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Flux Capacitor: Regulating Craft Beer’s Space Time Continuum

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In “Back to the Future,” the flux capacitor is an invention of Dr. Emmett Brown that allows Marty McFly to bust through the space-time continuum once his DeLorean reaches 88 miles per hour. At the two branches of Beachwood BBQ, chef-owner Gabe Gordon has installed state of the art controls, which he calls the Flux Capacitor, that regulate carbonation or nitrogen levels, temperature and pressure for each tap, bucking a uniform industry standard set by Bud and MillerCoors. He installed a Flux Capacitor at cutting-edge Torst in Brooklyn, and recently explained his system’s inspiration, function and potential.

You call it the Flux Capacitor. Is there another name for it?

No. You should never take yourself so seriously, for anything that you do, so Flux Capacitor it is. I didn’t want to give it some name that made it sound like the We Pour Beer Better Than You 3000, or something like that. I wanted to make fun of myself a little bit about it. We toyed with the Illudium Q36 Explosive Space Modulator, which is from “Duck Dodgers.” Marvin the Martian, that’s his gun that he’s always threatening Duck Dodgers with, but that’s too long.

What was your inspiration for putting together the Flux Capacitor and what’s possible in terms of its influence?

The reason for it is, if you have a very standard draft system installed, you’re installing it based on the specifications of Bud, Miller and Coors. They designed it. Until recently, 90-something percent of the market share – correct me if I’m wrong – was Bud, Miller, Coors. They want to ensure the fact that you pour their beer properly, so they determined what their carbonation level was, they figured out how to push it out through a long draw system with a certain percentage of CO2 to Nitrogen, they figured out how cold they wanted it. Everything was all on their terms. Craft beer, god bless their efforts, their carbonation levels are all over the place. Sierra Nevada, perfect. New Belgium, perfect…

What I was finding, when we first opened, we were little and we were slow, so I would pour an IPA and it would have that much head on the first pint, and day three, I’d have to cream it out because it was falling flat. They were carbonating at a higher level than what that system was designed for. That’s the system everybody uses. If you ask brewers, they don’t really know. It’s not like most of them are using analyzers or anything like that. So I had to set out to figure out a way to make my first pint and my last pint pour the same, for two reasons:

1) It was a challenge
2) I was starting to become friends with these guys. I have a weird loyalty towards my friends I want them to succeed. I felt that it was my job as a bar owner, as a publican, to make sure that I did my job to make them successful, because they can make the best beer in the world, and if I’m pouring it wrong, my system’s not set up right, my lines are dirty, my glassware is improper, you’ll have a shitty experience, you’ll associate it with that beer, and you will not want to support that brewery.

I can’t think of how many times I heard people say, “This beer tastes so much better here,” and not at my place, just sitting at other people’s bars, that I know do a really good job. Here’s some guy saying, “I just had a pint of this down the street, and this tastes totally different.” And you’re like, “Really? That sucks. I’m really good friends with the guy that brews this beer. That is so disappointing to hear that.” In a perfect world, everybody would leave every beer bar and just go, “That beer was so fresh, so good, poured right.” Everything about it should be right.

So you have two of these systems yourself now, and you’ve installed one at Torst.

That was the point of it originally. What else I found, I was able to fix beers if they were under-carbonated or over-carbonated, badly. Like I know something happened in transit. Especially coming from Belgium. You just never know what you’re going to get. It’s a crap shoot every time. Those ones, I was able to fix. That beer is highly over-carbonated or highly under-carbonated. It’s flat. Instead of sending it back to the distributor, who has to send it back to the importer, who has to send it back to the brewery, and everybody wastes time, energy, money, gas, the whole thing, I can fix it. I just put on 100% CO2, twist the CO2 pressure up. I wouldn’t pour it. And for a day, every time I would walk into the walk-in, I would shake it and shake it. I pull it through, taste it, “Not yet.” Three or four more hours. Perfect. I flip the sign. What did I do? I wasted four pints of beer? I fixed the beer.

And then the last aspect of it that is just kind of a rad bonus, I can do all beers on just nitrogen if I want. Just go click, click, click, click. And I have 22 taps of straight nitrogenated beer.

So you can control the CO2, Nitro, pressure?

Yeah. Any percentages I choose for my manifolds, and then obviously a single regulator for each keg. And I brought it up front, which solved another problem. Most people’s long draw systems take awhile to get to. You have to walk out your bar, through a kitchen, out a door, through a walk-in, upstairs, downstairs. Whatever it is, it’s long draw. There are long draw systems that are 400 feet away from where your kegs are located. That’s really far. That’s a lot of minutes running back and forth. If you have a keg that needs a little bit of tweaking, just kind of dialing in the pressure, I just open the faucet, stand there [click, click, click], close it, count to 10. Perfect. Done. I didn’t even need to walk back.

How do you decide who to build one for?

So far, only my friends ask. I built this thing like six years ago and nobody thought anything of it. It’s not like I hid it. It’s not like I had this secret room. We explained it to all of our customers. Everybody knew about it. I think it just had to get to the level where people were thinking of ways to one-up each other. It’s a good way to do it. It pours beer really well. When we opened Long Beach, I’d been doing testing at Seal Beach to be able to pour beers at two different temperatures, but I really wanted to make it extreme, so we built a second room, and we pour beer at 40, or we pour beer at 55, and I get no breakout with my warm beer, which means I figured out a way to pour beer at cellar temperature. Just like brewers, when they put on bottles, drink between 50 and 55, if you buy a bottle, you have to drink at that temperature, but me as a bar owner, whose job it is to represent these breweries, it’s cool if I pour beer for you at 36 degrees? I don’t understand how that takes my job seriously. It’s silly, so I built the warm room and did a bunch of testing. Actually, we tested it up to 60 degrees, with no breakout. After that, I figured there would never be a time where you’d want anything above 60 degrees. It tastes bad.

Honestly, the beer in the warm room physically pours better than my cold room because we put more technology in the warm room side to make sure we’d be able to do it. The cold room, it’s a little bit more standard underneath part, where all of that happens. If I open another beer bar, I’ll use the same technology and restriction on my warm room, and I’ll do it on my cold room as well, just to make sure it’s a no waste kind of thing. It solved a problem…Even before I had my own brewery, I really wanted to represent these people’s product to the best of my ability. I don’t think any restaurateur doesn’t try to do that. I just think that nobody looked at draft beer for 50 years. Everybody’s just been cool, and I understand why. 90% of the market share, if the normal, average system works perfect, why would you?

By Joshua Lurie | June 20, 2013

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This entry was posted on November 17, 2014 by in Beer.

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