Monday, 1 August 2011

A Pre GBBF Thought

I have limited time, but I wanted to get this little post out before I pack my bag for London and the GBBF.

When reading a comment on Boak and Bailey about what CAMRA ought to do, there was one helpful comment. It was along the lines of "What are CAMRA doing about quality?". I couldn't agree more. Those of us that spend a lot of time drinking cask beer in pubs know that it can be a lottery, with even so called top pubs unable, or unwilling, or for God's sake unaware,that they are selling sub standard product. In these trying times you don't want to spend £3+ on less than optimum beer. You don't want the embarrassment or hassle of sending it back, using euphemisms such as "I'm not sure this is quite right" or "Has this reached the end of the barrel?" when you know very well it is undrinkable piss. At the same time the bar staff should know. (The best pubs will have the manager sipping the odd mouthful to check from time to time.)

There are some dodgy arguments about new craft going around, but one thing is reasonably certain about craft keg. That is, that while it may well be cold and gassy, it is unlikely to be actually "off". This to me is where we came in many years ago with keg, though of course, current pricing and availability is likely to leave craft keg as a minority sport, but that can't be relied on forever.

As I say, time is short, but one of the recommendations of the review of CAMRA that I was a member of, was to campaign for better cask beer quality. When CAMRA sets its priorities, that should be number one, top of the tree etc. While we are at it we should encourage brewers to provide cask beer in as small a quantity as the pub wants. Too big a container limits cask beer's ability to compete on short run speciality beers. Keykegs may be part of the answer, but the good old pin (4.5 gallons)should be brought back in great numbers, breweries should use them to produce short run exciting and innovative beers. If a brewery can't do short run beers and it is of any size, it needs a pilot plant. A sound investment and cheap as chips too.

Who says innovation should be the domain of craft keg? Craft keg brewers that's who. It is one of their main selling points (though you could argue that umpteen variations on an IPA theme is hardly cutting edge).

Other brewers need to wake up and take them on at their own game.

Next time you get a duff pint, send it back.  And a question. How do you send a pint of craft beer back if you think it is too cold and gassy? I honestly don't know.


Bailey said...

I could really get behind a campaign on cask quality in a way I can't get excited about "Take it to the Top".

On a related note, for an interesting outsiders review of drinking cask ale in the UK, read this. Didn't take him long to dismiss Cask Marque as a useful indicator of quality.

Tandleman said...

Good link. Of course if you get a bad pint in a Cask Marque pub, send them an email,about it.

And you are right in your comments on his blog too.

Curmudgeon said...

Actually things have improved somewhat over the years. It's a long time since I've complained about a cloudy pint and been told "real ale's meant to be like that."

However, if you do go in pubs at random you are likely to encounter some seriously underwhelming beer, as I recounted here.

Slow turnover exposes a multitude of sins, of course, and I'm convinced that many pubs have too many beers on for the available trade, particularly early in the week.

And might some of the more marginal outlets be better off dropping cask altogether if they don't have either the motivation or the throughput to keep it well?

The Beer Nut said...

I'd be a much happier man if I thought keg beer meant it wasn't as much of a lottery as cask. But it pretty much is, I'm afraid.

I suspect you may be making an assumption based on no evidence there.

Tandleman said...

BN - Well do you mean it is often stale or off or what?

If so, it evens the playing field a little, so back to my question,how do you complain? Or do you?

It doesn't though invalidate any of my other points I'd suggest.

Tandleman said...

Mudgie - I agree things have improved, but not enough.

John B said...

Tandy said: How do you send a pint of craft beer back if you think it is too cold and gassy? I honestly don't know.

I don't take it back but ask for an extra glass to decant the offender into. 3 or 4 goes and it's eminently drinkable. I've had some strange looks but no refusals.

Tandleman said...

John - I suppose I meant "is that an acceptable reason?"

Erlangernick said...

If it's too cold, well, warm it with your hands. Ask for a spoon or a fork to stir it up and work the gas out.

That buffoonery at the Br3wD0g blog about hoppy beer "needing gas" or whatever is just so much nonsense.

Ed said...

I can't stand pins, they're more bloody work!

Phil said...

"No man that's a drinker drinks ale from a pin
For there is too little good ale there within:
Four and a half is its measure in full,
Too small for a draught, not enough for a pull."
- "Bring us a barrel", a sort-of folksong by the late Keith Marsden.

"So roll out the puncheon and bring out the butt
For these are the measures before us to put.
The jug will go round and good ale it will flow
And we'll be content for an hour or so."

Very much of its time, I think.

The Beer Nut said...

No, it doesn't invalidate your other points: quality first, always. However it does mean it's not a craft/keg issue. It's a beer issue, and dispense methods are immaterial.

As to what goes wrong, pretty much everything that can go wrong with beer. It can be stale, it can be flat, it can be full of diacetyl, phenols or any of the rest of that crew, it can be in a dodgy glass or out of dirty lines.

How do I complain? If I get an undrinkable pint, I bring it back and suggest that the beer be taken off. I'm in the fortunate position of being personally aquainted with most of the brewers whose beer I drink so I have the option of bringing the feedback to them directly if I don't trust the pub to do it. If the beer is just slightly off-kilter I give it up as a bad job for the day and pick something else to drink. Again, cask or keg: same rules apply.

The Beer Nut said...

*cask/keg, not craft/keg.

Cooking Lager said...

The answer to the quality lottery is a pint of ice cold fizz.

Curmudgeon said...

In my (limited) experience, mass-market keg beers, especially lagers, are considerably more consistent than cask. Dull and bland maybe, but very rarely "off". It is these, not "craft keg" than cask is normally in direct competition with.

wowninjas said...

I completely agree with your point. I'm sure pubs would be able to have a larger selection of ales if breweries were more willing to provide their beers in pins. And obviously the quality would massively increase.

Saga Of Nails said...

Arguments against pins.

Pins often work out lot less economical than firkins or kilderkins for a few reasons. Firstly, they tend to cost a little bit more, pint for pint from breweries. Because of the shape of most pins and the nature of real ale there will tend to be more beer loss through waste. Also miscellaneous waste through preparation and testing becomes more significant because of scale.
Also many pubs have tiny cellars and would need to have specialised racking for pins to make it logistically viable to stock many pins.

Arguments for pins.

Less chance of beer going turning and. Therefore a wider range can be stocked, and special one offs or unusual beers can be stocked with less risk of ullage.
Again because of the nature of ale, pins will settle and clear quicker than larger barrel sizes. This is only a benefit if you are not pushed for space in the cellar.
Easier to lift, etc.

Personally I tend to shy away from pins unless stocking ales which are over eight percent.