beer reviews

The Method: mini-keg + music + maps

As the Current Situation rumbles on, we’ve got quite good at enjoying our weekends at home. For example, we’ve just spent two nights in Scotland.

Step one: get the beer right.

On any normal weekend in Bristol, we’d be grumbling about the lack of Fyne Ales Jarl, which shows up in pubs here perhaps once a year.

Jarl is a 3.8% golden ale with Citra and was the highlight of our trip to Scotland at around this time last year. For us, it has the perfect balance of bitterness (high), aroma (also high) and booziness (low) so that one more pint always feels both desirable and justified.

Now, obliged to source beer by delivery anyway, it occurred to us that we might as well order from the Scottish Highlands as anywhere else. So, two five-litre mini-kegs of Jarl arrived last week, with plenty of time to settle.

Mini-kegs haven’t always impressed us in the past, at least where they’re touted as cask ale at home. The ones they sell in supermarkets at Christmas, though fun and good value, often taste more like packaged beer than they do the mysteriously vital cask versions.

This Jarl though… Oh, boy! The moment we opened the top vent, it was as if we’d set loose a genie. The ghost of hop fields past. A controlled explosion.

A clean glass, a rush slowing to a trickle, and 40 seconds or so later, there we had it: a perfect, pub-like, sunshine yellow pint of one of the best beers in the world.

Over the course of the weekend, as we got through both mini-kegs, we never stopped saying ‘Wow!’ That prompted us to ask ourselves the tough questions: which is better – Jarl, or Thornbridge Jaipur? On this evidence, Jarl, being both more delicate and less lethal.

We paid £44 for two casks, including delivery and a branded pint glass. Keep an eye on the Fyne Ales website to see which mini-kegs are in stock.

Step two: music and maps

It’s almost a psychedelic experience if you get it right. Or at least a Magic Eye picture.

What you’re trying to do is trick the brain, even if only for a moment, into forgetting where you really are, under what circumstances.

If you’re tasting Scottish beer, looking at an Ordnance Survey map you last unfolded in the hills beneath Ben Nevis, and listening to the kind of music that would seem pandering and cheesy in situ, the mind submits to the fantasy.

If this is Fyne Ales, and those are fiddles, then this must be Fort William, which means we must be five days into a ten-day holiday in a perfectly normal year. So relax. Relax. Happy days are here again.

Desperate stuff, really, but we’re not proud.

Step three: reshape reality

One final trick is to change the physical space. For us, that’s meant spending 15 minutes on Friday night packing away the home offices and moving around the furniture in our front room.

If you put that small table here, if you turn the sideboard back-to-front, if you hang those pictures there, if you arrange the whisky bottles on the bookcase just so…

It’s still our front room.

But it’s our front room in fancy dress.

Just different enough to boost the intensity of the daydream and to make staying at home for the tenth weekend in a row somewhat bearable.

A few props help, too, like the catering-size box of ready salted crisps we ordered online. Because you only get those in pubs, right? Who in their right mind would have one at home, right? Ridiculous.

When we Tweeted a photo on Friday, someone asked – concerned, perhaps, or jealous – whether we were actually in a pub. And that, right there, is the point of the game.


Mini Kegging Our Home Brew

Family Ale home brew from a mini keg.

As our search for the most convenient and reliable method for dispensing home brew continues, we currently find ourselves infatuated with the five litre mini-keg.

Bottles are great, apart from the fact that cleaning and filling enough for a batch takes most of a day, and is beyond tedious. Serious home brewers rave about Cornelius kegs, but every time we read a ‘simple guide’, we find our eyes glazing over: too expensive, too complicated, and with too many dire warnings. Polypins are fine, but we’ve had more than one beer come out of them lifeless (our fault) and there’s no easy way to rectify that after the fact.

Mini-kegs, in theory, offer the best of all those options: bulk-filling, affordability, availability, and control over carbonation.

Mini kegging kit from Brewferm.Our first two attempts at mini-kegging didn’t go well. Even with the drastically reduced priming recommended by the manufacturers, we found the beer so over-gassed that we just got glass after glass of furious foam. This time, though (1938 ‘Family Ale’) we nailed it: we released the pressure from the keg before affixing the tap, and then dosed it with Co2 from a bulb to achieve the right level of carbonation at the point of serving.

We’re not sure we’ve ever seen our home-brew looking as appealing as this did with a stable head and gentle carbonation. (We didn’t aim for ‘fizz’.)

We’ve found that, assuming cleaning and sanitising procedures have been followed, it keeps for weeks in the keg, so there’s no rush to drink the whole lot in one sitting.

We bought our mini-kegging kit (three kegs, gas bulbs, tap) from Brewsmarter via for £70 including delivery.