I was reminded of this with Tandleman’s recent post about a new type of sparkler. Wonderful news indeed. Of course I wanted one, and dropped a heavy hint to that effect. I may be above begging for free beer, but sparklers are a different matter. And lo and behold, one duly arrives at my door. I guess good things do come to those that deserve them. Or sometimes at least.
But before looking at that in detail, let us consider a brief history of the sparkler debate. For, inconceivable as it may seem to any sane person, it does have its detractors. No, honestly it does. The Neo-Luddites would have you believe it’s the work of the Devil. It’s a modern invention misused by landlords, it takes all the bitterness out of beer, except for Northern beers which are brewed that way. I’ve heard them all.
“They are a modern invention designed to ensure that pubs can get away with serving less than a pint.”
Sparklers have been around a long time. As far back as the 1920s, publicans were being urged to acquire sparklers from Messrs. Farrow & Jackson of Great Tower Street, London.
“They are used by lazy landlords to disguise flat, unconditioned, tepid beer.”
To quote the great Tandleman: “A sparkler won't help dead in the water beer.”
“Some of the volatile components associated with bitterness are driven out of a liquid when served with a tight sparkler."
Sparklers do not, and cannot physically lower the “bitterness” of the beer. A sparkler drives out some carbon dioxide (hence the foam), and in the foam there is certainly a mix of compounds which (following Dalton's law of partial pressures) is in proportion to what was in the beer.
If we assume foam is about 25% beer, then in the 75% remainder is where the 'volatiles' would be. Carbon dioxide has a high Henry's Constant, so ripping through a sparkler may cause it to flash out some of these ‘volatiles’. I say may, as I’m yet to see any detailed chemical proof of this. And, in any case, this would affect the aroma, not the bitterness.
Which brings us to, who is behind this campaign of disinformation? Sadly, one of the greatest perpetrators is CAMRA itself. Like many organisations, it has its reactionary elements and they have often been in positions of power. This faction were very active in the 90s (the first sparkler war) and tended to see beer from the wood, served at 60 degrees Fahrenheit, as the ideal for real ale.
One consequence of all this was that CAMRA started giving sparkler dispense advice in the GBG. A good thing, yes? Yes...but the deck is rigged against the poor little sparkler. The default position is no sparkler. Fair enough, you might think, but there’s no real reason for it. And there was no consultation on it, either.
At least the brewers get to specify their preference, right? Yes...but there’s a little historical twist to this as well. The anti-sparkler brigade were terrified that their favourite beers would get the sparkler green light. So they arranged it that if a branch felt that a beer was better off without a sparkler, they could override the brewer’s wishes. Shocking, but true.
But enough of the historical persecution of the unfortunate sparkler. We come bang up to date with the futuristic Vari-Head model. Now everyone has a favourite sparkler; the black, the white, the red, the lesser-seen green, but this has the potential to supplant them all.
By means of a simple sliding mechanism, the pourer can adjust the sparkler. Thereby simultaneously satisfying the sparkler aficionado and those poor, deluded, numpties who prefer it sans sparkler. No more fiddling around and transferring of sparklers or hunting around for the one that some idiot made you take off. Like garlic bread, it's the future.
So here’s to the drinker’s best friend: the sparkler.