If the RateBeer Best awards were any indication, beer drinkers love their barrel-aged beer — at the international, consumer-driven ceremony, roughly one quarter of the 51 “top beers” in the U.S. alone were barrel-aged. But no matter how many vintages of Goose Island Bourbon County (the top beer for Illinois) or Dogfish Head World Wide Stout (the top beer for Delaware) a beer geek can drink, there’s something bourbon barrel–aged beer geeks are missing out on: The pleasure of drinking a barrel-aged beer straight from its wooden cask.
That is, until Dogfish Head Craft Brewery of Milton, Delaware, and AC Beverage, a draft system design and installation company based in Annapolis, Maryland, partnered to create the Rack AeriAle, a draft system designed for bars that transports barrel-aged beer straight from the cask to the glass (and better still, on nitro).
While traditional beer-dispensing systems bring beer from keg to tap, Rack AeriAle extracts barrel-aged beer from its wooden barrel, passes it through a heat exchanger to chill it, and infuses it with Nitrogen and Carbon Dioxide to allow for a cold, creamy pour.
To break it down: First, a Nitrogenator mixed-gas system feeds the wooden barrels and dispensing system with the necessary continuously supplied mix of nitrogen gas. Next, customized barrel extractors pump the beer under low nitrogen pressure to a heat exchanger to cool the beer to the desired temperature. Then, the chilled beer feeds into a CellarStream in-line Liquid/Gas Contactor to impart a customized gas blend, depending on the beer style (i.e., the beer doesn’t necessarily have to come out rich and creamy, like a Guinness, but can if it needs to). Finally, the beer comes out of the tap like any other draught-dispensed beer, via a slow-pour faucet containing a restrictor that strips the gas while the beer is poured.
“The process is like watching a theatrical performance in a glass, as it creates a unique, cascading effect resulting in a thick, creamy head that looks as appealing as it tastes,” AC Beverage president Charles Kleinrichert told Brewbound.
Dogfish Head has been producing inventive barrel-aged beers for more than 20 years, beginning with its Import Ale, originally released in 1996, and including its 18 percent ABV World Wide Stout, a blend that has been released in vintages since the early 2000s.
AC Beverage and Dogfish Head have worked together in the past — the former both designed and installed Dogfish’s first-ever draft system when the brewpub opened in 1995 — making the Rack AeriAle a result of a more than two-decades-long beer business friendship between the two companies.
Said Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head founder and president, “Charlie and I have worked on many projects together, and through the years I have seen that he and his coworkers are among the most creative and technically knowledgeable draft-dispensing experts I’ve ever met. I thought it’d be cool to work with AC Beverage to design a system that brings barrel-aged beers from the barrel directly to the tap system and incorporates a smooth, creamy nitro head into the process. I shared my initial idea with Charlie, with some notes and images of what I was thinking about, and he took it from there and made the technical and mechanical magic happen.”
Though Dogfish Head partnered with AC Beverage on the project, the draft system will be wholly owned, constructed, and sold by AC Beverage, according to Brewbound.
Rack AeriAle will make its public debut at Eataly Boston’s Terra Restaurant in 2017 (although it technically made its beer media debut there on Thursday, February 2). The next location to boast the new technology will likely be Dogfish Head, which plans to install the Rack AeriAle at its Milton brewery this spring. It will first be on display at the Craft Brewers Conference in Washington, D.C., at the AC Beverage booth from April 10–13, 2017.