The Pointlessness of Beer Vials

Inspired by this post by “Retired Martin” not due to any reason other than the first picture in it.  It has been a while since I visited The Beer School in Westhoughton and I noted on said picture that they are now using 100mL conical flasks with rubber bungs to show off their cask beer.

The scientist in me loves that little quirk, fitting in well with the school theme the micropub actually has.

The drinker in me questions the whole entire need for it.

For starters, I can’t even recall if they used what I’m dubbing beer vials previously (if there is another more common or proper term, please let me know and I’ll actually change the title of the piece) as I never noticed before.

If you walk into quite a few pubs many seem to think that these little vessels, usually small Kilner jars (TM – other brands are available) that putting a small amount of each beer in them and putting them in and around the specific beer engine is helpful.

Maybe it is but not to me it isn’t and I’ve yet to see any good reason why they would be to anyone else.

First of all they create unnecessary clutter on a bar top.

Secondly, that is extra washing up for the staff, assuming they are cleaned.

Thirdly, are they filled each day the beer is available or just sit around as long as the beer is on, because if they are about showing of the clarity of each cask then I’ve seen plenty with more sediment in them that the usual Kernel bottle.*

My fourth point would be if it is to show the colour to prospective punters then, again it would seem like a dreadful waste of beer and effort for little reward; it would also seem to be there so as to not give the customer chance to engage in a chat about each beer with the server, which at busy times is probably useful, but if you are confronted by someone who can’t gauge what colour a beer is from the pump clip, assuming the style is mentioned on the thing, then perhaps writing it on the blackboard is probably the best option.  Or using funny little drawing depicting the colour of each beer, which I like, again assuming many things, first and foremost that your bar is well-lit enough.

When it comes to colour, just how much can you gauge from a small sample of each beer, I refer to the rather ironically named Beer-Lambert law, which, if I remember correctly, relates to the fact that the small volume of liquid in a compact area will make it appear more concentrated than it actually is, i.e. the darker it will appear.

Also let us not forget apart from colour and clarity, sitting on a bar top at ambient conditions isn’t exactly akin to a well-managed cellar temperature.

 

So taking all that into account, really, what are they for?

 

The final poser is; they are only ever used for cask beer, why aren’t these vials ever used to show off keg beers?

 

 

Thanks for reading and despite planning another post, if I don’t before, have a Merry Christmas.

 

*I love Kernel beers, don’t ever think sediment is a “bad thing”

 

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Lets Drink – To the Beat (nikz Republic) & Northern Monk MCR

Well that was an interesting day out in Manchester and so now let your favourite performing monkey and conduit for your own negative opinions vent so you don’t have to.

I like Beatnikz Republic and I like Northern Monk.  I’ve been to the NM refectory in Leeds and visited the tap at Red Bank that is Beatnikz’s gaff.

The places themselves are OK.  Despite one my friends describing it as “like Terminus from Walking Dead” I preferred BR’s space.  Clean and simple, still with far to much “industrial chic” that makes it look like every other place that opened an IKEA catalogue and stuck pens in items while wearing a blindfold, I thought that it was well laid out and, most importantly, the board was bright, easy to read and straight forward.  It shares it’s space with Idle Hands – a coffee house.

Oh and the beer was good too but I’ll come to that later.

Northern Monks gaff was a bit more, meh.  It was never going to recreate the school canteen surrounding of the Leeds branch and to be fair the staff, bar one I recognised previously from Piccadilly Tap, showed very much nous about service.  Then again I was never a big fan of Kosmonaut, which itself fell is standards massively after what would appear the main man that ran it so well went over to run the then newly reopened Smithfield.

Northern Monk Manchester is about 30 seconds from Beatnikz and it next door to Takk – a coffee house.

NM’s beer list is small and though clear a bit too far away for the size of the letter used in the spelling out of the beers on sale.  Couple that with a vibrating bar floor (hi-vis jackets were seen so I assume this was short term building work) and glasses that were like the stupid butt-plug one but without the base (the glass of choice if you ordered 2/3rds) again the beer could not really be faulted, but I’ll come to that later.

It was then off to the all Caucasian, racially pure paradise that is Grub.  I can’t comment on the beer as such but I will say, if you are going to serve anything in semi-darkness on a high blackboard please, for the sake of sanity…

WRITE THE SALE ITEMS IN FUCKING BLOCK CAPITALS.

