Now that the 19th Annual Food and Foam Fest is in local beer lovers’ rear view mirrors, it’s time to start thinking about another beer festival coming to central Arkansas in May. The inaugural Arkansas Times Firkin Fest, benefiting the Argenta Arts District, will be Friday, May 13 at the Argenta Plaza (520 Main Street) in North Little Rock. I’ll have plenty of information soon about which breweries will be attending as well as what firkins they’ll be bringing, but I thought it might be a good idea to tell everyone what “firkins” are and why we’re all so excited for this event.
In simple terms, a firkin is just a unit of measure: One quarter of a barrel, or 9 imperial gallons. That may not sound like much, but put another way, each firkin pours 72 pints of beer, give or take, depending on spilling or foam issues. So when brewers talk about “doing a firkin,” they’re talking about filling that size wooden, plastic or metal keg for cask conditioning. Cask-conditioned ale is beer that has not been cold-filtered, pasteurized or carbonated by outside equipment. It’s naturally carbonated by its resident yeast.
OK, well, it’s a different serving size, but what makes it so special as to have an entire festival based around it? That answer can get very detailed, so I’ll let beer geeks who are much smarter than me get into chemistry-laden details that will blow right over my head. In laymen’s terms, though, since firkins are typically dedicated to cask-conditioned brews, this type of beer is more comparable to the ale beers produced hundreds of years ago before industrialization. This results in a more natural (and often more flavorful) beer, and can be exciting to tap because you never know what you may get.
Firkins can also be used by brewers to experiment with new flavor combinations, taking an established beer and adding flavors to it in the firkin that can range from fruits, nuts or berries to herbs, spices and coffee (often my favorites). Brewers can really get their creative juices flowing with these smaller batches. Expect many of these experimental beers at the festival — it’s a real chance to drink something out-of-the-ordinary.
Another fun thing about firkins is the manner in which they are tapped. The keg is laid on its side to keep air out, and a spout is driven in horizontally, usually with a mallet — and often accompanied by a cheer from the crowd. Such cheers tend to get louder as the evening progresses.
So if you’ve grown tired of one beer festival after another (which would make me feel very sorry for you, by the way), maybe you should check out the area’s first firkin fest for something totally different. Mark your calendars for May 13. Tickets may be purchased through Eventbrite.