Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Getting Tanked Up


There has been a bit of talk recently about a new fad about to hit the UK.  Well hit some of the trendy, hipsterish parts thereof.  The fad is tank beer.  Now us older chaps can well remember awful tank beer in the seventies and eighties.  It was dire, tasteless, ice cold and probably made with floor sweepings.  It wasn't generally pasteurised and arrived on the back of very odd looking tanker/drays to be pumped into Grundy tanks in pub cellars.   These inexpensive, mass produced tanks, were produced in the 60's and 70's for directly dispensing carbonated beer from pub cellars.  On removal, as the cask conditioned revolution displaced them, they were snapped up by the nascent and burgeoning micro brewing sector as cheap, ready made, fermentation and conditioning/bright beer vessels. Might still be in use here and there still.

I read that Meantime are to the fore in this and you know, when it comes to their keg beers, they might be on to something in terms of freshness.  One place that has been  re-introducing tank beer for some time is the Czech Republic and I remember well on my previous visit around five years ago, legging round to sample the beer in the few places that sold it.  Fast forward five years and the craze has spread, if not like wildfire, at a steady pace.  Tankovna pubs sell beer from stainless steel tanks that hold ten hectolitres of brew held in a plastic envelope within. and steadily held at between 8 and 10ºC.  Beer is pushed out of the tank by air pressure, not in contact with the beer, which tastes remarkably and noticeably fresher, more rounded and tastier.

On my recent visit, we were fortunate to be within a three minute walk of one of the newest and finest outlets for Pilsner Urquell Tankovna beer. Lokal is a large, narrow beer hall, with a small bar at the front and two very long and large rooms behind, the furthest of which is mercifully no smoking.  The beer is remarkably good, with a rounded mouthfeel, medium carbonation, good hopping and is very moreish.  Lokal is mainly a Czech haunt and the beer is brought to you, without asking, as your glass empties, with the beers being marked off on a card covered in printed tankards.  When you have had enough, you simply decline and your bill will be totted up by the somewhat gruff but efficient waitresses.

Should you fancy the Budvar version, a good place to try it is U Medvídků where I first tried it years ago and where we lunched one day.  To me though, and I'm surprised to say it, the PU version was better.  You can also with ease seek out Krušovice, Gambrinus and Staropramen versions for comparison's sake, though you might want to avoid the Gambrinus one in the Old Town (pictured) where, to say the least,  some assiduity could be applied to measure.  Well short in other words.

So.  Tank beer making a comeback?  May not be a bad thing if done correctly.



The great thing about all these places is being able to view the tanks in situ. They are actually rather lovely, though a bit like Thomas the Tank Engine.

26 comments:

Curmudgeon said...

Actually in my limited experience tank beer was often better than classic keg because it was less gassy. Greenalls were big users of the system.

AFAIK it's all gone now - it would be interesting to know when the last bit the dust.

Andrew said...

The Het 'IJ in Amsterdam have the same set up at their brewery tap, they have 5000 litre tanks under the bar filled directly from the brewery which shares the building, they're lined with giant plastic bags so the unfiltered, unpasturised beer is always in good condition

Maxwell Power said...

I've seen Meantime's tanks for their Brewery Fresh Lager in a couple of Young's pubs in South London. Yet to try it, will definitely have a pint when I see it next.

Ed said...

I don't understand how having bigger tanks makes something fresher. Won't it have the opposite effect?

Maybe different dispense makes it taste fresher but this seems to have the whiff of marketing bullshit about it.

Cooking Lager said...

Don't know why we don't just build a national network of lager pipes into every home. it's the 21st century for godsake.

RedNev said...

Our student bar had tank Greenalls; it was less fizzy then keg, but still wasn't up to much. I'm pretty sure it was pasteurised and filtered, otherwise such a large quantity of ale would have surely gone off, seeing that the deliveries weren't that frequent. The only way I could see it tasting fresher would be if it had been delivered recently.

Its return is not something I'd welcome, and I wouldn't be falling over myself to try it, but I'm sure it will find a receptive customer base among those who see themselves as anti-CAMRA iconoclasts.

Tandleman said...

Dunno about that RedNev. I'd give it a cautious welcome if I was convinced it was better - as it was in Prague.

Of course here more likely it will be sold at a premium and quality will have to be looked at closely.

RedNev said...

If tank beer were sold here at a premium, that would be a rip off straight away, because tanks were a cheaper option than individual kegs: the brewery delivered only the beer direct from the tanker into the pub's own tanks without the costs of cleaning, filling, delivering and collecting lorryloads of kegs.

cixy said...

