Tap handles are an essential part of any in-person, beer-drinking experience. The array of artistic handles that line the bartop are your first hint at what you might be drinking that outing. And though they may not sway you in choosing which beer you’ll consume, they’re the instrument that will help deliver the beer straight to your lips.
As typical Americans, in our eyes, the more, the better — we want less head and more beer when we order a pint. But according to Andy Allen, director of marketing for Aslan Brewing Co. in Bellingham and Seattle, that doesn’t necessarily hold true.
“In reality, that small difference of having a tiny bit of foam — one to three inches depending on the style — retains flavor and quality of beer,” he says.
A FOR EFFORT
There’s been a shift by craft brewers that both Allen and James McDermet, head brewer at Seattle’s Reuben’s Brews, have noticed. While IPAs have caught the attention of brewers and drinkers alike for the past decade, the focus has changed to brewing craft lager.
“As brewers, we’ve always gravitated towards those beers because we understand the effort that goes into them,” McDermet says.
Unlike hoppy ales, lagers are traditionally served with a healthy amount of head and it’s something that breweries like Aslan and Reuben’s are trying to teach their consumers.
A couple of years ago, the team at Aslan visited Germany and the Czech Republic where they were inspired by the lagers and pilsners they found there. One of the things that they learned about and wanted to bring back to the states was the side-pull tap, also known as a lager faucet. A different sort of tap than what you see in American bars.
“Traditional faucets have a ball valve, this, on the other hand, is a little bit different,” Allen explains. “When you pour it, it pours a dense wet foam first then underneath the foam, the beer is then released.”
This is in comparison to typical American taps are simply on and off switches that don’t allow for any control over the foam which is poured last rather than first.
“You can pour in different styles to help release carbonation or retain carbonation,” McDermet explains. “You can accentuate or decrease bitterness from that and so, even just compared to a traditional pouring faucet, you can get a pretty good difference in character there.”
McDermet also says the foam acts as a layer to protect the beer from carbonation and is a hallmark to a well-made lager.
“Side pulls are great because they create really dense foam so they have higher foam quality and it’s more likely to stay as you take continual sips out of your glass,” Allen adds.
While Aslan now has all three of its breweries installed with a side-pull tap, Reuben’s installed their first one this January. For the two breweries, installing a side-pull tap was a decision made for both the fact that it was a unique experience for their customers and also to showcase their lagers with the highest quality.
“For us, it kind of fits in line with that we take beer seriously and trying to create that elevated aspect to it and teach more people about it,” McDermet says of Reuben’s.
Side-pull faucets have also been seen at Chainline Brewery in Kirkland, Washington, as well as Wayfinder Beer in Portland. Brewery-goers can get pints poured from the unique handle at any of Aslan’s brewery locations and Reuben’s taproom. Currently, Aslan offers a mlíko pour — a Czech tradition of having a beer that is mostly foam at the end of the night — as another way to celebrate and honor the Czech beer culture.
Reuben’s hopes in the future to do events surrounding the side-pull tap including a comparison between a beer poured with a traditional tap and one with the lager faucet. Allen predicts that we’ll start to see a lot more of the taps as more and more breweries focus their energies on craft lagers.