Typically, a room-temperature beer that’s gone flat is the sign of a fallen soldier. It’s a tragic, careless act of waste that invokes nauseating memories cleaning up the morning after a rager. So, you can imagine my surprise when I learned of a traditional brewing practice with a specific goal to produce barely carbonated and highly flavorful beer. RoHa brewing is one of many craft Utah breweries embracing the art of firkin, their weekly firkin nights allow both consumers and brewers to venture into uncharted flavor territories.
A firkin is a specific size of cask equal to one-quarter of a barrel, or 72 pints. Originating in the Netherlands over a century ago, the British would use firkins to transport beer to the mainland without refrigeration. The process is simple; first, juvenile beer is added to the firkin with hops, sugars or other flavoring additives. Once sealed, the live yeast eats the sugars and produces natural carbonation. Beer from a firkin doesn’t undergo post-fermentation, pasteurization or filtering, and it doesn’t receive any additional artificial carbon dioxide that is typically used to create beer’s telltale fizziness. Instead, the light carbonation in firkins gives way to a smoother, more velvety mouthfeel.
While they don’t resemble the frothy pours we’re used to out of a tap, craft brewers like RoHa are using firkins to bring out nuanced and delicate flavors. Rob Phillips, who founded RoHa brewing back in 2017 with partners Chris Haas and Josh Stern, introduced the brewery’s firkin program four years ago. “We tap a new cask every Wednesday, it’s called ‘Firkin Hump Day’,” Phillips says. “We’ve probably done over 200 firkins by now.” RoHa’s brewing team uses a smaller five-gallon firkin called a pin, filling it with beer on hand that is either partially or fully fermented. “We can infuse it with anything we want, anything from graham crackers to gummy bears to normal hops and real fruit,” Phillips explains. The possibilities are endless, and tend to be seasonal. Autumn firkins have included candy corn, cinnamon bear and mexican hot chocolate, while warm-weather batches have consisted of lemon cake, chili lime mango, and cactus fruit.
The small-batched, experimental nature of firkin brews are an ideal playground for brewers like Karsen Moon, the head brewer at RoHa. “I get to mess with flavors through firkins that can end up becoming more staple beers.” RoHa’s recently-released fruited IPA ‘Hoomba Bus’ started out as a firkin, now the guava and pineapple IPA is a delightful canned brew enjoyed on summer hikes and strolls. You don’t have to be an expert like Moon to experiment with firkins, home brewers can also let their imagination run wild with the DIY casks. Phillips points out one slight disadvantage: “The biggest challenge is that once you tap it, you have to drink it all.” We recommend tapping your first home-brewed firkin with a group of beer lovers.
Beer hobbyists and skilled brewers alike are drawn to firkins, and so is the average consumer. Each wild new flavor combination is totally ephemeral—once it’s gone, it’s gone. Phillips believes that’s one of the main reasons beer lovers are so interested in firkins. “From a consumer standpoint, there’s always an interest for something that is different and changing,” he says. “Firkins are a unique experience, because they aren’t able to be exactly replicated.” The firkin crowd showing up to RoHa every Wednesday is certainly dedicated, and their loyalty isn’t hard to understand. When I visited, the firkin tapped was Pineapple Back Porch—a hoppy brew with intense pineapple notes. Using a wooden mallet to tap the pin, there’s a brief eruption of beer filling the room with the bright scent of summer fruit. The first pour is served ceremoniously, and it’s beautiful in its own way. The beginning of the end for this batch that will never exist again. Such is life, and we cheers to enjoying this delicious fleeting thing.
RoHa is encouraging breweries around the state to get in on the firkin funk. Their Spring Firkin Festival last April gathered ten breweries, and Phillips says there are plans to host another event this fall. “We invite all breweries to stretch their legs a little bit and make something crazy and unique.” Follow the brewery on their site and socials to stay up to date on beer events and festivals, and visit their taproom for a rotating selection of seasonal beers.
30 E Kensington Ave, SLC, @rohabrewing, rohabrewing.com
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