head, much like the sparkler does on a beer engine, thus creating the voluminous wet foam that the tap is rightly renowned for.

Lukr At That Cask Ale

Take a moment to think about what a pub that specialises in cask/real ale looks like... Chances are that when you thought about the bar itse...