Thursday, 27 February 2020

Keep it flowing

On the National Bass Day Facebook group, several pubs such as the Old Vaults in Uttoxeter, the Fountain in Leek and the Devonshire Arms and Derby Inn in Burton-on-Trent have stated that they are selling 80 to 100 gallons of Draught Bass every week. That’s nearly three full barrels and, given that Bass is supplied in 10-gallon containers, means that they’re usually emptying a container within a day.

Forty years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for big, busy pubs in industrial areas, such as Holt’s in Manchester and Tetley’s in Yorkshire, to be shifting twenty barrels or more a week of Bitter. The sight of the pumps being constantly in action was usually a reliable sign of a decent pint. However, the switch to lager, especially amongst volume drinkers, and the general decline of beer sales in pubs have put paid to that, and in today’s climate three barrels of one single cask beer is pretty good going.

So often nowadays you encounter cask beer that, while not off as such, is that little bit tired, tepid and flat, and many pubs seem to be constantly operating on the edge of the maximum recommended time for keeping beer on sale. And it’s not that uncommon for beer to tip over the edge and turn to Sarson’s Best. But if you can reliably shift a container within a day, or not much more early in the week, you can at a stroke eliminate one of the main reasons behind customers receiving poor beer over the bar.

Of course, it’s not the only factor, and attention still needs to be paid to giving beer time to settle and mature, basic hygiene and maintaining temperature and condition. It’s also not as simple as saying that if a pub cut its number of cask lines it would turn the remaining beers over more quickly, as the reduction in choice might well result in customers taking their business elsewhere. However, there’s an element of chicken and egg about the trade-off between range and quality, and if you are succeeding in selling a cask a day it’s a sure sign that your customers appreciate it. No pub will be able to do that if the beer isn’t good in the first place.

It’s always worth remembering that two of the fundamental tenets of good cellar management are keeping the beer in the cellar for a decent period to allow it to settle and mature, and once it has been put on sale to empty the cask as quickly as possible. So many of the problems drinkers experience with poor beer are due to those principles being reversed.

9 comments:

  1. Actually had a pint of draught Bass for the first time on Tuesday. I was impressed. Had plenty of canned/bottled before now, but living up in Glasgow, I've never seen it on a pump before.

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  2. Unfortunately the two fundamental tenets of cellar management are becoming more and more irrelevant. Many so-called 'cask conditioned' beers are nothing of the sort and are brewery conditioned in tanks before being racked into casks. There's precious little sediment to settle and certainly not enough to start a secondary fermentation. These beers are often on sale just an hour or so after being delivered, and they go off faster than a properly cask conditioned beer too.

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    1. electricpics, agree one hundred percent, and this practice of conditioning at the brewery makes a total mockery of the term "cask conditioned" ale.

      CAMRA seem very quiet on this issue, and I'd even suggest they have their head in the sand over it, but to admit its prevalence would destroy their very reason for existing.

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    2. Yes, very quiet indeed. I suppose beers that fit this description are at least unfiltered and have natural levels of CO2. They can still be better than beers that do need cellar conditioning but are sold as soon as they've dropped bright, which isn't the same as being 'ready'.

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  3. Mudgie, imagine in the old days having to shift 36 gallon barrels, or even 54 gallon hogsheads.

    28 gallon kilderkins are heavy enough. There must have been lots of slipped discs or hernias amongst draymen and cellarmen back then. Ouch!!

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    Replies
    1. It was always recommended that full barrels required dual handling, hence why draymen worked in pairs.

      In Local Brew by Mike Dunn (1986), he states that "around half of all Holt's beer is delivered in hogsheads".

      I believe Batham's are now the only brewer still using them. I don't imagine there's much problem with slow turnover of Bitter in Batham's houses.

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  4. Should read 18 gallon, not 28! 😁

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  5. My Grandad ran the cellar in a very busy South London Young's pub. I saw him move (wooden) 36s around no problem at all well into his 70s. It was a knack, the weight did the work for him.

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  6. A few bits of basic common sense doesn't go amiss: One local pub (that now, unsurprisingly, has stopped selling cask) couldn't shift it, so had a lot of wastage. I went in one Sunday, and sent my pint of cask back as it was rank. The landlord told me it would be back on on Monday or Tuesday.

    This is a suburban pub, quiet but ticking over in the week, but genuinely busy on Fri-Sat, and the people drinking the cask were mostly, like me, weekend drinkers, so the obvious thing to do would to start a fresh one on Thursday or Friday, and shift it in peak condition over the weekend, like the previous landlord (who managed at least 1 and often 2 cask ales on the bar together) did.

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