I then raced around to try out Ol Nano Brewery on Oxford Road.  Its in an area under the Mancunian Way that became a bit of a tent city, so thankfully all of the scruffs and bums have been moved on to be replaced by card payment only wooden enclosures – and a coffee house.

I then went in The Salisbury, had a nice pint of well kept but typical Robinson’s fare to the tunes of Pantera & Megadeth and all seemed right with the world.  I was away from the zombie hordes of students and no cash places, of wood and metal and twatty glassware and dicks who think coming into Manchester to spend money on tat from Christmas market stalls that aren’t even from the local area is a brilliant way to spend a Saturday.  I don’t know how far I was from a coffee house.

I then went round to The Brink, was treated to the last remaining cask and kegs of Cloudwater’s takeover (takeovers – pointless) and then settled down with a nice cask pint of something from Pomona brewery.

Beer Thoughts

I’ve written before about keg beer sometimes (most of the time) being too cold for certain beer styles and this day proved to have no deviation from that train of thought.

Or rather, all the cask beer I had pissed on it quality wise, which should in fact speak highly for all the places mentioned who did indeed present their cask beer very well.

Case and point was the Torrside Dogs of War presented on keg at Grub.  A solid drink, kindly bought by one of my friends and at 10% it isn’t something you can put on cask and hope to sell in a 12 hour period (maybe a pin perhaps) so keg makes sense financially but stylistically it did a disservice to the beer which no amount of hand warming could help.

Also, for the record, I’m wasn’t all that taken by the Cloudwater India porter on cask, preferred their keg offerings, speaking from the point of view of a lover, not an authority, of porters.

 

“A brewery bar, a brewery bar, wood and metal and a brewery bar

Coffee House, Coffee House

Wood and metal and a brewery bar.”

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Cloudwater Can’t Save Cask Beer, But…

….ooh dramatic ellipsis after a click-bait title…

Choose your own subtitle, it was either going to be:

…they can save themselves.

or…

…neither can CAMRA.

Now, on reflection since I started penning this I’ve thought is might be…

…they could destroy it.

I should hasten to add that this piece is not anti-Cloudwater, they are just an exemplar of the perceived problems with cask beer, or not as the case may be.

In fact the initial subtitle was only based on reading an interview with yon mon Jonesy in Brewers Journal (Vol 4. Issue 6, July/August) before reading the October blog post but then that is how quickly viewpoints change within a business and when looking in from the outside.

 

 

I’m impressed with the health and safety of the glasses, less so about the pose, anyway…

Cloudwater’s Launch (2015 blog)

It was Tandleman’s post that piqued my interest, rather ironically the last blog post I read from the Manchester Messiahs was when they talked about themselves binning off cask.  How times change.  That post also feature some rather childish political epithets and where I’m obviously never going to suggest people just “shut up and brew” (or “shut up and stick to business” in this case) as that isn’t a ringing freeze peach endorsement, you should never be surprised when nailing your colours to a mast when it comes back to butt fuck you.  Which it did.

Still, upon reading Tand’s post my first thought was “they must be desperate” (*cheerfully withdrawn by request*) – but to be fair there may well be gaps in the market for premium cask beer.

What is a premium cask beer?  Well personally I’m only going with a price band.  There is talk, most of it with some merit that the advent of Wetherspoons has forced the hand of other cask pubs to demand a lower price for their cask, couple this with SIBA and their tied trade pubs and don’t it becomes increasingly difficult for a brewer to make a good profit on cask.

There is in general a lot of smoke and mirrors about what JDW actually pay and, just how fresh the actual product is but truth be told, there is a fair whack of cask beer that is sold off cheap just to get it out there and not be ullage.  The hard point of this is that regardless of what “best before date” is placed on a cask of beer by the brewery there is still little reason for it not to be in good nick when it is on the bar, because most obviously as with many products a “best before date” on any foodstuff is not a science and it really is up to the customer to use all sense to discern whether the product is fit for consumption.

Of course the difference between short coded food items reduced in a supermarket, that bit of cheese you find that is 3 weeks out of date but you know if you cut off the blue mould it will be fine and cask beer is quite vast.  The latter being that you are being served it from an establishment you expect to sell it to you in at least some respectable state.

