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General Category => General Homebrew Discussion => Topic started by: tomsawyer on December 18, 2013, 06:59:57 PM

Title: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: tomsawyer on December 18, 2013, 06:59:57 PM
Our local distributor's craft beer specialist is bringing a couple of firkins to a local bar over the next two weeks, and I've been asked to do the honors of tapping them.  I proceeded to watch a few videos and sometimes they explode with foam and other times there is no spillage.  I guess my question is, how does one go about this?  I am wondering if placing the spile in the shive first won't prevent the blast of foam when hammering in the spigot?  I'm also wondering whether it isn't more fun to do it the other way and make a splash, literally?

The one this Saturday night is Tallgrass Vanilla Bean Buffalo Sweat, and on Dec. 28th we have Abita  Thomas Handy barrel-aged Winter ale.

And yes this is a bit of a brag.  This guy with the distributor is new and he's really twisting arms to get some new stuff in the local places.  I think its working too, exciting to see craft beer finally hit this little berg.
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: dbeechum on December 18, 2013, 07:35:53 PM
Technically, you're supposed to allow the casks to settle first and then vent them with a venting spile for a few hours and then you hammer in the tap.

Hammering in the tap immediately is asking for trouble.
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: singletrack brewer on December 18, 2013, 07:39:55 PM
It's best to spile the firkins prior to tapping to alleviate the pressure in the firkin preventing a foamy mess and wasted beer.  There are two methods I know of that are used.  One is to use a soft spile in the shive and replace it with the hard spile once it's done fobbing.  The other is to knock a hard spile in and let it rest for a few days to a week.  Obviously the soft spile method is faster.  Just remember to use a hard spile to pierce the shive before popping in the soft spile.  Hope this helps.
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: tomsawyer on December 18, 2013, 07:50:01 PM
He's going to set up the casks the night before so they'll settle for 24 hr.  I will ask him if he's going to hammer in the hard spile then or wait.  If he isn't doing that ahead of time I'll try to get there early and do it.

Thats got to be what people are doing wrong in all the crazy tapping videos on Youtube.  No spile at all, or just the hard spile.
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: singletrack brewer on December 18, 2013, 07:54:20 PM
Cool, you can probably soft spile them once they are in place.  They will fob for a bit, just monitor them and keep wiping the spile off.  You don't have to wait for the fobbing to stop either, once it slows considerably you can proceed with the hard spile.  You'll know if you've done it correctly when you replace the soft spile, there will be a little puff when you remove it. 
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: tomsawyer on December 18, 2013, 08:04:55 PM
So I want to strike the shive once with the hard spile then tap in the soft spile and wait for it to stop fobbing, then switch to the hard spile to maintain just a bit of positive pressure?  I suppose I remove the hard spile when we tap and dispense?

Had to look up what fobbing meant, mostly got it from the context.  Also saw the term "fretting" used for beer, so I learned two new words today!
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: majorvices on December 18, 2013, 08:52:24 PM
I always put the hard spile in first and do the venting spile if the pressure gets too low or a vacuum starts in firkin and you can't pull/pour any more beer.

A weighted mallet works best. You should be able to do it with minimal foaming as long as the keg isn't too over carbonated. Put a towel over the tap before you pop it in to reduce spray. Be sure to carry an extra keystone with you in case you break it during tapping, which has happened to me.
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: erockrph on December 18, 2013, 11:12:07 PM
Crazy Brits. Can't y'all speak proper English? And quit fobbing your soft spile or else you'll end up with a hard spile and go firkin blind!

Sent from my XT1080 using Tapatalk

Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: singletrack brewer on December 19, 2013, 12:12:32 PM
Tom, here is a link that has a little more info for you in terms of spiling and serving:
http://www.classiccitybrew.com/caskale.html
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: tomsawyer on December 19, 2013, 02:26:36 PM
Thanks for the humor erock, firkins are fodder for a lot of jokes (or is that fobber?)  GREATLY appreciate the link single.  It answers my additional questions nicely.  We're setting the cask up today at 5PM and I told him we would pound in a spile at this time.  Now I know we'll need pliers too.  I have a cool wood mallet although I do think a deadblow hammer might be more efficient.

I found out last night that the firkin of Vanilla Bean Buffalo Sweat also has ancho, chipotle, jalapeno and chocolate in it.  Cool!  The low heat and hint of smoke should complement the sweetness of the vanilla and the beer.  Much more interesting in my mind than just adding vanilla to a porter/sweet stout or whatever Buffalo Sweat is.
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: singletrack brewer on December 19, 2013, 07:42:03 PM
If your wood mallet has a good heft to it you could probably use that for tapping otherwise the deadblow would definitely work well. 
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: dkfick on December 19, 2013, 07:48:18 PM
I've used other mallets with my cask... There is just something fundamentally 'better' with using a nice wooden mallet when tapping a cask ;-)
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: tomsawyer on December 19, 2013, 08:29:00 PM
Exactly.

I was watching some firkin tapping videos on Youtube and one guy used a piece of 2x4, I thought wow thats poor planning.
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: tomsawyer on December 22, 2013, 02:02:35 PM
Worked like a charm, beer was fantastic.  Had a dark chocolate flavor and some vanilla sweetness, plus a low lingering heat from the peppers.  The head was perfect, generous creamy tan and long-lasting.  The near-room temp let the malt shine.

