Sparklers – what’s the fuss about then?

sparklers.jpgOne of the poten­tial down­sides to York as a drink­ing des­ti­na­tion is the uni­ver­sal use of sparklers.  I say poten­tial, as the sparkler has its vocif­er­ous defend­ers as well as its oppo­nents.

A sparkler is a lit­tle plas­tic device that sits on the end of the pump and has lots of lit­tle holes, to cre­ate tiny lit­tle gas bub­bles as your pint is dis­pensed.  You end up with a creamy head that takes ages to set­tle.

We’ve read lots of the­o­ries on this – that it alters the taste as well as the mouth­feel; that “north­ern” beers are for­mu­lat­ed to be served like this and there­fore alway should be; that sparkled beers are quick­er to drink. So we thought we’d try a qua­si-sci­en­tif­ic test and com­pare the same beer with the two dif­fer­ent meth­ods.

The test brew was “Old Boy” from the Old­er­shaw brew­ery in Grantham, the place was the York­shire Ter­ri­er on Stonegate.   We asked for a half with a sparkler and a half with­out.  The bar­maid was per­fect­ly hap­py to do this, by the way.

Well, the two looked total­ly dif­fer­ent, as we hope can be seen from the pho­to.  That’s not par­tic­u­lar­ly sur­pris­ing.  The taste was also dif­fer­ent.  The sparkled ver­sion had a creami­er mouth­feel and a more “muf­fled” flavour.  The unsparkled ver­sion was raw­er – you could say less bal­anced – but the malt and hop mix hit you quick­er.

We both pre­ferred the non-sparkled ver­sion, hands down – it just seemed a lot more excit­ing.  And as a result, it got drunk quick­er…

That said, it was­n’t so con­vinc­ing a test as to make us ask for the sparkler to be removed every time.  And I have to say that late that day I had a love­ly sparkled half of Theak­ston’s Old Pecu­liar, which I’ve nev­er real­ly enjoyed before in its “raw” state.  So, I would­n’t be in a hur­ry to say that non-sparkled beer was “bet­ter” than sparkled beer across the board.

It’s prob­a­bly part­ly a ques­tion of what you’re used to, as much as any­thing else.


26 thoughts on “Sparklers – what’s the fuss about then?”

  1. I was going to write my views on this but have already expressed them at length. And the ad break between Skins and the dirty ver­sion of Hol­lyoaks has been short­er than expect­ed.

  2. This is cer­tain­ly a sub­ject that has been done to death. To be hon­est, I’m not sure the test even qual­i­fies as “qua­si-sci­en­tif­ic.” When I’ve tried it on tast­ing pan­els, it’s always been on beers where you know whether the beer was intend­ed for sparkler use or not. Old­er­shaw may be one that isn’t meant to have a sparkler. I gen­er­al­ly pre­fer sparkled beer any­way, but it can be inter­est­ing to com­pare the two. If I were you I’d try some­thing like Sam Smiths to appre­ci­ate the dif­fer­ence.

  3. Or Lees, or Phoenix or.…. Oh I could go on. Like Stonch says, it has been done to death, but in the end two things stand like stone. One is con­di­tion. Beer must have it sparkler or not. Two is pref­er­ence and upbring­ing. What’s bred in the bone and all that.

    I’ll add a third actu­al­ly. A half pint just does­n’t do it, even in a fair­ly mean­ing­less com­par­i­son. Speak­ing as a bar­man, you need a pint to pull prop­er­ly through a sparkler. Four? Dammit I’m off to Ger­many now.

  4. Inter­est­ing, and thanks for clar­i­fy­ing what a sparkler is. While it might have been “done to death” — real­ly? hyper­bolize much? — it seems like writ­ers often assume every­one knows what it is they’re so vehe­ment­ly denounc­ing / endors­ing. More light, less heat, please.

    I haven’t seen any­thing any­thing sim­i­lar in cen­tral Europe, so it’s nice to read your take on it. Now if I could just get to a place where I can try them both.