So let us talk price points (exclusive of VAT in all instances). £50 seems to be the general figure banded about for Wetherspoons cask.

I know of many breweries that can and do sell their beer at around this price and up towards £69.  That is a stock price, across a range, with little variation when it comes to ABV.

Though the beer duty escalator does have an influence on the price once the ABV goes over, what was it, 4.2-4.5%, some breweries do have the capacity to keep their prices lower.

Of course it is a total joke that I know of one Manchester pub that pays no more than £60 per cask. Now with line cleans and lost beer even if you were only getting 60 pints out of a firkin but charging Manchester centre prices of £4+ you can see just how much profit some pubs can make on cask beer.

So, again what is a premium price for beer.  Some prices I’ve seen are clearly not based on ABV but clearly the cost of the ingredients needed to make it, so these beers push around £100-£120.

But as the launch of Cloudwater cask comes around I noted that one cask of their 5.5% beer is being sold to pubs at *cheerfully withdrawn by request/correction*.

I’ve written about the difficulties of cask beer previously and really though it all falls on the brewery, it really is the pub that should bear primary responsibility.

It is said that a rising tide carries all ships, that Cloudwater seem to only wish to sell their cask to reputable pubs with excellent cellaring is logical and sensible, though I do wonder if they are going to send out staff to check, a Cloudwater Marque if you will.  Given the customer facing nature of the brewery I expect them to know full well if a cask of theirs isn’t up to par and that should make for interesting bantz between punter, pub and Paul.

Therein lies another strange schism that could develop but this is the second day of writing this post and I’ve realised I don’t really care that much.  Something about pubs willing to pay for big premium cask; something, something, turnover, something, something would people pay £5+ for 2/3rds of a session strength beer; something, something, beer goes off regardless of how much you’ve paid for it.

As an aside, would a punter solely used to keg know any minor faults in a cask beer, would the general, natural differences between cask and keg delivery of beers cause confusion.

Do people even fucking care?

CAMRA could of course be trying to do more for the sale of cask beer and its quality but they seem to be rather confused at the moment, where press releases don’t really seem to match the general feeling at a branch level.

Plus Manchester Beer & Cider festival organisers are shedding a tear now they can’t trumpet their own festival as having “last Cloudwater cask,” for the 3rd year in a row.  Shame.

Of course cost is not equivalent to quality, it can be said and I will say it too, that people are quite happy to pay over the odds just to be seen to be paying the price along with what they are drinking and where they are drinking it.  It is a status symbol to some.  I bring it up only so I can post this line from Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (time stamp, 7 mins 50 seconds)

 

 

Thanks for reading.

 

06/11/2018 – Post edited on request – I’m now in the odd position as to whether to approve the comment with the request in for full transparency or keep it anonymous out of respect for the poster, in this instance I’ve chose the latter as it would then seem to undermine the request, but that is their choice and can be changed if need be.  Still it is good to know my blogs are still be read by the great and powerful.  Go me.

Budget 2018 – Keg Beer Survives

Quick one…

If you put aside tax freezes on beer (meh) then this could have really screwed things up.

Budget 2018: Philip Hammond announces new tax on plastic packaging with less than 30% recycled material

 

KeyKeg, who I’d wager are the main producer/supplier of keg storage for beer that isn’t metallic (rental or otherwise), and whose design allows CAMRA to call it “real ale” fortunately …consist of over 30% recycled materials meaning that keg beer can continue it craft domination over cask beer.

 

Thanks for reading.

Atherton – Between a Marston’s and a Gin Place

If you’ve ever wondered why this blog has the title it does then please observe the screen shot below.

 

I’ve been “working on” a historical blog about Atherton for over 5 years (yes, 4 edits, you should see the paper work and photos) and as such doing this piece is a stop-gap of sorts.

So I’m not going to go on about the town’s history or the name, though you pronounce it “a-THER-tun” not like the cricketer.

In reading this piece please excuse my use of the apostrophe, possessive, lack thereof, or otherwise as basically I don’t care, you know what I mean.

Entering Atherton from its various directions you will first encounter…

  • The Atherton Arms (Holt’s)
  • The Mason Arms (Heineken)
  • The Talbot (Marston’s – known as the Jockey after Shameless)
  • The Letters Inn (Random)
  • The Lion Inn (Random – known as the Little Lion)

An additional brewery tied pub is The Royal (Hydes).

