What is? Beer is and more specifically real ale is. The cask conditioning process adds a variable into beer that can take it from ordinary to phenomenal, or to the depths of undrinkable, all because of not knowing how to keep it, how long to keep it and how much of it to keep in the first place. Our CAMRA trip to Scotland showed some of these problems off first hand. Now it has to be said that real ale, cask conditioned beer is not nearly as common on Scotland as in most places in England. Subsequently, even in the best of pubs, demand is not so high. There are exceptions of course and there are reasons, but it does make drinking cask beer far more of a lottery than it already is. And it already is a lottery more is the pity.
We started off brightly enough in Dumfries, which for a small town, has quite a number of real ale outlets. The local JDW, the Robert the Bruce, seemed to know its stuff. Beers were clean, well looked after and enjoyable, as they were in the Cavens Arms. In both cases the staff were cheerful and welcoming. Even the half of Draught Bass I had in the Coach and Horses showed the undoubted wisdom of having only one beer served very well and knowing what your trade will stand, rather than several served poorly . Our first stop in Glasgow was the Clockwork Brewing Company, where the results were a lot more mixed. All the beers seemed off that elusive mark that can only be hit by good turnover and cellar excellence. Later the same was undoubtedly the case for both the State Bar - a pub I like - and Hengstler's Circus, which I don't really - but it is opposite. Tired, flabby beers would have done nothing to convince the largely Tennents Lager swilling crowd that they were saluting an entirely incorrect flag. Spirits were raised again in the Bon Accord, where in 1974, I drank my first ever real ale, and now, having undergone many changes, it is still doing the biz in some style. All the beers tried by our exacting crowd were in tip top condition. This pub knows its stuff and it shows.
On Saturday, we moved on to Ayr and visited the home of Ayr Brewery, the Glen Park Hotel, where the beer, brewed just yards away, was in excellent condition and served by handpumps with sparklers. A number of awards from both CAMRA and SIBA adorned the walls attesting to the quality of both pub and beer. Later in Geordies Byre, a wonderfully welcoming pub, spotlessly clean and interesting, this time, dispensed by Scottish tall founts, we enjoyed a range of three beers, all good and all oddly, but co-incidentally 3.6%, before boarding our coach to Troon, where a veil needs to be drawn over the lacklustre beer and pubs with the exception of the excellent Fullartons, where not only super quality beer was dispensed by handpumps, with the bar staff asking "With or without sparklers?", but the welcome was warm, as was the atmosphere. It was buzzing and deservedly so.
Bright, welcoming pubs with good beer and cheerful service can still drag customers in. In these hard times it has never been more important to get the offer right.
I commend this piece by Pete Brown to you too. It says many of the same kind of things.
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.
This blog mentions specifics; pubs and beer, good and bad. The opinions will be forthright, but you can always disagree, just don't be offended. Comments from those mentioned are particularly welcome and a right of reply is hereby offered.
Read my information and links and then decide for yourself. You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes.
If you wish to email me you can do so by using this address: tandleman[at]yahoo.co.uk
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Beer samples are welcome, but I cannot guarantee a good review. You, the brewer, on the other hand can.
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