Got Head?

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January 27, 2013 by Woodystock

Hangovers are really not that bad, any and every seasoned drinker develops their own systems in which to deal with the inevitable consequence of being awesome and enlightened for three hours.  We have tricks that do not interfere with either the drinking or the hangover, eat a bunch of bread before we go out, chug a pint of water on the way to the bathroom, research webMD in order to feign food poisoning over the phone on a Tuesday morning.

But regardless of planning there are certain things that no drinker can plan for.  We can remain calm and collected, but that doesn’t stop the asshole behind us with the leather pants and skull tattoos from throwing a punch.  We can never in our lives order a single shot of tequila, but no one explained those rules to the asshole cousin who recently decided to quit his job.  Nor can we control the reflection radius of a urinal puck.

These are all things that we can avoid, or at least try, but one thing that we never do is draft beer, the poison of choice for the most of us.  Beer is meant to be drank from a keg or cask, not a bottle.  And it is meant to be enjoyed in abundance regardless of the massive, brain twisting hangover that comes along for the ride.

I have been in literally hundreds of arguments with people over the legitimacy of a draft hangover.  So here is the truth.

It’s the foam.

Most beer in north America is pressurized using Carbon Dioxide (CO2).  This is the case in bottles, cans and kegs.  CO2 is a natural by-product during the process of fermentation, as the sugars react with the yeast.  This is also how beers self carbonate.

Once a keg is tapped, a hose connected to the coupler (the piece that connects the keg to the tap lines) adds additional gas in order to carry the beer through the lines to tap and then to your glass.  This additional gas can be from a variety of sources.  Depending on how many taps a bar has and how much draught they serve, pressurizing kegs can become quite expensive.

Most bars will use a straight pump which draws ambient air to pressurize the keg.  This is the most inexpensive method, but offers hardly anything in preserving the beer.  The air we breathe is mostly a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen.  Oxygen is bad news for beer, it will draw out the CO2 which the beer uses to keep itself carbonated and flatten the brew.  So using an oxygen rich blend to pressurize your kegs will not yield a long life for the beer, but if you burn through a keg a day you really don’t have much to worry about.

The second option is using canisters of Carbon Dioxide to provide pressure, this is common in bars with several taps that specialize in premium beers.  The carbon dioxide is already prevalent in the beer but still contains oxygen.  Adding too much gas to a keg causes flatness and poor taste.

“Beer Gas” is a recent invention that provides a mix of carbon dioxide and nitrogen.  This option is considerably more expensive than straight CO2 and is used primarily in private and home bars who wish to keep a keg preserved for a long time.

Guinness on the other hand, as well as other more complex full bodies beers, are pressurized with nitrogen which allows for tiny bubbles to carbonate the beer rather than the larger found in american style beers.  These tiny bubbles are what causes the Cascade effect when pouring a pint of Guinness or Kilkenny.

So what is it that gives you that headache?

The foam in american style beers is upwards of 75% Carbon Dioxide.  Essentially the same thing that gets pumped out of the back of your car.

FYI.  The nitrogen that is released in Guinness bubbles is a component of the air that we already breathe and has positive effects on the human body, including supplying the body with energy.  This coupled with the iron rich mixture of the black stout makes for a very healthy beverage.

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