Friday, 7 September 2018

It's Not Difficult

Readers of this blog know I have shall we say, some issues in finding top quality cask beer in London. It always puzzles me why. Apart from the obvious antipathy to keeping cellars at the appropriate temperature of course. I get that. Not why they don't, just the fact that they don't. Let's be quite clear here. Too high temperature buggers up cask beer. You start off wrong and there  is no way back. Chemistry and all that.

I've been down in London helping my friends Annie and David with their beer festival at the Dispensary in Leman St. It's my local when down here and though not far away at all from Tandleman Towers South, it isn't the nearest pub, but it is the one where the beer is kept properly.  The cellar is kept at around 10 -12C and the beer is properly conditioned. Even without a sparkler, it sparkles. Just look at the photo of London Brewed Dark Star Hophead. Perfect.

I've looked after the stillaged beers in the bar. They are cooled and could do with being a little colder - but that's just me - I'd much rather have colder. Beer warms up. Customers have been fine with them and the beers are in great nick. How? Simple. Keep the bloody condition in them. Avoid soft spiles for a start. Most modern beers don't need them and they bleed condition. Porous hard spiles are the cellarman's or indeed cellarwoman's friend.  Keeping cask beer is not, despite what some would tell you, difficult. It just needs common sense and a little know how.

As long as you follow a few basic rules that is. They all begin with C. Cleanliness, condition and cellar temperature are the basics. The other is somewhat contrived, but is chronology. Time. Rack the beer to settle. give it a day at least. Vent when the beer has rested. Know when the beer went on and when it ought to be sold by. Nobody wants knackered beer and that can happen even if otherwise the basics have been observed.There is a bit more to it of course, but follow these guidelines and experience will provide the rest - or the questions that you need to ask.

The final C is for check. Check the beer before serving and at intervals. The last person that should find out a duff pint has been served is yet another C. The customer.

Reckon you can't afford to keep your cooling on?  False economy. Put a few more pence on a pint rather than do that.

Fullers seem to have done a smashing job matching Hophead at Chiswick. Well done on that one.


Barm said...

Isn’t the point of a hard spile that it isn't porous?

Mark Enderby said...

So Fullers are now brewing Hophead at Chiswick ... that didn't take long 🙁

Tandleman said...

Barm. Hard spiles come in both porous and non porous versions.

Fred said...

Lots of DS Hophead now appearing as guest ales in 'Spoons branches. In Cowley (Oxford), selling at £1.99 per pint this week. Brilliant ale at a fantastic price.

Unknown said...

There's plenty of excellent cask conditioned ale sold in London. You can't be looking that hard (or want your worst prejudices to be confirmed).

Tandleman said...


Of course tere is "some" but not that easy to find sadly. Think I walk about with my eyes closed and taste buds switched off?

Dont be daft.

Paul Bailey said...

Well said TM, especially the comments on cellar-cooling. I 100% agree that it is essential to keep as much condition in the beer as possible, so why do some licensees insist on venting it off?

There is nothing worse than a flat pint - one that is lacking in condition (dissolved CO2), rather than one without a head.

Whilst in the US last month, I had a couple of conversations about cask ale, although I only came across one outlet selling it. The consensus is that Americans don't "get" cask, certainly not on home turf, as they feel it is both flat (lack of condition again) and too warm (cellar problems again).

With regard to the latter, passing the beer through a flash cooler, on the way to the bar, will do very little to improve it if it's already been spoiled by incorrect storage (starting off wrong).

Ben Viveur said...

Agree with pretty much every word about cask quality. I'm just not convinced that people down here actually care about it enough or even consider it an issue.

I wish the beer list for the Dispensary fest had made it actually worth going to. It looked deliberately designed to keep tickers as far away as possible.

Anonymous said...

Richard said

Being a London drinker for many years, I think the general quality of cask has declined in pubs over recent years, possibly because of the competition on the bar from keg or maybe the landlord does not drink cask ale and thinks it normal for it to taste like s**t.

The Dispensary beer list may have not been attractive to seasoned tickers, the big festivals can cater for that. A pub has to make a profit to survive and there are large numbers of cask ale drinkers who are drawn to a beer they have heard of.

John West said...

There are numerically “plenty” of decent cask pubs in London, but not proportionally for a city of 9m people.

Warm cellars and over-venting are a curse and even GBG-listed pubs are often guilty. With keg beers now competing on bars for the “interesting choice” market, some cask venues have too many handpumps on.

Tandie’s right about something else. Many modern beers may just about meet the CAMRA technical specification, but are largely brewery conditioned and will not enjoy a vigorous secondary fermentation. So soft spiles are a surefire way to have under-conditioned beer. Unless you’re serving Landlord.

John West said...

“Being a London drinker for many years, I think the general quality of cask has declined in pubs over recent years, possibly because of the competition on the bar from keg” <<< agreed - I think we had better ranges of cask on the bar (and better kept) as recently as three years ago.

So many pubs default to higher margin and often very good keg beers (Beavertown, et al.) for modern pales and stick brown bitters on the wickets.

I love a good bitter, but you’d have seen a bitter and a couple of pales in the past. I worry pale and hoppy cask at session strength (my favourite beers) might not survive craft keg.