Friday, 6 June 2014

Cooler Down London Way?

Regular readers will know that on average I find the temperature of cask beer sold in London pubs to be on the warm side.  Not slightly warm, but a lot too warm.  And no, I don't accept that there are regional preferences in this kind of thing, though there may be incorrect local flash backs to a byegone era in cellar practice.  Are things changing though?  I think they might just be. In some places at least.

There is, apart from preference for refreshment, a technical reason for this dislike of warm beer.  It is pure physics.  The amount of CO2 remaining in the beer after venting is inversely affected by temperature.  Colder beer equals more condition and warm beer means flat beer. Put simply CO2 is less soluble the more the temperature increases.  From me, the customer, there is nothing more vexing than coughing up the best part of four quid for a pint in London (or anywhere to be fair) and then finding it warm enough to poach an egg in.  It has made me on so many occasions just drink lager - and even that can be warm too sometimes, but not cask warm. Saddo that I am, now and then in a fit of zeal, I take out my Cask Marque temperature probe and check how warm my pint is.  I did that for the first day of my visit last week.  Naturally, prick I may be, but I don't want to be seen as such, so I do this surrepticiously.  I have standards you know. Low though they may be, but my intentions are to drive home the message. No warm cask beer please!

Now I usually name names, but this, with one exception,  I won't, but I will give you some useful pointers as to where things might be better.  The exception is the Euston Tap where my first London pint weighed in at a near perfect 11.2°C.  Yippee.  Other good news was to be found in two Nicolsons pubs, again more or less perfect and in JD Wetherspoon. (Almost never a problem there). So here's an immediate piece of advice.  You are likely (with exceptions) to get cooler and better kept beer in a chain or brewery pub that is managed, as Head Office will be keeping a close eye on beer orders, sales, wastage and customer complaints.*
In each pub I looked for a Cask Marque sign and if there was a problem I determined to bubble them to Cask Marque. After all, that is the name of their game.  I didn't need to, so great. Again with one exception, as of course into each life a little rain must fall.  One pub that shall remain nameless, sold  me my cask beer at an unacceptable 17.2°C and my lass's Budvar at 10.1°C.  Yes they had a Cask Marque plaque on the wall and it is by no means the first time,  so an email is being sent. Now this may seem petty, but I remind you of the price.  When you are charging someone £4 a pint or thereabouts, it needs to be served correctly and after all Cask Marque is meant to be a sign of beer quality.  That's why they exist. 

Let's leave warm beer to John Major's misty eyed reminiscing. Maybe the often poor state of cask in some places in London is one reason why craft keg is getting a decent hold. And why CAMRA's job is not yet done.

* In managed houses you are also likely to find beer python cooled to the point of dispense, a standard cellar practice folllowed and the cellar cooling temperature set correctly and remaining switched on.


Yvan said...

First time I had a cask ale in the UK was in London in October 2005. It was "warm", brown, smelly, flat and really unpleasant. My reaction was "ah, so what they say back home about English beer was right... yuck"... and I drank nothing but Guinness for the next 6 months (some Brits tried to get me to drink Foster's and Stella but I found them too boring).

These bad pubs really must do some damage to the general the uptake of cask ale.

It was the Hop Pole in Aylesbury that awoke me to good cask ale 6 months later.

Cooking Lager said...

I think all CAMRA members should be issued with one of them thermometers and not be embarrassed to use them. Pubs all over the country should be full of beardy club types sticking one in their pints and scribbling notes in a little book. Top stuff.

Phil said...

Seventeen degrees? That's sixty-odd in the old money (give us a minute... 63 Fahrenheit almost exactly. That's room temperature on a warm day (for England). Dreadful.

Neville Grundy said...

It's funny how that slight increase in the temperature can make a nice beer taste quite unpleasant.

I find it funny, TM, that you now use a thermometer, seeing that many years ago you expressed disapproval when I mentioned (not used) the old CAMRA rip-off card that showed how much a short measure costs you. Apparently some "young lass" had taken the mick when she saw you using one, so you immediately swore off them.

Tandleman said...

Indeed I did as I was only showing an old colleague it to make a point. Nobody wants to be a dick in a pub. I have far less confrontational ways of putting the knife in through this blog.

I do always offer a right of reply which has never been taken up.

Of course it could more likely be because nobody reads it,though I do know though that many adverse comments have been read. That to me speaks volumes.

Me said...

I have contacted Cask Marque over the (frankly appalling) quality of two pints I had in a city centre pub here a while back. 1: Chunks of yeast floating around; 2: acetaldehyde bomb.

Maybe it did some good - I went back in there recently (after a long time vowing not to go back) and their beer was very good indeed. Not warm either you'll be glad to hear.

If no-one pipes up, then nothing will change.

Curmudgeon said...

Maybe we just need to abandon London as a bad job. I've had loads of not-perfect cask ale outside the capital, but being far too warm is rarely the major fault.

Stono said...

last year was the first year Id really noticed the temps of beer were getting out of hand and it just seemed to be a summer of consistently poor beer from a number of pubs who should have known better,though most seem to have got back on top of things again since, but first couple of weekends of slightly hotter weather and Im already slightly nervous for what the rest of the summer holds.

though London is weird in that it always seems to be a couple of degrees warmer than everywhere else anyway, and especially in a heat wave its difficult to find anywhere to cool down,another aspect in the why glasses full of ice with cider were really popular, and throw in traditional more cramped London pub sizes and I suspect they have alot more heat soak to dispense with, that doesnt excuse serving beer at nearly room temperature of course but it highlights I think the challenges can be different

Curmudgeon said...

London is reckoned to be an "urban heat island".

Ben Viveur said...

Agree with all of this. I generally like my beer somewhere between 4 and 12 C, depending on the style of beer and the ambient temperature/weather.

Obviously my tastes aren't typical, and it's usually hard to find it quite cold enough for me, but the Euston Tap isn't bad, and I also highly commend the Craft Beer Co chain on this front. Most Antic pubs are also pretty good.