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Why is there a ‘North-South’ divide on the way cask ale is served?

If you’ve had the privilege of drinking in different parts of the UK you’ll have noticed that the way beer is served can differ from county to county, reflecting local tastes. A small attachment that fixes at the end of the dispense spout, a sparkler, is the cause of these regional variations that impact the body, flavour and head of beer. Annabel Smith takes a look at the tiny dispense component, exploring the love or indifference to sparklers, how they work and what myths persist.

Annabel Smith

Annabel Smith

Ex-publican, award-winning educator and speaker, one of the first UK Beer Sommeliers, Annabel is Director of the British Guild of Beer Writers, and a founder member of Dea Latis, a group formed to change women’s perceptions and choices around beer.

Sparklers

In most pubs in the North and Midlands, cask ale is served through a sparkler. This is attached to the dispense spout. They come in a number of guises: some have a ‘nipple’ on the end, some are flat bottomed, some have different size holes in them.

All sparklers have the same purpose. They force the cask ale through small apertures or holes which creates a tight creamy head on a pint of cask ale.  

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The long spout

In the North and the Midlands cask ale is often dispensed with a sparkler using a ‘long spout’. The glass is held in an upright position, the sparkler is placed on the base of the glass, and remains below the surface of the beer for the entire pour. The glass should then be lowered for the final few millimetres of the pour to enable a domed head on the beer (called a meniscus).

The short spout

Commonly in the South (particularly the South East) cask ale is dispensed without a sparkler using a ‘short spout’. It’s poured in the same way a lager is dispensed: holding the glass at a 45⁰ angle, the spout is kept out of the beer as the hand-pull is pulled forward, and the glass should be straightened as the glass fills up with beer.

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