It seems every beery commentator has to include this one periodically, but it’s noticeable as soon as you venture down South there’s one massive difference with the beer served in pubs – The Sparkler effect.
If I’m honest, I’m not entirely sure where the deictic ‘down South’ starts? As a very young man working in a factory in Chesterfield, I reckoned it was somewhere about half way along the Dronfield by-pass, yet the last time I visited Chesterfield, I got a pint with a head on it.
If you look at Tandleman’s blog site, you can see a map of the Midlands defined with an iso-sparkle. I’m sure he’s not far off the mark, but it would be interesting to do a statistically viable study of this. Perhaps CAMRA branches could help here?
The merits, or otherwise, of the sparkler are well documented elsewhere. Personally, I think it’s what you’re used to, or get used to. I lived in the South East and South West for a time and rapidly got used to un-sparkled beer. Flat beer, most Northerners would call it, flat and warm in the SE too. I’ll throw in one of my catchphrases here – different isn’t wrong (but warm beer is inexcusable!).
I get the argument around beer styles. I couldn’t ever fancy a pint of Sam Smith’s OBB without a creamy head on it, but people sup large quantities of flat OBB in London and elsewhere. There’s even a bloke in my local asks for a pint of it pulled with the sparkler off, much to the disgust of the locals, obviously he’s a Southerner; again different isn’t wrong.
What about the long gone creamy pint of Tetley Bitter, created by the sparkler and the auto-vac pump, served up in the Gaping Goose, Garforth; or one of many other pubs that unofficially vied for the title of ‘Best pint of Tetley Bitter in Leeds’? Modern folk might turn their noses up at the auto-vac system, but surely that over a flat pint of Tetleys? I refer here to the original Joshua Tetleys Bitter brewed in Leeds and not the insipid brown liquid purporting to be Tetleys Bitter now brewed in a factory in Wolverhampton.
There is one area where there are significant benefits of having un-sparkled beer, or beer drawn directly from the cask. Chiefly, you get a full measure every time, a pint full to the brim of the glass. There’s no letting it settle for a minute and the rigmarole of, ‘Can you top it up please.’ In praise of the sparkler, I do think that the later addition of a ‘top up’ dramatically spoils the ‘whatever’ the sparkler gives it.
If you are serving beer through a sparkler, the arguments of oversized glasses filled to the line are valid, and necessary in order to obtain a full pint. Whichever way the licensed trade want to argue the case for, I see a lot of short measures passing over the bar in ‘pint to the brim’ glasses, and I do think that beer pulled with a head on in these glasses can be a big earner for the pub/brewery. How do you think Sam Smith’s managers attain their mandatory 5% surplus across all sales, for heaven’s sake?
If I’m honest, I’m ambivalent, and when in Rome … Having said that there’s nothing better than a creamy, foaming, three quarters of a pint of Northern Bitter. Like I said, different isn’t wrong and privately, I might be coming round to thinking those good folk in the Southern parts of our fair aisle might just have something here. And they say that us Northerners are tight!
Acknowledgements to Beernexus for the photos.