Should we call time on cask beer? Top beer writer Pete Brown admits that he has mostly given up on it.
Not because the product that he has championed for years is no longer any good, but rather that so many pubs serve a sub-standard pint. He is not the only one.
In the latest edition of the Cask Report, author Sophie Atherton said: “It is clear that it’s no longer enough to be able to pour a decent pint.
“Bar staff need to understand how cask ales are different from other beers; they need to be able to describe them; they need to be the ones starting the cask conversation.”
The report adds that 92 per cent of consumers want to know more about the different styles of beer now available; 60 per cent said pubs don’t offer sufficient tasting notes on how a beer looks, tastes and smells; and only 36 per cent feel that bar staff have an understanding of cask.
Is this true in the local area? It is difficult to generalise, and there is no doubt that some landlords are passionate about their beer and have the knowledge and experience to serve a great product, but it is also true that some staff, while being pleasant and helpful, have little idea what they are serving.
Towards the end of last year, I went into a local pub which advertises real ale. There were hand pumps on the bar, but no pump clips.
When I asked if there was any beer available, the barmaid said that there was, but didn’t know what brand was on sale.
One of the other customers told me that he thought that it was Doom Bar and, to be fair, it was drinkable when it was poured.
In another local establishment, I asked for a pint of the guest beer, called Four Hop, and the bartender asked me if it was a beer or a lager. I told him that it was a guest beer, so he went round to the other bar and started to pull a pint.
It was clear from the shape of the pump clip that he was pulling Greene King IPA. Surely staff must be expected to have at least a basic knowledge of the products they are selling, and preferably a passion for their beer.
As for the quality, I agree with Pete Brown that too much of the beer served is average at best.
In Lynn, of the last 30 pints I have tried, the only ones that I have rated as being very good have been three in the Ouse Amateur Sailing Club, two from Golden Jack and the other a pint of Wherry, a pint of Black Sheep bitter in the Stuart House Hotel, a pint of Moongazer Tobi’s Tipple in the Live and Let Live and an Adnam’s Ghost Ship in the Rathskellar. That works out at a 20 per cent chance of getting a top pint, and I am not sure that is good enough.
What can be done about it? A good start for any publican would be to read the Cask Report, available online at http://cask-marque.co.uk/cask-matters/cask-report-2016-17.
There are 40 pages of priceless advice and tips on how to make a profit from cask beer.
It’s not just about the keeping and serving of the product – it shows how important communication skills are.
Customers want to know what they are drinking and to be served by a bartender who can describe the taste of the beer as well as the colour and strength.
It’s rare these days to find a pub that doesn’t serve cask beer, but top-quality cask beer, that’s another matter.