Thursday, October 18, 2007

I've lost my tut punch

I've lost my tut punch.

First some background and vocabulary:

A shive is the plastic or wooden bung that fits in the bung hole on the top of a cask. A tut is the little scored piece in the center of the shive that gets punched in. By the way, the shive is not the keystone. A keystone is the wooden or plastic bung through which you tap the cask. It is cut into one of the two heads of a cask.

A cask needs to be vented before it is tapped. This process releases excess carbonation and allows the beer to be poured. Think of it as the finger on the drinking straw: finger on the straw and the juice stays in the straw; release, and the liquid flows.

The easiest manner (and coolest) is to bang in the tut on the shive with a metal punch, a 16 inch metal rod, with a narrow end. Quick and easy.

But more often than not, a cask is vented by hammering in the tut with a small tapered piece of hardwood called a spile. The disadvantage to this method is that you'll be close to the tut, and thus close to the fountain of beer that sometimes spurts out when pressure is released. "Really officer, I'm wearing the beer!" Hardwood spiles are actually designed to retain carbonation within a cask after it has been vented and when it's not being served from.

A bar owner even described to me a strange method involving needle-nose pliers and quick hands.

Well, anyway, a few weeks ago, I was at the Atlanta airport to meet with the managers of a restaurant there for which my brewery supplies the beer. I went through my bag and removed several items: box cutters (I use these to cut cases to better display the 6-packs inside), a beer/wine bottle opener (a small blade for removing foil), keys, pens, loose change, PDA, phone, etc.

The assistant met me by a massive dinosaur skeleton in the eatery atrium (a convenient landmark) and walked me through the enormous airport. We got to security, took off our shoes, walked through the x-rays, etc.

All was fine, until, "Excuse me sir? Is this your bag?" "Yes it is,'" I said. "Why do you have a metal rod in your bag?"

I had hosted a beer dinner the night before, and had vented a firkin with my cask punch. On my way out, collecting my various cask paraphernalia, I had put the punch in the bottom of my bag and I had left it there.

I produced my brewery identification and apologized for my stupidity. The TSA supervisor was summoned. I was saved from extensive questioning - at best - when the restaurant manager made clear why I was there. The tut punch was confiscated.

What we'll do for cask ale!


The local branch of the Society for the Preservation of Beer From the Wood hosts its 3rd annual Real Ale Festival in Baltimore on Saturday, 27 October. Its website suggests purchasing tickets early, as the festival may sell-out.

Baltimore's branch of the SPBW, the first in North America, was begun by long-time Baltimore beer maven Joe Gold. Joe had worked for a short period at Young's now-closed London brewery. A later president of the group, Ron Kodlick, was a pugnacious advocate for real ale. Read here.

Casks being temperature sensitive, the three principal US importers of English cask ales tend to bring in casks from only November through April.

So I'm happy to see that some English cask ales will be featured this year in addition to the US casks: Gales and Black Cat from Moorehouse's. The latter was once the winner at the Great British Beer Festival, and although recently re-branded by the brewery, it is indeed a mild ale, and a wonderfully tasty one.

Clipper City is pouring casks of its Clipper City Gold Ale and Winter Storm Imperial ESB.

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