Tuesday, 27 September 2022

A fresh approach

This week is Cask Beer Week and, as Roger Protz reports, the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) have launched a new initiative to promote cask entitled Drink Fresh Beer. At first I thought this was just another glib marketing gimmick, but on looking further there’s a lot more to it.

The Achilles heel of cask beer has always been inconsistent quality over the bar, and by far the biggest problem is slow turnover, leading to tired, lacklustre beer. At its best, fresh cask is great, but all too often it falls far short of that, and you just don’t know when ordering it. Most people in the industry acknowledge this issue, but are always very reluctant to put it into practice because they are too attached to offering a wide range of beers. As I have written in the past, it’s a case of waiting for the other guy to blink first.

Now, this SIBA scheme is seeking to address this issue head on by providing customers with the details of when a beer was put on sale.

Once they reach the bar, an AR-scannable pump clip will help beer drinkers learn more about their favourite drink, how far it has travelled to the pub and when the cask was freshly tapped.
Hopefully this information will be made more obvious than having to fiddle about with a QR code, but the principle is there. This is something that I have suggested in the past in a somewhat mischievous spirit, and I probably never thought it would actually happen. The report goes on to say:
To ensure the quality of beer across the venues involved, pubs participating in the campaign will be asked to sign up to the Fresh Beer Promise. Alongside campaign materials at the Point of Sale in their pub, they will commit to stocking at least two handpulls with a rotating third cask on tap and ensure a high standard of freshness by promptly replacing casks and take part in initiatives to improve quality.
Maybe it needs to be extended to those pubs that only have the turnover for one or two lines, but the intent is very clear. It’s unpredictable as to what effect knowing when a cask was tapped would have on customer behaviour, but people would soon find out through a process of suck it and see. They wouldn’t automatically choose the one-day beer over the two-day one, especially if it wasn’t their preferred style, but if there was nothing on the bar under five days they’d probably be looking at the lager and Guinness pumps or going elsewhere. It would give pubs a rocket up the backside and lead to a substantial and overdue curtailment of over-extended beer ranges.

It’s probably wishful thinking, but it would be good to see this initiative rolled out across the entire industry, particularly to Wetherspoon’s, who in my experience are the biggest culprits when it comes to selling stale beer. And, if a pub operator won’t sign up, it will be a clear indication that they have something to hide.

Obviously, rapid turnover is not the be all and end all of beer quality, and there are other issues that need to be addressed such as hygiene, temperature and conditioning time. There is no guarantee that a fresh beer will be a good one, but it’s pretty certain that a stale beer won’t be.

Over the summer there been an initiative called The Cask Project which has sought to promote the category while at the same encouraging debate about the issues surrounding it. While much of it has been very worthwhile, it has to be said that some has failed to appreciate the fundamental nature of the product. For example, one strand was “There’s a cask beer for everyone” which, in the reality of the typical pub there simply isn’t, as they won’t have the turnover to stock more than a couple, which will probably be a hoppy golden ale and a classic brown bitter. If you want that 8% mango sour you’ll have to look for it on keg.

What is needed, surely, is to go back to basics as to exactly why people should choose cask ahead of other beers. Back in the early days of CAMRA, the main priority was trying to convince people why cask ale was better than its keg counterparts. Nowadays, mainstream keg ales are a sector in steep decline, and the issue is more of how to appeal to people who drink lager, Guinness or cider. The key USP has to be saying that, at its best, cask offers far more richness, depth and complexity of flavour. And, of course, although this is very much in conflict with the current zeitgeist, it is a link with this country’s brewing traditions.

No doubt it will turn out to be a damp squib, but if the fresh beer initiative took off it could be a real shot in the arm for cask beer.

16 comments:

  1. Alberts Schloss in Manchester, which serves unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell from tanks dispensed by air pressure, gets fresh deliveries every week from the Czech Republic and the taps on the bar have a sign with the date it was put on. Although given the turnover there, I doubt it ever gets beyond a couple of days: https://www.pilsnerurquell.com/pubs/alberts-schloss/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tank Pilsner Urquell (also seen in a few fancy Greene King pubs) was the first thing I thought of, and Brew Dog also have a date the Punk IPA was tapped (often several days ago).

      Good read, and as Mudgie said you'd need something more immediate than a QR code to find out when the beer was put on, given busy staff often ask what you what as you're still walking to the bar !

      Delete
    2. if its a busy pub you might not even get close to the bar, plus I know how annoying people find it when I try to take photos of interesting pump clips and Im not actually holding people up, the thought of scanning a QR code...Ill leave the scope for the potential for hackers to one side on that...every time I order a pint, let alone as a round where I might have to scan all the beers to find which is the freshest on, and my local serves all its beer from a tap room with no pump clips and just a list of the beers on a chalk board. I cant help feel there are some big logistical flaws to this implementation of the idea.

      but more importantly its treating a symptom not the real cause, stale beer is absolutely directly linked to turnover, so why is turnover down on a beer, well we're back to how many beers have you got on, answer probably too many, what types are they, probably all variations of the same thing and not offering people the range of choice they want all things that experienced landlords just work out or instinctively know its the right thing.

