On the local CAMRA e-mail group, someone reports on a bar in a building belonging to a charitable body (so not a pub as such) which “had two cask ales on this afternoon... Both were very warm, out of condition and totally undrinkable. The staff told me that they haven't got a proper cooling system in their cellar and gave me my money back.”
Yesterday was probably the hottest day of the year so far, but it’s certainly true that hot weather sorts out the sheep from the goats when it comes to cask beer. It’s often claimed that the long, hot summer of 1976 was a major factor behind the rise of lager in this country, and today there must be many people who throughout the year regularly include cask in their drinking repertoire, but at these temperatures unhesitatingly plump for the Carling tap.
Although there’s no shortage of cellar and line cooling equipment available nowadays, if anything the problem has got worse since 1976, due to the reduced overall sales of cask beer, the proliferation of handpumps and the fact that cask has gone into many non-traditional outlets that don’t have naturally cool cellars. The odds of getting a pint that has been festering in an uncooled line for an hour or more are disappointingly high.
If you’re serious about cask beer as an all-year-round product, it’s vital to ensure that you store it in an environment with a temperature consistently no higher than about 12°C and, unless you have a particularly high turnover, also make sure that your lines are cooled so it remains at that temperature right up to the point of dispense. Some pubs manage to do this, but sadly far too many fall embarrassingly short.
And there’s a good argument that marginal outlets such as wine bars, restaurants and college bars might well be better off putting on craft kegs rather than cask, as they would be easier to keep and less vulnerable to low and erratic turnover.