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.

 

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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.

 

If Beer Was…

(originally posted 27th Sept 2016 – reposted to make a point about Article 13)

JAWS

jaws

 

 

 

Beer in the shape of a Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) descends on the small, seaside town of Amity bringing confusion and panic to the locals.

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The local chief of police, Brody, does not know what to make of this new arrival, after years of complacency all of this just crept up on him.  He is aware that this force of nature can be harnessed but at the same time is also a massive threat to his way of life and to the status quo.

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Unsure of how to tackle this new foe he enlists the help of two men.  The first is the salt-of-the-earth Quint.

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Quint has been dealing with the tribulations brought on by sharks for decades.  Battle-hardened, wistful and with a lifetime of experience he can sometimes come across as a little insane and immovably stuck in his ways.

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Obsessed with taming sharks only by the use of barrels.

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Quint could possibly be accused being a bit too casual about sharks.

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The second man to come to Chief Brody’s aid is the quiet and university educated Hooper.

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Possessing a wealth of knowledge gleamed mainly from books Hooper is a man who is initially intimidated by Quint and is therefore prone to antagonistic behaviour.

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Which can sometimes be excused given how the locals of Amity seem blissfully unaware that different types of shark exist.  In trying to explain he realises he really isn’t going to convince everyone that he knows more than most regular, as he would call them, bozos.

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And later, when he find just how irrational Quint sometimes behaves, never listening to reason and ploughing on regardless.

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However Quint and Hooper do bond slightly when they realise that they each have something to bring to the table given their past dealings with sharks.

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Brody, the outcast between the yin-yang of Hooper and Quint’s knowledge of sharks seems more concerned about gas and always wanting things to be bigger.

 

 

For the sake of everything, these three men come together to try and get a grip on the shark and after some effective use of barrels it appears the three men may be victorious.  But the exertion of it all is too much and via a stray gas cylinder, Quint meets his fate in the jaws of the shark.

jaws-3

 

Hooper, after one trick too many also appears to succumb leaving only Chief Brody left to do battle, which he eventually succeeds at, using another gas cylinder.

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As Brody surveys the scene of victory, of a shark tamed, he is startled then relived to see Hooper did in fact survive, and as they lament the passing of Quint they had back to the shore.

But as the credits roll it is not the two survivors but the rough and ready Quint, with his history evoking stories that linger in the memory.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

A word about the sequels:

Jaws 2: Something original always has inferior follow ups.

Jaws 3-D: The painful exploitation of that latest techniques and styles that quickly outstays its welcome.

Jaws, The Revenge: Horrible cash-in that only swells the coffers of a small few.

The Pubs of Bangor, Gwynedd, Wales

It seems I’m going to be going off to that there Ynys Môn or Anglesey in a short while for what will appear to be long beach walks and not much else.

It been a long while since I was up that way, Bangor specifically, I’m thinking my last time there was 2002 and while doing a bit of a tidy up I found a CD full of pictures, mainly of people but also of pubs.

 

 

Belle Vue

My local – though it took me 4 years to win the bloody quiz.

Black Bull

This Wetherspoons pub saw me take full advantage of their 2 meals for £5.

County

Very much like a “country” pub inside, all horse brasses and the like.


Greek

They guy who managed this at the time looked like Patrick Stewart.

Harp

The site of many a lock-in and 4am games of pool.

OSheas

An Irish pub.

Patricks

Another Irish pub.

Ship

I recall this had spiral staircase (stupid idea) and a dance floor on the 2nd level that, by means of dense glass, you could see up from the ground floor.

Skerries

Very much like the County Arms.

Tap & Spile

Near the pier and the destination to go for a filled Stottie breakfast after a heavy night before.

Waterloo

Again, like the County Arms and Skerries.

yeolde

Like the County Arms Waterloo Inn and Skerries.

Firkin

This was one of those “Its a Scream” pubs, prior to that is was a Firkin (I forget what the & part was) but it remains the site of my greatest domination of pub quizzes.  So much so that our team couldn’t spend all the prize vouchers we won each week so ended up buying take-outs all the time, leading to my one and only….beer fridge.

fridge

…plus milk.

Absent from these pictures is The Globe, which I was always warned not to go in, especially during the 6 Nations and also The Mostyn Arms, which was around the corner from where I briefly lived and if memory serves was so small you could get a sweat on if you sat too close to the gambler.

There are of course the obligatory bars and clubs (mainly the Octagon) that I found myself in, surrounded by mini-buses full of people who’d made the weekend pilgrimage from the hills and valleys of the area.

Oddly, apart from the weekends, when the students were away on holiday it was like a ghost town.  I don’t been noticeable because it was so busy when the students were there, I mean really, really quiet.

It made for a hell of a pub crawl, just in lower Bangor alone.  A complete bugger trying to stagger up Glanrafon at the end of the night though.

The thing is, I looked up all these pubs on What Pub? and to my surprise (given the current trend) most of them are still open.

I look forward to going back.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

All photo courtesy of Frivolous Monsters

Smile…CAMRA is being Candid

In a flu ridden state I am quickly writing this.  Having observed all week chatter of what CAMRA was planning, really you should think, as a member, I would have known about this in advance.

Last December I wrote a piece suggesting that CAMRA may well evolve (it is there, in between the ranty stuff).

