Barkeep’s Corner is a series of posts discussing equipment, concepts and techniques useful to beer servers and bartenders.
Today we’re talking about a special item: flow-control faucets. You may have seen or worked with them in bars that feature a lot of European (especially Belgian) beer brands or perhaps you’ve noticed them at a newer brewery tasting room. Certain bars that bring in a wide variety of beer styles may also choose to use them. They’re not everywhere, but if you live in a craft beer-loving part of the country you will probably notice them at some point.
So what’s the deal with this extra-fun faucet, and why would anyone choose it over a standard version where you know, step one: open tap handle, out comes beer, the end? No problems there, right? Well unfortunately, sometimes there can be. The wrong pour speed can lead to poorly filled beers with the wrong amount of head for their style and large amounts of overflow or waste. Flow-control faucets give the bartender a few more options. These faucets work on a fairly straightforward idea–control or restrict the flow of beer from keg to glass by turning a little knob attached to the side of the faucet. Sounds great, right? Especially during a busy service when a new keg starts acting up, or alternatively when your keg of homebrew turns out a little more or less carbonated than you intended.
Beer styles can vary in their preferred level of head, and carbonation levels can also drastically differ from style to style. And glass size and shapes–they’re all over the place. All these variations can all naturally contribute to a different outcome of liquid beer + foam. Having an option at your fingertips for helping to pour the perfect pint, schooner, goblet, taster, or growler is obviously advantageous.
You may be wondering why everyone doesn’t already have these faucets, if they give bartenders more control and create less wasted beer (nobody’s happy about that). But let’s back up for a moment and remember that draft systems have multiple elements, all of which can change how beer behaves. The faucet is the last place one can apply any kind of control to the system, so it’s easy to focus on that, but some of those other elements can do a good or better job even before beer reaches the faucet. Let’s consider other ways to control flow and pressure.
So how does this relate to you, dear reader? If you’re just the bartender, you can’t really alter your bar’s draft system beyond adjusting gas input or keg height. You can calculate the optimal setup for your manager, should they want to change it–and if they don’t or can’t, you can at least know what you’re working with. In that situation, flow control faucets can help you overcome an improperly set-up system’s flaws, but you need to keep in mind that it’s not exactly ideal.
So now you have a small background on what flow control faucets can offer, and why they’re not always going to be the perfect band-aid to a larger problem. Unfortunately it’s pretty rare to find a perfectly balanced system–anywhere. And with both more wild beers and more plastic “one-way” kegs in the market, I think flow-control faucets are a good idea–that is, if the cost isn’t a deterrent. They can be a great tool in the right hands. And if your draft system is properly set-up they’re in no way necessary. Sometimes more toys just complicate the matter.
If you’ve used these faucets and have a comment or story to contribute, please do so on my facebook page. Thanks and cheers!