Last year I spent my time driving (sometimes vast distances) in order to drink microbrewed beer. I spent a lot of time at brewpubs. Basically, I did a lot of beer chasing, and dare I say, beer hunting? This year I'm trying something different; I'm drinking in one place, a place I'm calling Callahan's.
One of the interesting things about drinking in one place, and especially about drinking the same beer day in and day out, is that you get to track the development of the keg as it ages. At Callahan's they have about five different taps. One of the taps pours the local microbrew, Blue Point Toasted Lager. You can tell if a keg of Blue Point Toasted Lager has been sitting on the tap for along time when you detect a faint but detectable degree of smokiness in the finish. It's not unpleasant, but it is certainly different from drinking Blue Point Toasted Lager when it is fresh.
Last week I went into Callahan's and sat down at the bar. Stephanie, on of the bartenders, asked me what I would be drinking. I asked for the Blue Point Toasted Lager. She poured me a pint. I detected that signature smokiness of a well aged Toasted Lager. I was having lunch that day, so I ordered a second pint. And since there are no other microbrews on tap, I had a second Blue Point Toasted Lager. While Stephanie was pouring this second pint the keg ran out. Stephanie called into the back and asked someone the switch the keg. Within a few minutes a new keg of Blue Point Toasted Lager was on and she poured me the new pint and brought it to me.
"It's on the house," she said. I like this custom of getting of free pint if you finish a keg. Very civilized.
This second pint of Blue Point Toasted Lager drawn from the fresh keg had none of the smokiness associated with the aged keg. To be honest I actually prefer the fresh Toasted Lager to the aged Toasted Lager. And since in the last month I've never seen anyone else order a pint of Blue Point Toasted Lager at Callahan's I'll probably get to taste the Blue Point Toasted Lager as it develops over the next couple of months. You can be sure I'll let you know how it goes.
Postscript. Since writing the above, I've been back in to Callahan's a couple of times. I got into a conversation with one of my fellow patrons and he contended that the turnover on the Toasted Lager was pretty good. "A keg of Blue Point doesn't last long in here," he said. So my theory about the well aged keg being the source of smokiness might not be true. The account above proved (to my satisfaction) that the beer-lines between the keg and tap were clean and not the source of the smokiness.
When I interviewed Peter Cotter (one of the owners of Blue Point) last year, I asked him about the telltale smokiness of some kegs of Toasted Lager. He told me that the brewer can't watch every keg and make sure it's treated right and that the brewer can't clean every bar owner's tap lines. "When we deliver a keg of Toasted Lager, it's fresh." That I believe.