I recently came across this interesting article discussing whether the temperature at which it is served is holding cask ale back. However, it also included the depressing, although not remotely surprising, statistic that fully 90% of cask beer was kept on sale beyond the recommended three days. This prompted a lively debate on Twitter about how to improve cask turnover in pubs, in which several people made the point that licensees or cellar managers should be routinely tasting their cask ales to make sure they haven’t gone off.
This may seem like a statement of the obvious, but is that really the case? Pubs sell a huge range of drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, and for virtually all of them the licensees never have to taste them to ensure they’re OK. If they did, they would turn into alcoholics. Plus, many pubs sell a lot of food, but they have sufficient confidence in their suppliers and their kitchen hygiene that they don’t feel the need to nibble a corner of each steak or sandwich before they’re sent out to the customers. Is cask beer something so exceptional that it is different from everything else sold in the pub?
Added to this, there are many people running pubs who, for genuine medical or religious reasons, do not drink. Obviously that means they’re not in a position to sample the product. But it doesn’t follow that they shouldn’t be in the business in the first place. Likewise, there’s no reason why a vegetarian, provided they do it from personal choice rather than wishing to impose it on everyone else, should not work in a food business selling meat dishes. Across the whole spectrum of businesses, there are plenty of examples of people who work at providing goods and services for which there is a demand, but which they do not personally consume. Why should the pub trade be any different?
It’s sometimes said that anyone running a pub really should drink the beer themselves. This is clearly ridiculous for the generality of pubs, and does it even apply to specialist bars? I’ve come across people over the years who have opened craft bars and micropubs because they see an attractive business opportunity, but who personally do not drink, or at least do not drink beer.
Yes, tasting the beer may be useful in some circumstances, and undoubtedly cask beer is a perishable product that does need special care. But a properly run pub really should be able to ensure that its stock turnover, supplier selection and cellar management practices are such that it is not routinely operating on the verge of its cask beer going off. The only skills really needed are to be able to smell vinegar and see if a pint isn’t clear.