    Mmm, creami­er mouth­feel and muf­fled flavours…

  5. Evan, I think this is where we have to be real­is­tic about our audi­ences! The major­i­ty of read­ers of my blog, and I’m sure too, are in the UK and most of those will be real ale drinkers. I make cer­tain assump­tions all the time.

    And heat is good. More heat, please. It’s fun.

  6. Evan – ta. We try hard to stick to the prin­ci­ples of plain Eng­lish and avoid jar­gon, although we don’t always suc­ceed. That prob­a­bly means that we occa­sion­al­ly explain some­thing some of our read­ers already know per­fect­ly well, but I think it’s bet­ter to be safe than sor­ry.

    Stonch – you’d be sur­prised how many of our read­ers aren’t that into beer. Some of them are just peo­ple we know from the real world, or have stum­bled on the site googling for some­thing spe­cif­ic. We want to engage their atten­tion a bit, if we can, rather than just preach to the con­vert­ed. God knows if we’re achiev­ing that, but it can’t hurt to try.

    And I real­ly hate heat. If I want to hear peo­ple bick­er, I can spend a week­end with my par­ents…

  7. My blog has a steady trick­le of read­ers who come look­ing for pic­tures of Gem­ma Atkin­son and Bil­lie Piper. Now that I’ve left this com­ment, you’ll get your share too.

  8. We got plen­ty by post­ing the words “Amy Wine­house”…

    Seri­ous­ly, even if you’re quite into beer, if you’re Lon­don-cen­tric you can be bliss­ful­ly unaware of sparklers. I can hon­est­ly say I’d nev­er heard of them until about a year ago. Go on. Mock.

  9. Although I can appre­ci­ate what you are say­ing-lots of “ordi­nary” drinkers are unaware of sparklers, I think Stonch is right. There is a cer­tain lev­el of assump­tion that is (most­ly right­ly, made. Whilst it’s great to be inclu­sive, the nature of blogs will mean they appeal to a main­ly spe­cial­ist audi­ence. They are not the ide­al medi­um for long run­ning deabtes-such as sparklers. By the time they were dis­cussed prop­er­ly, the blog would have moved on to many new top­ics.

    Evan. I’ve been on the net since 1992-pre Google and even Yahoo was but a twin­kle. Way back then, on Usenet, there was a big fuss about sparklers. When I cre­at­ed my first web­site in 95, I was talk­ing about it then. Drinkers were inter­est­ed in them, but with­out a prop­er search engine, infor­ma­tion was scarce. So, I’ve been dis­cussing them for 16 years, hence my com­ments about them being done to death-ie noth­ing new to say about them. Although, like sex, peo­ple are always dis­cov­er­ing them for the first time:)

  10. Tyson, your date of first inter­net use (wow! con­grat­u­la­tions! you’ve got street cred, bro!) does­n’t do any­thing to change this fact: assum­ing that your read­ers know exact­ly what you’re talk­ing about is not wide­ly con­sid­ered a prac­tice of good writ­ing — not in blogs, not in news­pa­pers, not any­where. I gath­er from your com­ment that you’re not a writer by pro­fes­sion, so I do under­stand your con­fu­sion there.

    Late­ly I’ve been think­ing a lot about Michael Jack­son’s writ­ing. To me, one of its great aspects is how inclu­sive it is, how even peo­ple who don’t “know every­thing about beer” and who aren’t total beer fanat­ics can open up a page and wade in to a very plea­sur­able read­ing expe­ri­ence. If only more blog­gers could write like that!

    And to bring it back to this par­tic­u­lar blog, I sim­ply don’t agree with your premise: to me, it does­n’t mat­ter if the sub­ject was “done to death” on a usenet group 16 years ago. You want me to fire up Lynx and go read your flame war on sparklers from ’92? You want me to fire up Mosa­ic and check out your site from ’95? Sor­ry, bud­dy. Ain’t gonna hap­pen.

    I tune in to this par­tic­u­lar blog because it’s well-writ­ten, it’s amus­ing and I like Boak & Bai­ley’s take on most sub­jects they choose to address. And that, my friend, is nev­er going to be out­dat­ed.

