Well they do say that don't they? Of course it all depends on context and to some extent disposition, circumstance and perspective, but when it comes to cask beer containers, size matters very much and in a specific way. Size must equate to turnover and freshness. "Container" by the way, is the generic trade name for the vessel from which your beer is dispensed and is divided into various sizes, the most common of which is the nine or firkin, but eighteens (kilderkins or just kils for short)are still very common. They are both sub divisions of "barrel" which is 36 Imperial Gallons. There are others sizes too.
Why the lecture? Well, I like to read the blogs of various people in The Publican. Not just our own dear Pete Brown, but when he appears, Chris Maclean, who is a a Shep's landlord and old school. He therefore appeals to my way of seeing things by and large. In his latest column here, Chris calls for wider availability of the "pin", a vessel of 4.5 gallons which used to be common, (often seen on a stillage on the bar in winter and containing something dark, strong and warming,) but sometimes too, utilised in the cellar for slow moving beers.
If you've never seen a metal pin then you won't know how cute they are. That's part of the problem. They are very desirable, nickable even and they are relatively expensive to buy too. Modern automated cask washers often can't handle them, so they have to be hand washed, thus increasing costs. While they offer the possibility of fresher beer to low turnover outlets, they mean that less beer might be ordered from the brewery as publicans downsize to a pin. The upshot is that for all these reasons and more, most breweries simply don't supply them.
I moaned the other day about dodgy pints, though that was probably aimed more at breweries than publicans and while probably not what I had in mind, no doubt container size plays a part in some cases. Metal pins may well be too expensive an answer, but I can't help but think Chris has a point. Surely the breweries could do something to modify a polypin, say with an integrated demand valve that vented off excess CO2 - like the Race spile - and an adapted tap to which a line to the handpump could be readily attached - thus solving the cost problem? I sympathise with the argument that for some, offering a guest beer or a seasonal one in a pin, is just less risky and costly than buying a nine. It is less risky for the customer too in these outlets.
These days few breweries supply beer in anything other than nines or eighteens. A few high volume outlets will still take barrels and there is still the odd Joey Holt's house with the mighty hogshead, (54's) but surely anything that helps shift cask beer, maintains quality and offers more choice and less wastage must be worth a go? I have visited Joseph Holt's store of hogsheads. An impressive sight indeed. One of my mates used to be a Rochdale and Manor Brewery Manager and before that, a drayman. He tells me tales of handling wooden hogsheads that would have you rushing for your steel toecaps!
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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