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20 What is the swan-necks and sparklers argument about?




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This article is from the Real Ale FAQ, by with numerous contributions by Brett Laniosh others.

20 What is the swan-necks and sparklers argument about?

A: If you agitate the beer it foams up. This has the effect of taking
bitterness from the body of the beer into the foam. The age old method of
serving beer is to pour it direct from a tap in the cask. This spills out
under the simple influence of gravity (hence the name given to this method
of dispense) into a jug or glass. To put a pretty head on this beer hold
the glass further below the tap. Handpumps draw the beer through pipes
attached at one end to the cask to the other the spout. Obviously the beer
is agitated a bit more as the beer is forced through the pipes, pump and
valves. If small bore pipes are employed with many throws of the pump, or
impeller pumps are used, the beer is shaken about rather more. If the
spout is simply a tap with no restriction, then the beer is poured into
the glass gently. On the other hand it may be a small diameter pipe, which
is used nowadays, often in the form of a hairpin which has the effect of
shooting the beer into the glass and really stirring it up. This
small-bore hairpin is called a "swan neck".

By squirting the beer through a nozzle containing small holes in it,
called a "sparkler", an even greater effect is obtained. Sometimes a very
dull beer can have "life" added to it by passing it through a simple
restriction in a plain spout. Normally though the sparkler is used
indiscriminately to foam the beer and make it look like you see on the
telly.

The trouble is that this is not just about what it looks like. Bittering
agents especially migrate to the surfaces of the bubbles in the foam
making the foam bitter, but this flavour comes from the body. (Taste the
foam then the beer.) There is a myth that 'Northern' beers have always
been served like this. However today this appears to be accepted as fact
by many. Assume that country pubs in the south of the country will tend to
have plain dispense without swan-necks and sparklers and the opposite
applies elsewhere. The disputes arise because some people prefer, or are
simply used to, having the bite taken out of their beer. Some people don't
go by taste at all but assume the beer is flat and therefore "off" if it
doesn't foam up, not realising that the appearance is due to the barmaids
muscles, not the basic condition.

 

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