Seattle Beer, Meet Randall. How This Device is Adding Tons of Flavor to Pints, Pitchers and Growlers
Our local craft breweries do a great job of creating interesting, bold beers that meet the expectations of the Seattle area’s increasingly sophisticated and adventurous palate, but sometimes beer drinkers crave varied and radical flavors that the brewing process alone does not create. That’s when a clever device known as the Randall comes in handy.
The Randall is about the size of a large thermos, and is installed between the keg and the tap. Some Randalls are visible from your barstool, while others perform their duty in the privacy of the keg cooler. On its way from the keg to your pint glass, the beer runs through a clear plastic chamber filled with hops, spices, herbs, fruit, coffee beans or anything else. The apparatus was invented 12 years ago by Delaware’s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery during the search for a way to add more hop character to an already hoppy beer. It didn’t take long for the brewery and other Randall users to start experimenting with various ingredients to impart different flavors. It took a few years to gain acceptance, but the Randall’s popularity has skyrocketed.
More and more, you’ll see Randalls around Seattle at better beer bars and brewery taprooms, infusing beer with additional, unexpected flavors. The Randall is not part of the brewing process; rather, it is part of the draft beer system that delivers beer to your pint glass, pitcher or growler, allowing the server to alter the flavor of a particular beer by running it through a chamber filled with virtually any ingredient imaginable. You can even get one for personal use at home. Best of all, the ingredients can be changed at any time, and originality and uniqueness define a Randall’s purpose, so there is no typical recipe. Instead, users constantly experiment with flavors; the most commonly used ingredient is whimsy.
“We like to use the Randall to add complementary flavors to the beer,” says Morgan Herzog, owner of The Beer Junction, a combination of beer store and bar in West Seattle. “Sometimes we work backwards, thinking of the Randall ingredients first, and then thinking about which beer would benefit from those flavors. “
For example, last year for the Fourth of July, The Beer Junction wanted to use red, white and blue ingredients to make the Randall itself display the colors of the flag. Herzog and staff decided to fill the Randall with strawberries, white peaches and blueberries, and then thought about what beer would work with those flavors. They decided on a beer with a creamy and slightly sweet flavor, Summer Solstice Ale from Anderson Valley Brewing. The result looked like normal beer, but tasted something like strawberry shortcake.
You might think that this kind of post-production flavor manipulation would offend breweries, but many not only approve of the practice, they use the Randall themselves. At Fremont Brewing, where you’ll typically find one or two different “Randallized” beers waiting for you in the always-busy tasting room, owner Matt Lincecum says the Randall serves two primary purposes: education and innovation.
First, Fremont uses the Randall to introduce customers to a wider range of flavors. “If we get one of our customers to try something through the Randall, we are expanding their perception of what beer tastes like,” Lincecum says.
Second, Fremont Brewing uses the Randall as a low-risk way to experiment with different flavors. Infusing an entire keg with ingredients like apricots and vanilla beans is a one-way street that represents a sizable commitment, but the Randall infuses the beer one glass at a time. If the flavor profile isn’t working, staff simply disconnect the keg and repack the Randall.
Last fall, the brewery used the Randall to experiment with its autumn seasonal beer: Harvest Ale. In the end, the winning Randall recipe involved a specific ratio of blood orange peel and lemongrass. The result was a beer that finished slightly sweet with noticeable citrus notes and just a hint of ginger. Look for a similar version of the infused beer, nicknamed Harvey, at the brewery’s tasting room in September.
These days, craft beer drinkers are blessed with a vast cornucopia of beer flavors. Still, more and more beer drinkers want to discover new flavors and not simply new favorites. They seek something uncommon and unexpected. That’s when the Randall shines.
Taste It Now
The top spots to find Randallized beer
The Pine Box Dean Hudgins (also known as “The Randall Master”) and Ian Roberts, co-owners of The Pine Box, are considered the city’s foremost Randall experts. One Randall is installed at the bar full time, and another 12 Randalls are ready and waiting for special occasions, such as the annual “Can You Handle My Randall” event held at The Pine Box in May. That affair sees up to 12 different beers poured through 12 different Randalls. Not only do Hudgins and Roberts have a knack for picking ingredients, but they are recognized as the city’s leading authorities when it comes to the mechanics of the device. One of the most popular combinations at The Pine Box last summer was Elysian Brewing’s Super Fuzz Pale Ale served through a Randall filled with grapefruit and mandarin orange rinds. Capitol Hill, 1600 Melrose Ave.; 206.588.0375; pineboxbar.com
The Beer Junction This West Seattle beer store and bar tends to use the Randall for special events, such as guest brewery appearances and special tasting nights, which it typically has once a week on Thursday nights. Also, it likes
to use the Randall to celebrate holidays such as St. Patrick’s Day, the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. West Seattle, 4511 California Ave. SW; 206.938.2337; thebeerjunction
Fremont Brewing The tasting room at the brewery (aka the Urban Beer Garden) goes through a lot of beer, and the Randall lineup changes frequently. Typically, you’ll have one or two different Randallized beers to try. Fremont, 1050 N 34th St.; 206.420.2407; fremontbrewing.com
Parkway Tavern Every Monday is Randall Wrecker Night at the Parkway Tavern in Tacoma. The bar’s regulars carry punch cards, which they aspire to fill out to earn coveted Randall Wrecker swag; drink 31 Randallized beers and you get a free T-shirt. Tacoma, 313 N I St.; 253.383.8748; parkwaytavern.com
Reuben’s Brews One of Ballard’s most beloved breweries observes Randall Friday at its tasting room. Usually the recipe involves hops, sometimes exclusively and sometimes blended with fruit. Ballard, 1406 NW 53rd St.; 206.784.2859; reubensbrews.com
Spike and Steam at Whole Foods Market The coffee, beer and wine bar at Whole Foods’ South Lake Union location offers several beers on tap, and it usually pours one through the Randall. Next time you need some groceries, take a Randallized growler to go, or stick around to enjoy a pint. (It’s also Randallizing hard cider—though it’s not available to take in growlers.) South Lake Union, 2210 Westlake Ave.; 206.621.9700; wholefoodsmarket.com