January 25, 2018
I Want a Firkin Beer! Fridays at Moby Dick Brewing
It was the name that got me.
I was looking at the Moby Dick Brewing Co. website to check out the lunch menu and there was an intriguing phrase highlighted: Firkin Fridays. What did it mean?
Turns out it’s kind of British and kind of old school. If you’ve been binging The Crown and you’re thirsty, you might want to check it out. If you could care less about The Crown, you should still check it out.
Every Friday, Brewmaster Scott Brunelle makes a limited quality of a specialty cask-conditioned ale, called firkin beer. He draws off some ale from one of their larger stainless steel tanks, puts it into a small cask and adds some flavor (the week we were there, he threw in lemon peel; another week, he may throw in toasted coconut) and malt extract. Over the next week in the cask, the beer is brought up to room temperature. As it warms, the yeast in the beer wakes up and starts eating the sugar, creating a natural carbon dioxide in the cask.
The result is a small batch of flavorful beer.
The following Friday, Scott will tap the keg at the end of the bar in a tap designed especially for this unique cask. Because there is no carbon dioxide pushing the beer out of the tap, the cask is placed horizontally with the back slightly higher than the front for a gravity assist. A hand pump, called the beer engine, pushes the beer out. It’s the way people have been drinking beer in Britain for centuries.
Moby Dick Brewing Co. likes to say, “Each Friday, we get to drink beer the way Herman Melville would have.”
But why is it called firkin beer? It’s the cask itself that’s called a firkin and it’s based on a unit of measurement. A standard firkin is ¼ of a British standard 36 Imperial gallon barrel (the equivalent of 10.8 US gallons). Scott uses a version that is half that size – or just 5.4 gallons. I tell you that because you have to get there soon after he taps it to be able to try it because when they say it’s small batch, they mean it. It’s a small quantity. Show up on Sunday afternoon and you’ll surely be out of luck.
And you’ll want to try it. It tastes more flavorful for a couple of reasons. First, there’s no carbon dioxide crowding out the beer flavor. Also, it’s served at cellar temperature rather than the 36 degrees of most of the other beers. The temperature allows you to taste flavor elements that are normally masked by the cold factor.
It’s a treat to hear him talk about his craft. Even if you’re not thirsty, even if you’re not binging The Crown, even if you don’t like beer, go down and meet Scott.
There’s a lot more to the science of firkin beer. Scott told us all about what makes it work. He’s been brewing beer since 1996 after attending Boston University and majoring in political science (New Bedford’s own Sam Adams?). If he sees folks looking in from the viewing room window onto the floor, he’ll generally invite them in and give them what he calls “the 10 cent tour.” It’s a treat to hear him talk about his craft. Even if you’re not thirsty, even if you’re not binging The Crown, even if you don’t like beer, go down and meet Scott. And remember, each week’s batch of firkin beer is only good until it’s gone. Moby Dick Brewing, 16 S. Water Street, New Bedford, 774.202. 6961.
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