When I tapped in the spile it didn't really fob at all so I was worried about the carbonation, but for no reason.


http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=jO9I9QDJk4A&feature=c4-feed-u
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: singletrack brewer on December 24, 2013, 11:50:59 AM
Glad everything went well and thanks for posting the video.
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: tomsawyer on December 24, 2013, 12:03:18 PM
Couldn't have done it (without incident) without you all!

We didn't stay that long after having a couple pints, I found out they drank all but about five pints that night though and finished it off the next day.

Tapping another one this Saturday, Abita winter ale aged in Thomas Handy rye whiskey barrels.
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: kylekohlmorgen on December 24, 2013, 02:38:30 PM
He's going to set up the casks the night before so they'll settle for 24 hr.  I will ask him if he's going to hammer in the hard spile then or wait.  If he isn't doing that ahead of time I'll try to get there early and do it.

Thats got to be what people are doing wrong in all the crazy tapping videos on Youtube.  No spile at all, or just the hard spile.

This is non-negotiable. I've seen SO MANY bars/breweries in a rush to tap their precious firkin, just to end up with chunky beer.

You can keep 'er cool by keeping some wet towels in ice water, draping them over, and replacing every so often.

Side note - jealous of that Vanilla Buffalo Sweat Firkin. That beer is DELICIOUS.
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: tomsawyer on December 24, 2013, 10:21:07 PM
I had him put a jacket over the firkin in an attempt to keep it somewhat cool overnight.  It was drafty in the bar too so that helped.  I think it may have been closer to 60F or a little warmer.  Didn't bother me, one of my friends did say she liked cold beer better.

The peppers made a good beer better.
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: Bruce B on December 25, 2013, 07:39:00 AM
Here are some links to two episodes of Brewing TV that discuss making and serving cask ale.  These along with Steve Hamburg's presentation from the 2010 NHC is what got me going down the cask ale path.  Some of these are how to cask condition and about cask condition along with how to serve. 

http://brewingtv.com/episodes/2011/5/2/brewing-tv-episode-36-gone-firkin.html

http://brewingtv.com/episodes/2011/6/1/brewing-tv-episode-38-none-more-cask.html

We also had a cask ale night at our club meeting in August.  I did an overview presentation using these sources and a few others.  The reference page from the end of the presentation also has some additional links in case you're interested.  There is also audio but it is the first one we ever recorded so I apologize for any quirks.   http://beerbarons.org/index.php/publications-1/meeting-presentation-podcasts

Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: tomsawyer on December 27, 2013, 03:46:10 AM
Thanks Bruce, I watched/listened to all three of the presentations.  I remember seeing the Brewing TV episodes, just hadn't refreshed my memory.  Your slide presentation with audio was helpful too.

This did remind me how good Brewing TV was with Dawson and Keeler.  Those guys had chemistry.

Now to find out info about the firkin festival.

Also, I've done a version of this with the 5L metal minikegs, its a bit of work for 10 pints but its a way to experiment without having to drink 5gal at a pop.
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: tomsawyer on December 28, 2013, 12:14:32 AM
Firkin #2, Abita winter ale aged in rye whiskey casks, is in place and soon to be spiled.  Tapping tomorrow night.  Now I just have to fight off this crappy head cold so I can smell it.
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: tomsawyer on December 29, 2013, 02:05:17 PM
The second tapping went pretty well, although when I went by to check the pressure at 2pm the owner made me move the firkin because he said it was in the way where they set it up the day before.  I did my best not to slosh it around, and foretell there wasn't any dry hops or stuff. The Abita rep seemed surprised that the tapping didn't spray beer, I told him the key was relieving the pressure right before tapping.

The beer was what I guess you'd call a winter warmer although it was amber and might've been able to pass for a barleywine.  It had prominent oak tannins and a firm underlying bitterness that helped it finish dry in spite of the vanilla/caramel sweetness from malt and whiskey.  The cask conditioning really let the flavors shine too.  The crowd was good, we made a few toasts, the Irish band played and when I left after two hours the firkin was 3/4 gone already.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTEqAUtQJcY

I'm hoping my friend continues to bring firkins into town.  I do need to help him find a better insulated jacket, or possibly one with pockets for ice packs so these things aren't at room temp by the next day.
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: Bruce B on December 29, 2013, 06:52:02 PM
For our cask night we propped the pins up on some trays so that the water from the ice bags dripped down into them.  We also put some movers blankets on top of the ice bags to provide some additional insulation.  It worked pretty well.
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: tomsawyer on December 29, 2013, 09:05:29 PM
Yeah the water from ice would definitely be a problem that'd have to be dealt with.  I've seen some insulating jackets that looked like they were made for firkins, a good cold firkin with a jacket might make it 24hr and be low 50's.  Not that I mind but I do hear a lot of comments about warm beer.

The distributor also carries Summit, I asked him to see what they might have in a firkin for next month.  Hopefully the bars are making some money off this, I don't know what they are paying for these.
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: jeffy on December 29, 2013, 09:26:36 PM
I have seen gel-filled "blankets" for firkins, the kind you would freeze and then simply drape over the top.  They look kind of quilted, with one inch squares of gel.
Title: Re: Details on Tapping a Firkin
Post by: tomsawyer on December 30, 2013, 02:05:23 PM
Thanks I googled this and found what you're talking about through UK Brewing, I passed this on to the distributor guy.  I hope he buys a jacket and a pack of ten of these ice blankets.  I also pointed him to the nice spring-loaded stillage, crossing my fingers on that.