Witchdoctor’s award-winning beer scribe NEIL MILLER wants to share something with you: he’s an unashamed fan of the humble rigger.
Over many years, I have run hundreds of beer tastings for multinational corporations, government agencies, small businesses, law firms, architects, Freemasons, bike clubs, book clubs, the editorial staff of Cuisine, film crews from India and China, stag nights, hen nights, international rugby players, friends, and…
Well, pretty much anyone who would pay me to drink beer and talk beer – two activities I would often be doing anyway for nothing.
Apart from tastings conducted in bars or brewpubs, in almost every case I have sourced the beers in plastic 1.25l riggers. This surprised a lot of people. Why – their confused faces seemed to say – would we be drinking craft beer at a proper beer tasting run by an award-winning beer writer out of plastic bottles that we have to share?
Well, I have my reasons. Actually, I have seven reasons:
- Fresh – The beer poured is fresh from the tap then tightly sealed. This is as close to bar fresh you can get but, in this instance, you can take it home, to a party, to a BBQ, or even to a date. Try doing that with a bar tap and you will probably be arrested.
- Cheap – Let’s face it, beer in riggers is generally cheaper than the same beer in bottles or cans. That not only appeals to my Scottish nature, but it means that people at a tasting might get five beers to try instead of four, on the same budget. When explained in those capitalistic terms, many become instant converts to the fantastic plastic beer conveyance.
- Sociable – Riggers are perfect for sharing. They are a very sociable way to drink beer. I like to use small glasses and encourage people to pour drinks for others, an excellent tradition in countries such as Japan. I have run beer tastings where there are people from all over the organisation who do not usually work together. It is a bit quiet and tense at first, but when people are sharing a rigger and filling each other glasses the conversation quickly picks up. There are rumours of at least one workplace marriage from people who met over a romantic rigger (or five).
- Supports breweries and brewpubs – Rigger sales are important for breweries and brewpubs who either do not package their beer, or get better margins from riggers because of the lower packaging costs and no need for expensive machinery. One of the few upsides of Covid-19 lockdowns is that many brewers either developed or expanded their rigger delivery services. In many cases, they proved so popular that these services have continued to this (relatively) Covid free day. A number of quality brewers would have struggled without this welcome income stream.
- Outrage faux beer fans – There are some drinkers, usually in suits or power jackets, who turn their nose up at the plastic peasant on their table as they sip their green bottle lagers. Thing is, if you can get them to try the actual beer, they might like it because – you know – it tastes of something. Even these sorts of people can change. I ran an annual tasting at an architectural firm. Year 1 – their beer fridge was wall to wall lager. Year 2 – after the tasting, Tuatara, Epic, Brewmoon, Kereru… Year 3 – they had beers in there even I hadn’t tried!
- Environmentally friendly – Despite having the tiny dark heart of a lifelong Tory, I do care for the planet. The planet is where my beer comes from. Riggers can be cleaned and reused, and there is no danger of broken glass. This makes them ideal for camping, kayaking, or hiking – if you are into that sort of thing. Riggers have the same environmental benefits when watching the cricket though…
- Implied contractual obligation – Once a rigger is opened it really should be finished. It is an almost moral requirement that a rigger not be put back in the fridge overnight. There should be no need to “bayonet the wounded” the next day. Your group should not start a rigger that you cannot finish.
Finally, a definitional point which in hindsight I should have put first, but I got over-excited. In this article, I am generally referring to riggers as plastic bottles of more than one litre. However, there are also glass riggers which are usually bigger, often over two litres. They have many names, including but not limited to: riggers, flagons, Pub Pets, and – for reasons only Southerners understand – growlers. Fundamentally, a rigger to me is any big container of beer-filled fresh from the tap and drunk as soon as possible with good friends.