      Rather than come up with another ultimately doomed scheme to help the punters pick a cask beer theyll like, anyone remember Cyclops ? how about a scheme that helps or offers advice to the inexperienced landlords to get them to work out how best to sell the cask beer theyve got. I knew a landlord who had a cask beer that had terribly bad turnover was always going stale before he could fully sell it, he just moved the pumpclip to a different part of the bar and now cant keep up with demand.

      And fwiw the Mad Bishop and Bear at Paddington station puts dates on their beer board when the beer comes on, I dont think it has altered the quality of the beer they dispense.

      Delete
  2. I drink lots of fresh beer. Brewery conditioned, often not far away and sometimes just a few feet, unfined, unpasteurised, carbonated, but not heavily, and tasty. It's also reliable. I drink cask only where I'm certain it's going to be excellent, but craft keg isn't a gamble in the vast majority of pubs and bars.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Not sure this will work, say there are 4 ales to choose from, if you have little knowledge of cask beer you may pick the freshest as you think it'll be the best quality, however you may not like that style of beer. A high ABV beer will probably have a longer shelf life. At the end of the day, this will come down to the knowledge of the customer, and how willing publicans are to guide the inexperienced drinker without foisting the beer with the shortest shelf life left, in order to get rid of it.

    Experienced publicans should get to know what volumes they are likely to shift. As a experienced drinker I try new ales quite often, and if it is not to my pallette, I'll try something else next time. The more risk averse, or where cost is more of a pressure will want something more reliable they can get on a regular basis, and is offered at a consistent quality.

    This is where brewers often let the side down by churning out boring unremarkable beers at a bargain prices, and a race to the bottom ensues.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Can you give me some examples of these "boring unremarkable beers" please ? I'd like to try them for myself.

      Delete
    2. Doom bar, Wainwrights, Fred's cap, to name but three. The latter tasted like it had been filtered through the chap's cap after a particularly sweaty day.

      Delete
    3. That's the new Bank Top beer that's been filtered through Fred Dibnah's cap after a particularly sweaty day, isn't it ?

      Delete
    4. But most people are familiar with the beer they're ordering, and even if they are confronted with a choice of beers they've never heard of, the ABV and the little jam jars will give them some indication of the style. Plus most pubs offering a range of guest beers tend to have blackboards giving further details.

      And I would say many publicans knowingly keep beers on longer than they should to provide a wider choice - it's certainly not just a question of ignorance.

      Delete
    5. Is "Fred's cap" supposed to be a pun on something?

      Delete
    6. Here are a few "boring unremarkable beers" for you to try Martin, I have had all of these recently, enjoy! Magic Rock - Hat trick, Goddard's - Rip tide, Arkells - Hoperation, Stewart Brewing- Jack back, Salcombe - Shingle Bay, I tried Bank Top - Flat cap a fortnight ago in Bolton and thought it was okay to be fair.

      Delete
    7. Fred's Cap ale has been around since 2011 at the latest. There's a write up on it the Bolton News. I tried it at the Mop and haven't supped it since.

      Delete
  4. I have drafted my own article on this, and plan to post it tonight, if time allows. For the time being, whilst I welcome the initiative, I remain unsure about how it will work out in practice. I would also like to know, how this scheme will be implemented, monitored, maintained and, if necessary, enforced!

    As others have posted here, tank, unpasteurised beers, such as Pilsner Urquell, are already served fresh in certain outlets, and the same criteria can be applied to craft beers as well.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Any initiative to get people to be confident that the cask beer they have ordered will be good is welcome. I am lucky that i have Bathams, Holdens, and Enville around me and it is always good. The beer to avoid is Joules which is often poor quality and the brewery are reluctant to address complaints. Outside Joules pubs you see many empty kegs but few casks which tells you something !

    ReplyDelete
  6. We're coming into the best time of year now to drink cask - when the cellars are naturally cold and the beer doesn't come out warm. Frankly I've rarely drank any cask this summer as the combination of flat and warm just didn't appeal when the mercury was hitting phew it's a scorcher levels. My local has plenty of rotating taps and as of last night there was Otter, Pride, Bass all in decent nick and some fruit-flavoured monstrosity that wasn't. The missus gave a thumbs up to Brixton Reliance IPA. What has been really noticeable this summer has been the number of people who you would imagine fancy themselves as hipsters drinking Moretti.It's euro-swill to me but the power of advertising and all that ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What on Earth do you think fridges are for? You can set them so the beer comes out cool, not cold.

      Delete

Comments, especially on older posts, may require prior approval by the blog owner. See here for details of my comment policy.

Please register an account to comment. To combat persistent trolling, unregistered comments are liable to be deleted unless I recognise the author. If you intend to make more than the occasional comment using an unregistered ID, you will need to tell me something about yourself.