Then it gets murky as we then have regular CAMRA award winner, The Jolly Nailor.

The Nailor was the scene for a meeting with a fellow and far better beer blogger

This was Thwaites, then (and currently) Allgates.

Not that Allgates exists as such any more, that is now subdivisions of Two Left Feet Brewing and Wigan Brewhouse.

There is also another perennial CAMRA award-winning pub in the shape of The Pendle Witch, owned by Moorhouse’s

In the past year Atherton has seen 4 individual alcohol based establishments open.

The Taphouse (micropub – cask, keg, gin) and across the road, set up by the same bloke, The Sin Bin (sports bar – keg).

There is also The Cazbah (gin, keg, real cider) and The Lamp (gin, keg).

The point about this piece is why I find it all very murky and annoying now, not that I wish to detract from any establishments named in this piece, that all have their merits and I will always frequent most of them as and when I can.

So, The Lamp has the same keg supply as the Taphouse (not unsurprising as breweries and suppliers will install lines for free/discounted, if you carry certain products).

The Jolly Nailor, which like all other Allgates pubs always has had Wainwrights on (Thwaites/Marston’s), seems to be getting no Wigan Brewhouse beers on recently.  In fact the cask range; barring we are approaching Halloween so it seems mandatory every cask outlet has to have Hobgoblin on (Hobgoblin Gold, for a small change), seems to be similar to that of the Taphouse.

Not only that but new keg lines are now installed on the bar carrying the DE14 Flight Suit (Marston’s) amongst others with Lancaster Bomber Ale (Thwaites) also a mainstay.

Switch over to the Pendle Witch and you have 10 cask lines. 5 are standard Moorhouses brews (but not Witches Brew recently, which is most annoying, perhaps they don’t have the right syrup in stock for it at the moment), 5 are guest, which used to man a wide range of breweries (at least at the weekend) were represented but now now one is always a cider, 2 are Moorhouses specials (one being always fucking Stray Dog) and oh…its another Marston’s beer.

Add to that a keg line now carrying 13 Guns by Thwaites Crafty Dan and then the addition of this…

As if the other 5 lagers they carry just isn’t enough.

Don’t get me wrong I love the Pendle Witch (and the Nailor) they are comfy, proper pubs with bench seating, gamblers and patrons from all walks of life.

Barring the last on that list the same can’t be said for The Lamp and The Cazbah, which are all brick, industrial metal and other repetitive crap that I really am getting sick of seeing in new alcohol-led ventures but that is a rant I’ll save for another post.

So quite what is happening with the beer selection in some of Atherton’s pubs I don’t know.  I obviously care enough to write this piece, it is probably written slightly out of worry, as I always do when pubs become seemingly change tack with regards choice of beer.

I know choice isn’t everything but both these pubs, though they have both seen owner changes over recent years, seem as popular as they were back when I started this blog and way before that.  They seemed to always be turning over their beer and always had a fine range of cask.  It is just a bit sad when you can walk between a few non-tied establishments and be confronted with the same bar.

It is a good thing they provide things additional to that, that still make them worth visiting.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Sidenote: In researching to clarify brewery relationships it was nice to see the TAND quoted in a Wikipedia piece

Cask Beer – Too Much Like Hard Work

I should preface this piece by saying I have nothing but respect for those that brew beer for a living.  Those that actually brew, not those that tour around the world promoting themselves and writing think pieces about the state of beer, or think because they’ve dug out a few mash tuns while getting their name on a collaboration beer that actually know how the world works.  No, it’s the hands on, up to your elbows in boiling hot trub kind of people.  The, lungs stripped of all sensation by peractic acid, kind of people.  The, I’ve got so many caustic soda burns you’d think I’d know when to wear gloves, kind of people.

If a brewery has chosen to not cask beer then fair play, that isn’t where the market is and it is very hard to do and get right.

Likewise those selling it, especially those in the micro pubs and bars popping up around the country, if you can sell cask, even just one line, and keep it well, then fair play to you.

What I would like to do is just walk through why cask beer, from my own experience, is an absolute twat to brew, sell and keep.

