Anvil has draft beer – finally. When we ordered the walk-in cooler almost 300 days ago, we never thought that the beer would be the thing we waited on, but after weeks of delays and setbacks, we have finally been running draft beer successfully for several weeks.
The thought behind Anvil was to build a bar that no matter what kind of drinker you were you could find something to satisfy your thirst. While cocktails are what we are best known for, we sought out interesting wines and beers for the causal drinker and the enthusiast alike. The motivation behind our draft program is the pour some of the best beers you can buy in the city of and have them taste as close to brewery fresh as possible.
Bottled beer is easy, it’s bottled at the brewery at the proper pressure with the proper mix of gas, and, as long and the beer is handled with care during its journey from the brewery to the bar, all we have to do is open it and pour it into the proper glass. Draft is not the same story; there are a multitude of factors that influence the taste of a beer poured on daft. Beside the issues of handling during shipping, once the keg arrives in the bar, the most important factors we must consider are gas pressure, gas mix, keg rotation, length of draw, cleanliness of the lines and service procedures.
Gas pressure is an issue that many bars often overlook. Depending on the style of beer, the length of the draw, the temperature of the cooler, and the original keg pressure, the pressure a beer should be served will vary greatly. If the pressure is too low, the beer will pour slow and flat; if the pressure is to high, the beer will pour to fast and foamy. To give us the greatest amount of control at Anvil, we installed an individual regulator on every tap. The common practice is to run a regulator on a set of lines anywhere from 1 to 100. The problem with this method is that you have multiple beers running at the same pressure and no two beers run exactly the same. Even if you pour the same beer on the same line over and over again, opening cooler doors, brewery shifts, and shipping always create different circumstances for each keg. So, if you want to pour the best possible product, you must be able to change pressure depending on each specific brew. Our system allows us to adjust the pressure on every tap each time we change the beer or as needed, ensuring the best possible pour every time.
Gas mix is something that I had not given much thought to until recently. When we talk about gas in beer we are talking about Nitrogen, CO2 or a blend of the two. Most beers are carbonated at the brewery with 2 volumes or 3.9grams/liter of CO2. The volume of CO2 in the keg has a lot to do with how carbonated the beer is. In an ideal world, you would run a gas mix and pressure that is the same as factory original, giving you a more brewery true taste. But because of the length of some draft lines, you have to increase the pressure of the CO2 in order to push the beer, leading to over carbonation of the beer. The solution to the problem is blending in a high pressure, neutral gas to push the beer without over-carbonation. This is where Nitrogen comes into the picture. Nitrogen is not easily absorbed by beer and is less likely to change the taste of your favorite brew. As you increase the length of the draw, you increase the pressure and the amount of nitrogen in the mix. In order to custom blend the gas, you need a gas blender which allows you to mix CO2 with nitro as desired. Blenders are expensive. Most bars go with a pre blended gas known as beer gas. Beer gas is 70%-75% CO2 and 25%-30% nitrogen. The biggest problem with beer gas is that it might not be exactly the right blend for your draft system leading to flat or over carbonated beer. At Anvil we have a two zone blender that allows us to blend our gas mix to our needs; add the individual regulators and we have a complete the system helping to make a nearly perfect beer possible. One zone on our blender will be running a 70% nitrogen and 30% CO2 blend. This high nitrogen mix will push our big ales like stouts and big porters. The gas a bar uses to push beer from the keg is one the most import and least thought about aspects of the draft beer system. The purity of the gas that is used is very important because it will come into direct contact with the beer. You want to always use clean, dry gas, but sometimes, you might get a cylinder of gas that has been contaminated with back flow or something else. To avoid this, we have put in-line filters on the gas lines to keep the gas going to keep the beer as fresh and clean as possible.
When we talk about the length of a keg draw we are referring to the length the beer has to travel from the keg to the faucet. Long draw systems involve moving beer from a distant cooler (likely somewhere in the back of the building) to the tap (likely in the bar area). Long draw systems are very expensive, hard to maintain and unless you know exactly how to handle the gas mix and cooling system always lead to flat or over carbonated beer. Direct draw systems or short draw are used when the walk-in shares a wall with the bar, and, as a result, are the preferred approach to designing a beer system. The biggest advantage is that most of the beer lines are in the cooler so they are the same temperature as the keg, negating the necessity for costly and often unreliable line cooling equipment. Additionally, you have less line length and less beer sitting in the line this makes cleaning far easier. At Anvil we run a short draw. The tap wall is directly in front of our walk-in cooler, so there are no exposed lines, except for the shanks that run from the taps to the cooler, which are extremely well-insulated. This makes for the perfect line setup for serving the best beer possible.
You can have the best pressure, gas mix and draw length but all of this is for not if you don’t keep your lines clean. Most bars leave the line cleaning up to the distributor and don’t worry about doing it themselves. At Anvil, we have a great draft tech that works for one of the city’s larger disruptors but because we are changing beers so often we are going to clean our own lines as well. Line cleaning is pretty strait forward; using a special keg like object called a cleanout can you run a special chemical threw the lines to push all the old beer out. While beer is delicious beer is also a breeding ground for all kinds of un-tasty micro organisms. Often times, if you have ever had a poor tasting beer on draft, the cleanliness of the lines has a lot to do with it.
While although it might have taken longer than we thought draft beer is now flowing at Anvil. We have a unique approach to choosing beers that focuses entirely on the best beers we can get our hands on with a preference for local micro-brews and interesting beers you don’t usually see offered outside of the bottle. We never put the same beer on two times in a row, so when we change a keg, we change the beer. This guarantees that our selection will always offer something interesting, seasonal, and just down right cool. Here is a list of the beers that we will be offering over the next week or so, depending on how quickly you get out here and drink them.
Tap 1: Real Ale Devil’s Backbone
Tap 2: Lagunitas Shutdown
Tap 3: Victory Prima Pils
Tap 4: Dogfish Head 120 Minute
Tap 5: Oscar Blues Dales Pale
Tap 6: Real Ale Brewhouse Brown
Tap 7: Green Flash West Coast IPA
Tap 8: Victory Golden Monkey
Tap 9: Stone Smoked Porter
Tap 10: Dogfish Head Midas Touch
Tap 11: Real Ale Fireman’s #4
Tap 12: North Coast Old Rasputin
We hope that this list will inspire to you to think of Anvil as a great place beer as well as cocktails. We take as much care and time in tending to our beers as we do making a classic martini. We think that you will be able to taste the difference in the beers flowing out of our tap system. Great cocktails are a combination of lots of small little factors combining to form a unique taste experience; beer is no different. Have a North Coast Old Rasputin on high nitrogen at Anvil, and you’ll see what all this rambling was all about.