Build A Beer-Keg Radio

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Here’s a fun one for the DIY crowd, from the June 1938 issue of Popular Science.

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The two-page instructions explained to readers how to build their very own Beer-Keg Radio. It was for your, you know, “game room.” Who doesn’t have one of those?

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It seems DIY was a lot less spoon-fed with detailed instructions back in the 1930s. There were only vague directions, giving a lot of flexibility to the project. Here’s the parts list you’ll need to build the radio:

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And here’s the schematic you’re meant to follow and duplicate:

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The introduction is priceless, here’s how they start out:

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Curiously, they actually tell readers to get a wine barrel and that they can later turn it into a beer keg. By 1938 were wooden beer barrels already that scarce? I honestly don’t know, obviously, but that seems like strange advice.

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Here’s what it would look like, before closing the top of the keg.

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After closing, the radio works with two knobs on top.

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After it’s done, “‘you’ll get a barrel of fun’ from this novel radio.”

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If you want to see the pages full size and build one yourself, here’s Page 1 and Page 2.

Session #48: Bottle, Can, Keg or Cask?

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Our 48th Session is hosted by Simon Johnson of the Reluctant Scooper. He’s chosen as his topic the age-old question about which package is best: “Cask, Keg, Can, Bottle?.”

The method of beer dispense often raises the hackles of even the most seasoned beer drinker. Some evangilise about living, breathing cask as being the one true way. Others heartily support the pressurised keg. The humble tinny has its fans. Lovers of bottled beer, either conditioned or pasturised, can be equally voiciferous.

Perhaps you think that one method magnifiies a beer’s impact. Perhaps you won’t try a beer if it’s dispensed in a way you don’t agree with. Perhaps you’ve tried one beer that’s been dispensed every which way.

The question is simple but your answer may not be: Cask, Keg, Can, Bottle: Does dispense matter

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I’m not necessarily a champion of any one beer delivery system over the rest. It seems to me that each contributes something to the final product, the beer. And while I applaud CAMRA’s efforts, especially early on, they seem to be stuck in the past these days continuing to promote the idea that cask beer is the only beer, whereas many forward-thinking British brewers are making great beer that’s kegged and bottled. I personally feel they should embrace any beer that tastes good and lose their preoccupation with one delivery system. (I have been a member of CAMRA, but my membership is currently lapsed.) I should also say that’s only how CAMRA seems to me from 5,000 miles away, it’s just my perception. I could be totally off base on that.

keg-wooden That being said, I must confess a weakness for cask beer, and generally order a beer on cask or in a firkin if a bar offers one. But that has more to do with wanting to encourage every bar, or at least all the good ones, to keep at least some cask or firkin beer on their menu. That, and cask beer in the U.S. is still uncommon enough that I still get excited when I discover that a new place has some. I suspect if I lived in England where it is far more common, that my choices might be different. Certainly whenever I visit the UK I rarely order beer that’s not on cask, unless it’s something special that’s not available on cask, as is increasingly the case from small artisanal British and Scottish brewers.

I really do love cask beer, especially when comparing the same beer on cask and on keg or bottled. While many people complain about cask beer seeming flat, I think the lack of carbonation allows you to taste more of the flavors of the beer that are often masked by the CO2 in non-cask beer.

keg Which brings us to kegs, which for many, many beers work just fine, as far as I’m confirmed. Certainly nitrogen kegs have a smooth taste as a generality and many regular CO2 kegs have that bubbly carbonation that for some beers works quite well, many lager styles for example seem to me to be improved by the carbonation, which give them a cleanliness of sorts — scrubbing bubbles is how I often think of them.

beer-bottle-brown Bottles, of course, allow us to be able to drink many more beers from around the country and the world because they make it possible for the beer to travel farther and last longer. Of course, clear bottles and green bottles pervert those advantages with new problems, but brown seems to do a pretty good job. I once read that red bottles would actually offer the most UV light protection, but apparently they’re prohibitively expensive for some reason (or perhaps it’s just a matter of little or no demand?). I’ve actually only seen one red bottle, which was a specialty beer I picked up at the Trumer Brauerei in Salzburg, Austria. I’ve also seen white and blue bottles, too, but have no idea how they compare.