Let us start with the cask itself.  Metal and plastic are the main varieties.  We can leave wood, it is very rare thing, mainly used for ageing, selling beer from in at The Junction pub in Castleford, or to hide impurities while charging a small fortune for it.

The Cask on the Outside

People of all stripes don’t seem to respect the physical nature of a cask.  Yes, they are built to last, to cope with being thrown around, rolled around, stacked and dropped but that doesn’t mean that always has to be the way they are treated.  Dints and bangs, chips and scratches are part of natural life, especially when things need to be expedited but the state I’ve seen some casks in beggars belief.  All casks are the property of someone, you wouldn’t go round beating up things because they could take it on a daily basis (unless it’s a punch bag) because society would view you as some kind of sociopath, so a bit more respect wouldn’t go amiss.  Use just once and destroy, the story of Key Keg.  So I suppose Cask Beer is the more environmentally friendly one.

The Cask on the Inside

Talking of respect, once a cask is finished, just how hard is it for pubs and other holders of empty casks to simply stopper up the empty holes (shive or keystone).  It isn’t difficult, paper towel would be good enough if you don’t want to stretch to corks, bungs and spiles.  If you want to learn just how a little thought goes a long way, in this small heatwave the UK is having, try getting millions of welded on fly eggs out of an empty, open cask.  And leaves, cigarette butts, litter and other general detritus.  Not something you have to do with a Keg.

Sterilising The Cask

Once you’ve cleaned the inside and outside of a cask (metal is easier but more expensive, hence why there are quite a few rental options for them) you sterilise the thing.  Sterilising, in my experience can be carried out with chemicals (and then copious amounts of water to remove the chemicals) or steam. This includes the shive and the keystone.  Nothing is 100% fool-proof and contamination can occur in even the most sterile of environments, which breweries aren’t.  Not something you have to do as laboriously with a Keg.

Selling the Cask

Beer, once placed in a sterilised cask, can have a pretty good shelf life, especially without additives like finings or adjuncts.  Key kegs will last longer.

Preparing the Cask

Stillage the beer and let it settle for at least 48 hours before tap and vent/serving.  A luxury in a cold room/under bar where space is a premium or turn over is high.  Plug in and Play, the Keg Beer story, part 2.

I’ve been to places (and festivals) that serve less than 24 hours before selling, it is called taking the customer for granted.

Serving the Cask

You’ve got about 5 days (maybe longer with the best conditions/cellar skills) to sell this beer now it is open and oxygen is waging war with the beer inside the cask.  Do not move it, do not knock it, keep it between 11-14°C (52-57°F).  Taste it all the time, check the clarity all the time.  Its been 3 weeks and the Key Keg has been on and off its line a few times now, still tastes quite nice.

I’ve been to places (and festivals) that serve blatantly green beer and even ones with easily spotted spoiled characteristics, it is called taking the customer for granted.  Then again, if they like the taste and smell of TCP, why question the practice.

Just keep your keg beer cold

Dealing with the Cask

“That doesn’t taste right.”

“That doesn’t look right.”

“The beer isn’t clearing.”

“There isn’t much condition to it.”

One of the best and nicest brewers (and human beings) in Manchester, whose brewery is keg only, once explained to me the decision not to ever do cask (from the outset, not give up a few years in) was that he wished to remove all doubt that once the beer had left the brewery, any in a poor condition could not be levelled as a fault with the brewery.

Granted you can get a duff keg, things can go wrong with them but the trouble with cask is that everything can ultimately end up falling on the brewer.  And we are back to point one.  Once a beer is out in the wild, a whole number of things can happen to it.  Flung around.  Dropped.  Not kept at the right temperature.  Not vented for long enough.  Kept on too long. All of this is all out of control of the brewery and yet if the beer is considered to be pants it all falls on the brewery.

Cask beer is too much like hard work for those who actually sell it, it would seem.  Perhaps it is a facet of the modern age, a lack of personal responsibility in these interesting times we live.  A need for something new, now and as cheap as possible, if not free.  Something that requires a bit of effort, a bit more time, a bit more care… meh.

LPs vs CDs

CDs are virtually indestructible, they last forever with minimal looking after. Vinyl needs to be kept upright, dust free and at a suitably ambient temperature.

CD covers are tiny, you can get very little information on them and you can’t see all the intricate detail.  An LP cover can be a work of art.

