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...


3 comments:

  1. Hi Alistair,

    Does the Aitken Fount have a screen? It could be one difference with the Lukr tap. Otherwise, I bet the Lukr can be used for almost any beer style; I've tried different ales but never highly carbonated ones (i.e: Saison, Hefewizen, etc). The amount of foam can be controlled, it's texture will be different to the typical cask ale foam I guess.

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  2. I'll be in Edinburgh in a month and will have to check out the Athletic Arms (Diggers) where this photo of the tall founts was taken.

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  3. The tall fonts were allowed by CAMRA as they used air pressure not CO2 pressure. Just like the taps in Czechoslovakia used to. Ah, air-pressure Prazdroj. What a wonderful drink that was.

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