Then, of course, there’s bottle-conditioned beers, with live yeast in them that continue to ferment in the bottle. For me, they’re the preferred bottle for many, if not, most styles of beer. Interestingly, the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in bottles — which is bottle-conditioned — uses a slightly different recipe for their kegged pale ale, and have been experimenting with essentially a keg-conditioned version that they’re hoping will more closely approximate the bottled version.

growler-2 Of course, the question also leaves out the hybrid package: growlers. Growlers are essentially a hand-bottled keg or cask beer that you can take home with you, but you have only a day or two in which to drink it. So it’s not exactly the best of both worlds, but it is a great way to try a draft-only beer in another setting.

beer-can-beer Cans are the wild card, I think. For so long, they were dismissed as a package. Back in the early days, brewers and other beer folk (myself included) hailed the brown beer bottle as the package for craft beer. So convincing was the argument at the time that I think it’s actually slowed the acceptance of craft beer in cans. Because the issues of beer in cans — specifically metal turbidity, which is metal leeching into the beer — have been largely solved. And beyond that, cans have many advantages over bottles. I’ve been involved in several side-by-side tastings of canned vs. kegged beer and the consensus in every case has been that no discernible difference can be detected. Is anyone yet doing a can-conditioned beer?

In the end, yes, I think the package does matter, but not to the point where I’d ever pass on a beer on that basis alone. Ultimately, it’s what the beer tastes like that’s most important. The package may determine that to some extent, and some do a better job with certain beers, but enough certainly seem suited to their primary package for it not to matter. As long as it ends up in my glass, I’m going to drink it, and I’ll probably enjoy it, too.

Zythophile Examines 40 Years Of CAMRA

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With the 40th anniversary of the Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA) just around the corner, one of my favorite beer historians, Martyn Cornell, takes a close look at some mistakes they’ve made along the way and some things they might have done better. He writes Maybe They Should Have Kept to ‘Revitalisation’. And Dropped the ‘Ale’at his wonderful blog Zythophile. Full disclosure, like Martyn, I’m also a CAMRA member.

Bay Area Firkin Fest This Weekend

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This Saturday, April 24, the 7th annual Bay Area Firkin Fest will be held at Triple Rock Brewery in Berkeley. Doors will open at 11:00 a.m. and tickets are $20. Admission includes a commemorative logo glass and six 4-oz. pours. Additional samples may be purchased for $2 each (or 3 for $5). This is one of the most fun festivals of the season, especially if you love cask beer. See you there.

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Session #36: Cask-Conditioned Beer

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Our 36th Session marks the three-year anniversary of our little project, spanning over 1,000 posts covering 36 topics, including today’s, which is cask-conditioned beer. Our host, Tom Cizauskas, from Yours For Good Fermentables, wants everybody to write from almost any angle so long as it’s about cask-conditioned beer. He gave a litany of ideas, which I earlier summarized as follows:

  • Ale vs. Lager Knockdown: “can lagers be cask-conditioned?”
  • Beer Ticker: “who makes the best, and who serves the best?”
  • Cellarmanship: “how should a pub handle a cask?”
  • Cultural Debate: “how Americans have ‘extremed’ the cask experience, or how Americans need further lessons from the British.”
  • Definitional: ” other than that CAMRA description, what ‘is’ cask-conditioned ale?”
  • Encomium: “how cask-conditioned ale will transform the world.”
  • Geek: ” at what temperature to serve, to sparkle or not sparkle, and how clear should clear be?”
  • International: “where was the most unexpected place you drank a pint of cask-conditioned ale?”
  • Lifestyle Essay: “how you first lost your cask-conditioned ale virginity.”
  • Pesce PETA: “can one be a vegetarian and drink cask ale?”
  • Style Harangue: “why saisons, for example, should have no place in a cask, or should.”
  • Zymurgical & Practical: “how does your brewery commercially produce and transport cask-conditioned ale?”

“Make it a sad story. Make it a love story. But … make it!” But ending with this entreaty to participate. “Above all, let’s have perspective folks, perspective! Cask-conditioned ale is not a matter of life and death; it’s much more.”

