Sparklers, in summary

The Grey Horse, Manchester.

So, to sum­marise:

  • Sparklers work best with well-con­di­tioned beer, bring­ing some of c02 out of sus­pen­sion to form a denser head, but leav­ing plen­ty in the body of the pint.
  • But if a beer is low on con­di­tion, a sparkler might well rob it of what lit­tle CO2 it has, leav­ing it with a head, but even flat­ter beneath.
  • There­fore, sparklers might equal­ly be used to make beer in poor con­di­tion look bet­ter than it is, or to give a beer in good con­di­tion a par­tic­u­lar pre­sen­ta­tion.
  • But there’s no way for a drinker to know until they taste it.
  • Sparklers may also mute or oth­er­wise affect per­cep­tion of cer­tain flavours and aro­mas. Some beers are brewed with this in mind.
  • Oth­er­wise, it’s a mat­ter of per­son­al pref­er­ence.
  • So sparklers are nei­ther pure­ly good, not pure­ly evil.

Is that about it?

What’s Brewing? Same as 40 years ago.

Header for CAMRA's What's Brewing letters page, mid-70s.

Tom Stain­er, edi­tor of the Cam­paign for Real Ale (CAMRA) news­pa­per What’s Brew­ing?, once point­ed out, while under fire, that there aren’t many argu­ments about the Cam­paign’s pol­i­cy that haven’t already been played out, often repeat­ed­ly, over the course of forty years. Going through old issues of What’s Brew­ing, we sud­den­ly saw what he meant: there were entire let­ters pages from the mid-sev­en­ties that, if print­ed in the next issue of WB, would­n’t seem incon­gru­ous.

Some peo­ple would drink oil served by hand­pumps. Jan­u­ary 1975. ‘In view of CAM­RA’s strong empha­sis on the mode of dis­pense of beers should it not be renamed the Cam­paign for Unpres­surised Ale? Sure­ly the major empha­sis should be on what goes into the beer and what it tastes like?’

Why I’m think­ing of leav­ing CAMRA. March 1976. Cor­re­spon­dent feels the Cam­paign is drift­ing away from its found­ing prin­ci­ples of bat­tling keg. Refers to CO2 as ‘tear gas’.

It’s not muck. Same issue. ‘Fanat­ics of all kinds always annoy me and I must there­fore com­ment on your cor­re­spon­dent… who wrote of his CAMRA col­leagues drink­ing “pres­surised muck” at their local as if they are on a lev­el with Judas Iscar­i­ot.’

A nar­row-mind­ed approach to beer. April 1976. Chair­man of Rud­dles brew­ery says: ‘There are times when I feel that all draught beer [cask] is auto­mat­i­cal­ly good and all keg, bot­tled and canned beer is auto­mat­i­cal­ly bad, in the eyes of CAMRA. This is sure­ly a very nar­row-mind­ed atti­tude.’

Purism wins. Same issue. ‘I did­n’t think I’d ever see the day when I would read a spir­it­ed defence of fizz from a CAMRA mem­ber [‘It’s not muck’, above]… I despair at the idea of any CAMRA mem­ber reg­u­lar­ly drink­ing fizz because it is some­times incon­ve­nient to drink real ale… It is the very fanati­cism (purism would be a bet­ter word) of many CAMRA mem­bers that has held back the tide and retained real ale for us.’

And who start­ed the end­less bloody sparkler debate? Two chaps from Sheffield, with the fol­low­ing let­ter from March 1979.

Tight head’ give same results as air pres­sure. ‘To add a new dimen­sion to the air pres­sure debate, we would like to argue that a dif­fer­ence in taste com­pa­ra­ble to that pro­duced by air pres­sure is pro­duced by the uni­ver­sal North­ern prac­tice of pulling beer through a tight sparkler, there­by thor­ough­ly agi­tat­ing the beer and mix­ing it with air, result­ing in the char­ac­ter­is­tic north­ern “head”… This has the effect of dis­guis­ing the flavour of the beer, of obscur­ing the dis­tinc­tion between real ale and bright beer, and of giv­ing the aver­age North­ern drinker a spu­ri­ous cri­te­ri­on by which to judge a good pint.… when we have been able to drink local beer “flat”, is has seemed to excel in body and flavour.’

Weird bar staff quirks

Here are a cou­ple of odd­i­ties we’ve come across late­ly.

1. The bar­man who warned us not to mix the sed­i­ment from our St Austell cloud­ed yel­low into the glass with the beer or we’d “end up very poor­ly”. That’s cloud­ed yel­low. It’s a British take on a Bavar­i­an wheat beer, and the bot­tle advis­es that it can be served with or with­out the yeast sed­i­ment mixed in. Yet more evi­dence of the British fear of sus­pend­ed yeast and its sup­pos­ed­ly poi­so­nous qual­i­ties.

2. The bar­maid who thought we weren’t look­ing when she held a sparkler near the pump in the last few sec­onds as she pulled the pint to live­ly up the head. She did­n’t attach it, she just held it in place while she put the fin­ish­ing touch­es to our pints. With­out this bit of weird jig­gery-pok­ery, we sus­pect they would have been com­plete­ly flat.

UPDATE 27/07/2012: we spot­ted anoth­er bar­maid in a St Austell pub doing more-or-less the same thing with the sparkler only, this case, she stopped when she had the glass two-thirds full, fixed the sparkler prop­er­ly, and then fin­ished the pint. We asked why and she said: “Because Prop­er Job is a bit live­ly. If you leave the sparkler on the whole time, it gets too much head. This is the best of both worlds.” So, there you go, we got it wrong first time round.

Active drinking

Con­front­ed with a sparkled pint in a pub in Cheshire recent­ly, I thought I’d try the same trick. I active­ly supped, rather than just pour­ing the beer in through my hor­ri­ble great cake­hole.


In the lat­est edi­tion of James and Oz Pre­tend to Argue about Booze, a man told them how to drink Guin­ness prop­er­ly. He insist­ed that you “pull the beer through the head”.

Con­front­ed with a sparkled pint in a pub in Cheshire recent­ly, I thought I’d try the same trick. So, I active­ly supped, rather than just pour­ing the beer in through my hor­ri­ble great cake­hole.

It worked.

I got the ben­e­fit of the pil­lowy head, but the beer came through loud and clear – not mut­ed, or sub­dued. I left the head behind in the glass, where it belongs, mak­ing my pint look nice.

It’s odd to find your­self rethink­ing some­thing as nat­ur­al and instinc­tive as the act of tak­ing on liq­uid through the mouth, but I guess an obses­sion with beer will do that to you.

Inci­den­tal­ly, we thought Oz and James were pret­ty dread­ful last night, although it was worth putting up with 25 min­utes of self-indul­gent dri­v­el to see the Beer Nut and Bion­ic Lau­ra on our screens.