I've been away. First of all in Scotland, then in London. More of London in another post, but I had my usual dip in, dip out taste of drinking in Glasgow. Well Glasgow near its two main railways stations and limited at that. After all, I shouldn'tt keep my old Mum waiting too long for the prodigal son.
I have always said that real ale's weakness is quality. It is simple really. When you have a perishable product, freshness is extremely important and one which seems to me is all to often a nettle which many obviously fail to grasp. What's difficult to understand? If it is going to go off first, then have a strategy to sell it before it does. If you can't do that then don't sell it at all. But let's start off with the positive. There is no such complacency in the Drum and Monkey. They know how to look after beer there and how to build up trade. A reputation for quality beer will attract beer drinkers, just as a lack of care will repel them. The Drum and Monkey has a good lunchtime trade and many of them drink cask. It is a Nicolson's pub and while their corporate ethos must help, they also have a dedicated team that appreciates cask and have an enthusiasm for the product. It makes for dependability and that is good. Who wants a beer lottery?
Sadly if you pop along the road to JDW's Counting House, that's just what you'll get. Around 16 handpumps and you don't see many drinking cask, which probably explains why my beer was vinegar, but not why it was still on sale. Two fellow travellers - from Hull as it happens - we had a chat - also handed beer back. Not a good thing and of course for every bad beer purchased, cask ale loses a customer and of course, sometimes the blame is wrongly put on to the brewery. Just across the road, from its stablemate, the other Queen St area JDW is Camperdown Place and provides a welcome contrast.. It admittedly rarely has such a good range and not nearly so many handpumps, but it is always a step up in quality. Please note pubs - less can be more. My Lancaster 1842 Pilsner (I had a taste first) was excellent and in stark contrast to the same vinegar I had a few minutes before.
On the way back south I had a quick nip into the Pot Still. No quality problems there either. Two handpumps, both serving top quality beer, even though I was clearly the first cask beer customer. That's better. Have two and serve them well and it will stand you in good stead. One mark off for both beers being jet black and very similar though I'll add it back for the welcome chat about Dumbarton FC. Heading for the train now, opposite Central Station is the Toby Jug. This is a long standing cask outlet and in my opinion the quality never rises above okayish from the three handpumps, which is probably one to many. Again I never see anyone else drinking real ale when I go in. That surely tells its own story.
Just a snapshot, but if I was to give advice to pubs selling cask in an area where old style keg is still king, it would be: "Just sell one cask beer in great nick than three in bad."
There is no real ale in Dumbarton though a JDW coming soon will change that. Should be interesting.
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.
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