CDs are compressed bits of data, with a Long Player you can experience the full dynamic range.

CDs are now being replaced by the mp3 or the stream.  LPs are having a bit of a revival.  And you can’t hold and smell and marvel at a byte of music.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Chatting in Micro Pubs/Bars – A Guide

Inspired by this post from Richard Coldwell and the initial comment from “Dave”

First of all we need to define the difference between what is a Micro Pub and what is a Micro Bar

“All pubs have a bar but no bar has a pub”

Note: this guide assumes the location of said micro outlet is in a small-to-medium sized town, not a city or tourist trap/destination.

Micro Pub

The Drinks

The emphasis is on cask beer and generally session strength at that.  If there is any keg dispense it is usually a lager because the founder understood who his core clientèle would want to drink.  There will also be a red wine, a white wine, a Prosecco and some spirits (usually gin or whatever is on trend) all in order to increase footfall over the weekends.  Cider may also exist in known bottled varieties or boxed “real” ones.  Soft drinks will be dispensed from 2 litre plastic bottles blatantly purchased from the closest supermarket.

The Drinkers

What you’d find in most macro pubs, with slight variation depending on how close the nearest bookies is.

They are the kind of people who’ll walk into a micro bar and complain about the prices.

The Décor

All wood but that is because it was the cheapest material, a lick of paint here and there but pretty much like a macro pub, only it looks like your 50 year old twice-divorced uncle has simply converted his spare room.  Has one toilet.

The Landlord

Your 50 year old twice-divorced uncle who wanted to do something different.

The Wildlife

No cats. Cats are not found in micro pubs.  Dogs are allowed; they will be hulking beasts curled at the owners feet and fed occasional crisps or hog lumps.  Drool will be present.

 

Micro Bar

The Drinks

The emphasis is on keg beer and generally bastard strength at that.  If there is any cask dispense it is usually one pale and one bitter because the founder understood what his day trip visitors would want to drink.  There will also be a plethora of red wine, white wine, Prosecco and a massive choice of spirits, at least 25 gins. Soft drinks will be dispensed from 100mL glass bottles.  Lager may also exist but in bottle form, from some obscure German brewery, this is in order to increase footfall over the weekend and then hope they never return.  Probably also doubles as a bottle shop for retail purposes.

The Drinkers

Beer bloggers, overly-agitated graphic designers and those who’ve wandered in on the recommendation of some lifestyle journalist who wrote that piece by plagiarising what the aforementioned beer bloggers wrote about the place.

They are the kind of people who’ll walk into a micro pub and complain about the lack of choice.

The Décor

All wood but is was massively over priced because of the patina effect, a lick of paint here and there but pretty much like the railway arch the beer was brewed in.  Has one toilet.

The Landlord

Your 50 year old uncle who has always had that funky beard.

The Wildlife

No cats. Cats are not found in micro bars.  Dogs are allowed; they will be small, fluffy, lap-based things brought along by the owner in order to kick start an interaction.

How To Have A Conversation

Close proximity and bench seating demands conversation be had however this still depends on where you are.

In a micro pub, assuming most of the people aren’t doing all they can to avoid eye contact, let alone conversation because they most likely lie on the autism scale somewhere, you are in for a simple and quiet drink.  Talking may occur over the clarity of the pint in front of you.  You will only drink a pint (568mL), a half is acceptable if you’ve kept your coat on because you’re going to be racing to catch a bus/train/you are driving.

In a micro bar, you will get talked at, those doing the talking even know the brewer, they are on first name terms, or at least have over heard them talking to someone else, once.  You will drink a pint as your first session ale and loosener but then progress on to halves and then thirds inversely proportional to the ABV of the drink.

Talking in the micro pub may stray on to politics, you might get offended with the frankness of the views expressed and the terms used.

Talking in the micro bar may stray on to politics, the overly-agitated graphic designers will sulk off in tears or demand you leave their safe space.

Talking in micro pubs is a rare thing, generally kept between those who recognise each other.

Talking in micro bars because massive ABV’s plus immense egos results in verbal diarrhoea.

 

Use these pointers wisely; know your surroundings, know your adversaries and your conversations, or lack thereof, in micros up and down the UK will be blissfully symphonic or wonderfully, silently golden.

 

Thanks for reading.