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I’ve been so swamped with SF Beer Week that I’ll have to keep this month’s Session post short, no small feat for me. So I figure I’ll go for “lifestyle essay” and tell the tale of how I lost my “cask-conditioned ale virginity.” It was my first trip to the UK, with my first wife (didn’t know that, yeah, I forget sometimes, too, it was so long ago) and we rented a flat near Clapham Junction. But we arrived one day before the flat was ready for us, so we had to find a hotel for one night. For no better reason than I loved the old Ealing Comedy Passport To Pimlico, I picked a small hotel in Pimlico, a small area in central London, officially part of the City of Westminster.

After checking in, we went for a walk and ended up at the Orange Brewery on Pimlico Road. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it had only opened that same year, in 1983. It was a brewpub, with the brewery in the basement. I remember that because I had a peek at it. After flying all night from the East Coast and lugging our bags on the Tube and to the hotel on a humid August day, I was pretty hot, tired and thirsty. So when I saw this corner bar, we immediately ducked inside.

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Over 25 years later, I can barely remember what I ordered. What I do remember is how much I immediately took to it, loved it in fact. Up until that point I’d pretty much taken for granted that all beer was served cold. To have one at cellar temperature was a revelation. It tasted so good. So I had another. And another. I was immediately hooked, though it would be years before I could indulge such passions on a regular basis. It’s really only been in the last decade or so that cask-conditioned ales have become more commonplace on this side of the Atlantic. While hardly ubiquitous, you can find them pretty easily, at least in the Bay Area where I live. We have our own local firkin festival that’s been going for about 6 or 7 years. There’s definitely a growing awareness and appreciation for them. We may never get to the point where the UK is — trying to save their real ale — but I think it’s safe to say that cask is here to stay and should continue to grow for the foreseeable future. I, for one, am very happy about that development.

Three-Year Session Anniversary To Feature A Cask Of Characters

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The next Session, to be held February 5, will mark our three-year anniversary of The Session. Our 36th Session will coincidentally take place on the first day of SF Beer Week this year. Our Host, Thomas Cizauskas of Yours For Good Fermentables, has chosen the topic Cask-Conditioned Beer, which he describes as follows:

Cask-conditioned ale —or “real ale” as it is called, somewhat boastfully, by the Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA), a beer consumer advocacy group in the UK— is defined by that organization as

beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide.

Viewers of [his] blog have read [his] opinions on cask-conditioned ale, and probably once too often. So, let’s hear yours, and not only yours. Why not invite brewers and drinkers and bemused casked-spectators to contribute essays for the Session?

He offers several approaches one might take the topic, with a colorful cask of characters:

  • Ale vs. Lager Knockdown: “can lagers be cask-conditioned?”
  • Beer Ticker: “who makes the best, and who serves the best?”
  • Cellarmanship: “how should a pub handle a cask?”
  • Cultural Debate: “how Americans have ‘extremed’ the cask experience, or how Americans need further lessons from the British.”
  • Definitional: ” other than that CAMRA description, what ‘is’ cask-conditioned ale?”
  • Ecomium: “how cask-conditioned ale will transform the world.”
  • Geek: ” at what temperature to serve, to sparkle or not sparkle, and how clear should clear be?”
  • International: “where was the most unexpected place you drank a pint of cask-conditioned ale?”
  • Lifestyle Essay: “how you first lost your cask-conditioned ale virginity.”
  • Pesce PETA: “can one be a vegetarian and drink cask ale?”
  • Style Harangue: “why saisons, for example, should have no place in a cask, or should.”
  • Zymurgical & Practical: “how does your brewery commercially produce and transport cask-conditioned ale?”

But in the end …

Make it a sad story. Make it a love story. But … make it! And make it here, Friday, February 5.

Write your story, then link to it here on the 5th as a comment or at my own post that day. A few days later, I’ll collate, analyze, comment, and link back. Include some photos, too: of casks, of imbibing their contents, of filling them.

Above all, let’s have perspective folks, perspective! Cask-conditioned ale is not a matter of life and death; it’s much more.

So let’s see who can cask new light on this subject and who scrapes the bottom of the barrel.