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Firkin fests celebrate small-batch beers in little wooden or steel casks, nine gallons at a time.

For those who don’t know, firkins are small casks that hold a little more than 10 gallons of beer.  However, while they may look like tiny kegs, they condition beer very differently than normal beer kegs, which use CO2 for carbonation. Instead, firkins create what is often called “cask conditioned” beer, where the carbonation comes from live yeast in the firkin.

Because CO2 is not used to either carbonate or push the beer out of the cask, the firkin has to be laid on its side and a spout is literally tapped with a hammer, as gravity is what forces the beer out. Another peg is driven into the top of the firkin to operate as a vent. The tapping ceremony can be both loud and messy at times! 

While most firkins today are made of steel, some brewers use traditional wood casks, which also adds flavor as the beer ages. This method of beer-making goes back hundreds of years, and devotees of firkins argue it results in a very traditional tasting ale — some even maintain it is the only “real ale.”

Because cask beer is both naturally fermented and unfiltered, it tends to have a softer taste then many modern brews. It also often has a cloudy appearance and is usually served at a warmer temperature (45-50˚F) than most of us are used to. However, once the firkin is tapped, it has a very short shelf life, so the beer needs to be consumed quickly.

The craft beer renaissance has inspired a resurgence of firkins, as brewers experiment with new and unique styles of beer. Firkin tappings and festivals now take place in bars and taprooms all over the country, and our area is not immune, as there are a couple of upcoming firkin events featuring unique local beers.

On Thursday, April 5, Big Beach Brewery will be celebrating “New Beers Eve” with a firkin tapping of a style the brewery describes as a “Pre-prohibition style beer, similar to a cream ale, with little to no hop aroma and a smooth finish.” It is being released as a celebration of the end of Prohibition, which occurred on April 7, 1933.

Then, on Saturday, April 7, the 5th annual Firkin Festival will be held at Moe’s Original Bar B Que in downtown Mobile, which will feature a number of breweries from throughout the region competing to see whose special beer is judged to be the best. Participating breweries this year include Fairhope Brewing Company, Birmingham’s Avondale Brewery, Gadsden’s Back Forty Brewery, Tuscaloosa’s Black Warrior Brewery and Druid City Brewery, Madison’s Rocket Republic Brewery, Huntsville’s Straight to Ale Brewery and Yellowhammer Brewery, Santa Rosa Beach’s Grayton Beer Company, Fort Walton Beach’s Props Brewery, Baton Rouge’s Tin Roof Brewery, as well as Mill Creek Brewery and Garr’s Brewery, both from Tennessee.

Tickets to the Firkin Festival are $22 in advance and $25 at the door. The event starts at 2 p.m., with the tapping of the firkins at 2:30. Admission includes a souvenir glass and koozie, crawfish, live music, and, of course, samples of all the beers. An awards ceremony will close the festival at 6 p.m. The Firkin Festival benefits the American Cancer Society, so if you are looking to try out some distinctive beers and support a great cause, be sure to check it out.