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So, What Is a Firkin Anyway? Rock Bottom Has You Covered

Restaurant and brewery's monthly Firkin event lets you sample one-of-a-kind craft brews.

By - Sep 13th, 2019 03:36 pm
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Dave Bass with a beer from the firkin. Image from Rock Bottom Brewery & Restaurant.

Dave Bass with a beer from the firkin. Image from Rock Bottom Brewery & Restaurant.

Are you firkin crazy — free beer at Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery in Milwaukee?

It’s true. Once a month the establishment’s brewmaster, Dave Bass, manages the flow of beer out of what’s known as a firkin, providing beer lovers a unique taste not found among conventional taps at Rock Bottom or elsewhere.

The monthly “firkin events” at Rock Bottom in Milwaukee have been taking place for about four years and have a stable following of regulars.

“I sent out five text messages about the firkin today,” noted Bob, a 79-year-old, long-time beer man who attended a recent firkin and regularly imbibes at Rock Bottom’s firkins and monthly tap events. For the past 46 years, he’s worked as a beer vendor at Miller Park and County Stadium.

The attractive and unique flavor produced by a firkin, or as it’s more commonly known, a quarter barrel (10.8 gallons), is attributed to an altered fermentation process.

So, what is a firkin? Derived from the Middle Dutch phrase “vierdekijn,” a firkin is a small cask roughly a quarter-size of a standard beer barrel. Beer housed inside a firkin is said to be some of the best craft beer in the business.

Prior to being kegged, beer inside a firkin is not filtered and is not carbonated with carbon dioxide. Instead, the beer is placed in the barrel while the yeast is still alive, allowing the fermentation process to continue.

This “secondary fermentation process” produces carbon dioxide gas that results in some carbonation, but not the level that exists in most beers today. The tap on a firkin is more of a faucet that allows gravity (instead of carbon dioxide as with most tap devices) to push the beer out.

Dave Bass pours a beer from the firkin. Image from Rock Bottom Brewery & Restaurant.

Dave Bass pours a beer from the firkin. Image from Rock Bottom Brewery & Restaurant.

The result is a softer, rounder carbonation that allows for more flavor, according to Bass. “It’s the secondary fermentation taking place inside the barrel that gives a unique flavor,” he said.

The flavor difference is noticeable. At a recent “firkin event,” Bass provided a sample of the featured brown ale from the tap behind the bar along with a sample of the same beer that went through the secondary fermentation process in the firkin. The firkin produced an appealing, smoother and slightly sweeter taste.

“A couple more of these and I’ll do the Irish jig,” said one patron as Bass poured another round of the brown ale.

Along with the unique flavors that Bass has produced at firkin events through the years, casual friendships have developed among those who regularly attend. Many of the regulars are Rock Rewards members, which affords them discounts and access to information about special events at Rock Bottom in Milwaukee — though you can attend without being a member.

“A lot of people who like craft beers want different types of beers. It’s a little different from people that drink Miller Lite,” said David Gottfied, of Milwaukee. “We’re always surprised when people come here and ask for a beer like Miller Lite. This is a place that has its own craft beer, why not try it because it’s very good.”

The firkin events provide one more avenue to experience a variation on the craft beers at Rock Bottom.

“Dave knows what he’s doing,” Feeve Jones, a Rock Bottom regular, said of the Milwaukee brew master.

“Dave’s really good, really knowledgeable about his craft and that makes it nice,” said another regular firkin attendee about the brewmaster.

With blue skies and the warm sun shining outside, attendance at a recent firkin wasn’t bad – about 25 to 30 people. However, Bass noted it’s not uncommon for the restaurant’s bar area to fill up quickly and for the firkin to be empty by 5:30 p.m. during fall and winter months.

“It’s a way to bring people in and experience a different kind of beer,” Bass said.

Firkin events at Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery in Milwaukee are held monthly and take place from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. More information can be found here.

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