  11. Of course you are entire­ly cor­rect, Evan, but in the “blo­gos­phere” I don’t think it’s quite crick­et to talk down to peo­ple on the basis they’re not “a writer by pro­fes­sion”! 😉

  12. What an excel­lent arti­cle, and thank you for telling me what a sparkler is. This is def­i­nite­ly a qua­si-sci­en­tif­ic test (see Camp­bell and Stan­ley, 1963).

  13. I’d like to pick up on what Tan­dle­man said “A half pint just doesn’t do it, even in a fair­ly mean­ing­less com­par­i­son. Speak­ing as a bar­man, you need a pint to pull prop­er­ly through a sparkler.” I’m firm­ly in the anti-sparkler camp, and Tan­dle­man’s com­ment just rein­forces my belief. Pints are great but occa­sion­al­ly I will have a half of some­thing, often a strong one to fin­ish off the evening. What’s the point if it does­n’t do halves as it should. Pre­sum­ably you get half ruined beer as opposed to total­ly ruined beer.

  14. Nice­ly twist­ed Paul. That isn’t exact­ly what I am say­ing. I am say­ing that the half pint is rarely pulled with the force need­ed to pro­duce the creamy head, so you will get less of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the sparkler. The beers will be much more alike than in a pint. It will vary though of course.

    As for ruina­tion, as I have said many times before, it is large­ly pref­er­ence and upbring­ing.

    On a dif­fer­ent sub­ject, can I endorse what Stonch says about Evan Rail’s con­de­scend­ing post to Tyson!

  15. it is large­ly pref­er­ence and upbring­ing”

    Amen. When you hear and con­sid­er dif­fer­ent views on this – and its good that Tan­dle­man speaks up for sparklers – that’s the only sen­si­ble con­clu­sion. Although I did work in a real ale pub before I went to uni, almost all of my ale drink­ing has tak­en place down South, where sparklers are rare. That is what informs my view on the sub­ject.

  16. On a dif­fer­ent sub­ject, can I endorse what Stonch says about Evan Rail’s con­de­scend­ing post to Tyson!

    Can I just say hav­ing met Evan, he is a very nice chap and there­fore I’m sure he did­n’t mean to offend! Indeed he bought me and the Long Armed Goon tick­ets for the Prague metro when were we too drunk to work the machine. A gen­tle­man and schol­ar, no less.

  17. Evan. It’s a fair cop‑I don’t earn the major­i­ty of my income from writ­ing, so couldn’t/wouldn’t claim to be a pro­fes­sion­al writer. How­ev­er, unlike most blog­gers, I have actu­al­ly had hard copy pub­lished, and prac­tised edi­to­r­i­al duties, so I would hope I under­stand the nature of the writ­ten word. I will take the char­i­ta­ble view that you sim­ply mis­un­der­stood my com­ments, rather than being too dense to under­stand them. Basi­cal­ly, all I was doing was agree­ing with Stonch about every­one mak­ing cer­tain, basic, assump­tions. I didn’t say any­thing about assum­ing read­ers know “exact­ly” what I’m on about-my blog is delib­er­ate­ly just about pubs and drink­ing, and noth­ing tech­ni­cal. You can’t get more basic than that. But, for exam­ple, I do make the same assump­tions that most (includ­ing this excel­lent one), beer blogs make. I expect the read­ers to be gen­er­al­ly inter­est­ed in beer/pubs, and I don’t con­tin­u­ous­ly explain what real ale is. I don’t think cred­it­ing the read­er with above amoe­ba lev­el intel­li­gence is any bad thing.

    Hav­ing said that, I may be wrong. “You want me to fire up Lynx and go read your flame war on sparklers from ‘92? You want me to fire up Mosa­ic and check out your site from ‘95?” Er, no. I don’t remem­ber say­ing that either. I was actu­al­ly think­ing that you could try a 30 sec­ond net search. The point was that the sub­ject of sparklers has already been dis­cussed ad infini­tum. That’s a fact you are going to have to live with. What it does mean is that all the infor­ma­tion you need is out there, and (nowa­days) eas­i­ly acces­si­ble. What, you want me to rein­vent the wheel because you’re too lazy to Google? Sor­ry, bud­dy. Ain’t gonna hap­pen.

