If you think the modern craft-beer scene has already unearthed every flavor you could taste from a pint glass, you haven't met Randall.
A Randall is a device that infuses beer with extra flavor between the tap and the glass. And it's working its way into Salt Lake City's beer scene, giving new twists to some of Utah's favorite beers.
Two local bars are now doing weekly Randalls: Beer Bar on Tuesday evenings and The Bayou on Thursday evenings.
"It takes something you already know and it makes it more unique," says Kyle Trammell, Beer Bar's manager and a certified beer expert, via the Cicerone program. "We've all had [Uinta's flagship beer] Cutthroat, but have you had Cutthroat passed through peaches? Have you had Cutthroat passed through orange peel and sage?"
The right infusion, he says, can emphasize different characteristics that you wouldn't otherwise find in the beer.
Mark Alston, owner of The Bayou, says the Randall allows people to experiment with concepts and combinations that wouldn't be feasible to brew in large batches. "It lets us bring out the crazy homebrewers in us and play around with odd ideas without restrictions," he says.
The device also gives beers distinct characteristics. "By flavoring the beers through the Randall right before serving, you really do get an intensity of character from the added ingredients that you simply can't get when using them in the brew," he says.
The Randall started at Dogfish Head Craft Brewed Ales in Milton, Del., where Sam Calagione started infusing his beers with flavors from different hop varieties. "When it was first developed, it was just hops," Trammell says, "but then—craft-beer nerds being craft-beer nerds—it was, 'Let's add as much random shit in there as we can.'"
This has led to adventures like running fresh prickly pear through Desert Edge's Utah Pale Ale, giving the beer a subtle fruity flavor without overpowering its hop characteristics.
Stationed among standard-size taps, the Randall seems a rather cumbersome contraption. It's made up of two cylinders, one filled with the added ingredients that the beer runs through, the other filled with ice that surrounds the beer conduit. Both Beer Bar and The Bayou now use the same model Randall from Dogfish Head. The two-chamber cooling system solves the past issue of excessive foaming present in other flavor-infusers. "With our previous versions, we were literally pouring entire kegs down the drain to foam," Alston says. "With the new one, we can fill a glass perfectly, albeit slowly."
Trammell says that his favorite effort so far is Uinta's Sum'r passed through elderflower and lemon peel. "It was really flowery and citrusy ... perfect for summertime," he says.
Alston singled out Desert Edge's Happy Valley Hefeweizen, infused with roasted lemons and aged Earl Grey tea, as a Bayou creation he loved. "It was a surprising combo that worked very well," he says. But The Bayou's biggest hits have been spicier, he says. The best customer feedback went to its Randalls that featured jalapeño, as well as to Desert Edge Pub Pilsner passed through watermelon and habanero.
Alston and Trammell both say that local breweries have been positive about the modifications to their product. "It's always going to be highlighting their product and what their product's capable of doing," Trammell says. "I always contact the brewery's PR and text the brewer and say, 'Hey, we're using your beer tonight.'"
"I'm sure a few wonder what the hell we are doing to their creations," Alston says, "but so far all the response has been positive." Sometimes the brewers even get in on the action; in early July, The Bayou "pushed Annex's Berliner Weiss through Pineapple and Mangos on the suggestion of the brewer," Alston says.
Alston says that while not all of his Randall endeavors have been perfect, "I will say that every single one has been quite unique." The nature of Randalls means that things will always be a little unpredictable, even over the course of one night. "If we sell five in a row, the first will taste different than the fifth. I think that this is just part of the fun in one-off beers."
Many Salt Lakers are still foreign to the concept, but this facet of beer culture is becoming part of the local scene, one pint at a time. Regular patrons will visit the bars just to drink whatever's on the Randall. (The bars' Facebook pages announce the infusion the afternoon before it goes live.)
"I'll get some out-of-staters that are passing through town, and they'll see it and go, 'Oh cool—Randall.' And then in Utah it's, 'What is this interesting contraption?'" Trammell says. "It's very much the norm outside the state, so it's kind of cool to help promote the industry here."