Tank beer was never available in the south, I remember selling it when I worked for Whitbread in Sheffield, theirs looked like diving bells, like sparkler us southerners don't like them. Saying that I obviously don't have your taste buds as I was in that Tankova place in March and couldn't tell the difference

Birkonian said...

Whitbread in the North West used them. We had them in my Dad's pub and the beer was vile, definitely filtered and pasturised although not as gassy as keg. I won't put my life on it but I think that Porter Lancastrian was the company who developed the system.
Thwaites had tank in most of their Blackpool pubs. They liked their managers at the bar ready for trouble, not looking after beer in the cellar.

Tandleman said...

Is it really true that tank beer was never available in the South? It was widespread in the NW and in Scotland.

Benjamin Nunn said...

Unless I'm missing something obvious, wasn't tank widely available in the South in the Firkin chain?

Tandleman said...

I think you might be missing something. What we are talking about here is bright beer delivered by tanker into cellar tanks.

Paul Bailey said...

I don't ever recall coming across tank beer, here in the south. Top-pressure, CO2 dispensed, cask-conditioned ale was very much the order of the day in these parts; it was a real shock when I went up north to uni to come across tank beer, and a nasty one at that!

The new tank systems increasingly used in Prague though are a different thing all together, and get the thumbs up from me. However,they probably wouldn't work particularly well for un-filtered, cask-conditioned beers.

Tandleman said...

Thanks Paul. I agree best suited to lagers. Interesting you add another evidence point to the no tank in the South argument.

Still find it strange.

RedNev said...

"May not be a bad thing if done correctly." If you're referring to British ales, then I can only assume you had little experience of tank beers in the past. Beer that is pasteurised, filtered and slopped into a big tank is about as far from real ale as it can be. If you're talking about continental lagers, then I'm on less familiar ground as I don't drink the stuff, although I'd guess that beer from individual kegs must be better than beer that is hanging around in a tank for weeks on end, which mightn't go off but would certainly go stale.

Paul Bailey said...

I think RedNev and possibly one or two others are missing the point about the Tankovna system, especially when they claim that the large volumes of beer involved will lead to it turning stale.

With this system the beer is contained in a plastic bag within the stainless steel tank, and is pushed out by air pressure applied to the outside of the bag. This means that the bag collapses as the beer is drawn off, in much the same manner as polypins, which are often used for the storage and dispensing of cask-conditioned ale. Because the beer does NOT come into contact with oxygen in the air, it remains fresh. This is precisely why this type of dispense is suitable for unpasteurised beer in the Czech Republic, and why the stuff tastes so good!

Jay Krause said...

A bit like KeyKegs then?

Erlangernick said...

Bit late to this, but may I remind you of a certain unfiltered, naturally-carbonated Kellerbier? Finest Form ever, this year, owing to the delayed spring (and Bierkellersaison) leaving the beer to lager länger than normal, too.

Martyn Cornell said...

I researched the history of cellar tanks in the UK for a short piece for What's Brewing/Beer earlier this year, and I can tell you that no, apart from the South Wales Clubs brewery they don't appear to have been used south of Nottinghamshire.

Tandleman said...

Interesting. Any idea why?

Benjamin Nunn said...

This Cambridge CAMRA article from 1996 talks about the opening of a new Firkin pub - with cellar tanks, and I'm pretty sure most of the brewering ones in London used a similar arrangement until around 1998 when production focussed on the non-brewing outlets and everything was cask.

http://www.cambridge-camra.org.uk/ale/283/firkin.html

Tandleman said...

Ben: Another interesting point. Subtly different too.

Paul Bailey said...

After me stating categorically that cellar tanks were never used here in th south, I think Ben may be correct about some of the London Firkin pubs. I was forgetting all about David Bruce and his chain; whilst some used bog-standard casks, there were some, I believe that kept the beer in tanks.

Btw. Zero Degrees of Blackheath use tanks, similar to the Czech ones, and I believe CAMRA has approved their system. I also vaguely remember Brew Wharf in Southwark use a similar system - I will check this out on Friday, as I'm heading up that way.

Peter Charlie said...

Its 21st century and north is still in backwords every one knows that they need to be treat as ones, well the blog about Getting Tanked Up is really conceptual and informative. Thanks for sharing.

Dvorak said...

This blog (linked to from a Vice article about Howling Hops's tank bar) has helped answer a question which I had wondered about for years: did I remember correctly from when I was young sometimes seeing a Tennent's Lager tanker pull up at the pub beside my house and there then being a long hose inserted into the pub? The answer apparently is yes.

On the tankove theme, one thing not mentioned is that as far as I am aware it is only used where there a high volume sold, meaning that the question of the beer lying does not apply. And given the Czech love of beer and the fact that many places may only serve one or two beers on draught, that can mean a lot of places.