    Final­ly, apart from your con­de­scend­ing, and infan­tile tone, can I also say I’m offend­ed by the notion that I’m some sort of beer fanatic/geek. Also, can I say, I’ve nev­er, ever, been involved in a flame-war.

  18. Do you think it would be ok to take your own sparkler to a pub and ask them to use it when pour­ing your pint — or do do you think I’m like­ly to be kicked out !?. I live in Lon­don and just pre­fer how a beer drinks after its gone through a sparkler, and they don’t use them here.

    1. Wel­come Guy. I think if you were in a pub where they took the beer seri­ous­ly, they may have a sparkler knock­ing around, or may allow it. How­ev­er, I reck­on your aver­age Lon­don bar­tender would look quite con­fused.

  19. I just hap­pened across this dis­cus­sion and want­ed to add my tup­pance, just to qual­i­fy my com­ments I am an expe­ri­enced man­ag­er in the indus­try with over 25 years actu­al oper­a­tional man­age­ment includ­ing Man­ches­ter, Liv­er­pool, Der­by, Leices­ter­shire, Sur­rey, War­wick­shire and my home coun­ty of Northum­ber­land. All beers and lagers are left with a risid­ual amount of gas­es after the brew­ing process, trad ale is unique as when deliv­ered to the pub it needs to under­go a sec­ondary process called work­ing out, this process is start­ed by tap­ping and vent­ing which lets this hap­pen and con­di­tions the beer ready for sale. Dur­ing this process of sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion the beer will let off an amount of gas­es usu­al­ly expelled through a soft peg in the spile, main­ly co2 but also vay­ing oth­er ele­ments such as nitro­gen depend­ing on the actu­al brew. The sparkler is used to aid in the release of the gas­es that are absorbed in the beer and to pro­duce a head, the best being a tight creamy head that lasts to the bot­tom of the pint and leaves a lace on the glass. There is to my knowl­edge no beer that is brewed either for or not for a sparkler as all beer has absorbed gas­es, the only dif­fer­ence is either a flat pint or one which has been livened through a sparkler. Also as a drinker of over 30 years most bar staff are poor in both their ser­vice and prod­uct knowl­edge, the head on a pint is con­stuct­ed in the first pull and try­ing to put a head on at the end will result in a poor head which gen­er­al­ly does­n’t last, my stan­dard is to not only train my staff how to serve all the prod­ucts but also to ensure they are knowl­edgable about them, they are taught to con­struct a pint with the min­i­mum of waste and to the cor­rect lev­el of no more than 5% head, I also include glass han­dling amongst oth­er issues as it annoys me when I see bar staff han­dle a glass in the area which a drinker drinks from. The argue­ment will con­tin­ue but the real­i­ty is that no sparkler means a flat pint, the real­i­ty is that south­ern­ers would rather have a flat full pint cause they are tight wads.

  20. 25 years expe­ri­ence and still clue­less? No sparkler does­n’t mean a flat pint unless the beer is flat to begin with. If your beer won’t form a head with­out forc­ing it through a sparkler then it’s in crap con­di­tion in the first place.

  21. I’d rather have an unsparkled pint because I like real ale, i.e. ale that’s been tra­di­tion­al­ly brewed, using tra­di­tion­al ingre­di­ents and which comes straight out of a bar­rel via a sim­ple tap or a sim­ple beer engine. The fact that sparklers turn the top of the beer into a whipped-creme emul­sion might remind North­ern­ers of their much loved ‘smooth’ keg beer like John Smiths but it irri­tates the hell out of me. I don’t want a foam mus­tache and I don’t like the fact that the aver­age ‘sparkled’ head gives the pub a tenth of a pint to sell on to anoth­er cus­tomer.

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