Tanks a bunch
Anthony Gladman visits the UK's first dedicated tank bar
Monday 23 March 2020
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The Island of Ireland
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When you walk into the Howling Hops taproom in Hackney Wick you might notice something unusual: there don't appear to be any taps on the bar. Nor are there any on the wall behind it… because there isn't one. Instead a tightly serried rank of shiny steel vessels bisects the room. This is the UK's first dedicated tank bar, and these are the tanks from which the beer is served.
Serving beer from a tank is a tradition most often associated with Central Europe, but it has slowly been picking up fans here in the UK over the last few years, as more bars give it a go. You may have seen coppery contraptions parked in pubs to dispense Pilsner Urquell, for example. It looks appealing, but it's not just for show. The idea is simple: tank beer is fresher, and fresher beer tastes better.
At Howling Hops I'm putting this to the test, tasting beers with their marketing and social media manager Chris Hall. "It's the freshest version of this beer," he tells me. "The Tropical Deluxe in this glass has only travelled a couple of feet from the brewery FVs."
Readers, I have seen the gap from FV to tank. It is indeed 60cm tops. You'd be hard pushed to fit a sack of malt down there. And because the beer is piped directly from the fermentation vessels into the serving tanks, it never sees light or oxygen, which are the two main enemies of beer's freshness.
"With any kind of brewery taproom you want to be able to deliver that best possible version of what you've got. Having tank beer as we do gives the added bonus of preserving this beer at the moment of freshness, as soon as it is ready," Chris says.
Serving beer from a tank is a tradition most often associated with Central Europe
The beer is also unpasteurised and unfiltered. Not only that, but each tank is individually temperature controlled. Basically what you're getting is a beer exactly as the brewer intended.
There are also environmental reasons to opt for this style of serving. With no packaging and no transport involved, its impact on our climate is substantially reduced compared to cans or kegs.
This isn't quite the same for Pilsner Urquell, Budvar et al. Their tanks are filled with beer held in big plastic bags that are shipped by road from Southern Bohemia. But still, it's better than the alternatives.
Finally, for Howling Hops and other breweries who serve from tanks on site, it means fewer kegs to clean and fill, plus less time changing kegs on the taps and cleaning lines. They can keep the bar going with fewer staff and make more money on each pint sold — a very important factor in today's beer market.
So, if that's convinced you to give tanks a try, where will you go? Not everyone can make it out to Hackney Wick when the mood takes them. Thankfully tank beer bars are starting to pop up all over the place. Here are a few:
You've got a few choices here. Check out the Left Handed Giant brewpub in Finzel's Reach or Small Bar. Also Wiper and True have one tank in their taproom, serving beers you won't find anywhere else — usually a 6.7% IPA called Phantasmagoria, but other special brews sometimes make an appearance.
Head to Brewhemia and their amazingly named Beer Palace. (How cool is that? I want a beer palace.) They have five tanks, serving beers including Staropramen and Schiehallion.
Shilling Brew Co will see you right. They claim to be the first bar in Glasgow to serve tank beer, which suggests there are now others. Happy day! Their beer is brewed on site, and they believe this guarantees you the freshest pint in Glasgow.
Headrow House in Leeds has four Pilsner Urquell tanks in its beer hall. You can also find tank beers at Salt Beer Factory.
The White Horse in Parsons Green was the first pub to get Pilsner Urquell tankovna (the Czech term for beer served in this way) and it remains one of their flagship locations in the UK.
You can also find tankovna at The Duck and Rice in Soho, and in some Draft House bars. The one on Chancery Lane has a dedicated tank room available for hire where parties can learn to pour Pilsner Urquell from trained Tapsters.
Someone else likes the beer palace idea. Albert Schloss have one too, although its German flavour means it's actually a Bier Palace. It's PU in the tanks again. Cooper Hall in the Northern Quarter also does PU on tank.
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