Reports of the death of CAMRA are greatly exaggerated but they haven’t helped themselves with self-published articles like this

Of course that is the idea; to get people talking that the biggest consumer group may be coming to an end based on some article that has that pissant question/non-question title.

If CAMRA move from solely being about real ale and instead are revitalising their campaign then the shift of focus does mean the acronym is not correct, but that is mere pedantry.

The organisation I’m a part of has been changing over the years anyway, with the dawn of the Asset of Community value, pubs are trying to be saved and so when the BBC writes “Should there be a crusade to save British pubs?” (oh look, there is that twatty question mark again), the answer is that there already is.

You also get poorly researched articles like this (oh look another question mark) – but that is the standard of random journalism about beer these days – take a hand full of clichés, sling in a few names of breweries, add the word beard and suddenly you too can become a freelance journalist with little knowledge of any subject to back anything up, but the pay check is in the hand so who cares, modern paid journalism isn’t about getting across facts any more, it is about clickbaiting.

Anyway, as far as I am concerned that gap between “old” and “new” beer drinkers is still a bridge too far and something that CAMRA isn’t going to build on its own, especially when it comes to saving pubs.

*Insert relevant Hilaire Belloc quote here*

People who deal only in “craft” beer do not care about some dirty old pub and the dirty old people who are in it and the dirty old community that it holds together.

I’m still of the opinion that most are following a scene.  A scene that is still not inspiring people to go out and drink, as on the whole the entire “night-life” industry in on a downward spiral.

The nature of drinking, in the home or on the town, is changing.  People don’t go to the same places and are unlikely to be coaxed back into them.  It is all about trend and maybe in that respect CAMRA and pubs should consider themselves to be like heavy metal.

There are off-shoots and little cliques that raise the profile once in a while but once these are spun off there is always a faithful core that remains, always open and welcoming to both the original purpose and future evolution.

It won’t ever go out of fashion because it has never been in fashion.

 

Thanks for reading?

3 Colours Smithfield

Red

It was around 2005 when I was introduced to the Smithfield (Hotel).  Inside it was all red carpet, an oddly placed pool table, wobbly chairs and short-tempered dogs.

It did have a vast array of casks and was a massively charming boozer.

Then it closed rather suddenly.

 

Purple

It reopened in about August of 2014 and as the photos on its then twitter account @smithfieldmcr1 shows it was very purple inside.

Sadly during its overly long closure it had lost its footing on the beer scene, over-taken by the likes of Crown & Kettle, Castle, Fringe Bar and slightly further away, the Angel and the Marble Arch.

Still, it had cask beers, but these were not consistently available and the decor had really stripped away most of its original charm to the point that it felt worse than any generic place you’d find in Printworks or on Deansgate Locks.  Still pubs can only be as good as what you bring to them yourself and it was ok when I was in there, if rather depressingly quiet most of the time.

 

Magnolia

Then out of the blue like Mr. Benn’s shopkeeper, another twitter account appeared @TheSmithfieldNQ and it appeared that BlackJack, who’s beers were ever-present in the Purple incarnation, had taken it over.

After a ‘soft’ launch last Thursday it opened properly on the 18th of June (yesterday as I type).

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The Burton Arms is somewhat over shadowed by the other pubs nearby.

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The Heineken sign – the Emmanuel Goldstein of the ‘craft’ beer pub.

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Keg lines, more drip trays required, possibly numbers too.

 

It was very busy last night – possibly due to the buzz of the launch, it was commented that (made up statistic alert…) probably 80% of the people in there had never been to the place in its previous colour schemes.

Still a bit of work needed doing, papering, painting, a way of drying your hands in the men’s toilets, possibly some pictures on the bare white walls.

You get the feeling these days that because the beer scene (errghh, sorry) is perceived to be moving fast that new pubs and even new breweries are open far sooner than they should.

But the beer, the crowds and the dart board is there (no pool table yet, maybe downstairs when that is complete?) and it was a good night.

I’ll leave you with this motto…

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Thanks for reading.

CloudWater Brew Co

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CloudWater Brew Co

@cloudwaterbrew

CloudWater Brew Co. are based in Manchester.

Units 7-8, Piccadilly Trading Estate, Manchester, M1 2NP to be exact.

They have been masters of their own hype.

The brewers themselves are of a high calibre with a highly decorated beer soaked, brewing-leaden background and the website (coupled with Instagram) has led to self-perpetuating hype the likes of which have not been seen in these parts.

I can’t paint Manchester as some quaint northern backwater, forever in the brewing shadow of London – there are 60+ brewers in Manchester and along with Cloudwater (whose own brewery tap opens on the 4th of April 2015) there are at least 7 brewers in our own “Beer Mile” – which will be more than a rival for our erstwhile capital’s one in Bermondsey (seriously, blog soon).

Their media does show-off just what a good-looking outfit it is and though I wasn’t able to get tickets for the Monday launch in Port Street Beer House in Manchester, which included visiting their brewery, as I type this (a Tuesday) like some rock n’ roll band, they are currently touring up and down the United Kingdom, today is Edinburgh, tomorrow (Wednesday, when I’m finishing this post) and for the rest of the week, they head down to southern climes…

Their beer menu reads very much like a fashion catalogue (click to enlarge)…

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The beers…

I’ll get the two let downs out of the way first.

Imperial Stout

A 9% limited edition release that is being barrel aged for proper release in the winter (as I’m sure you read from the menu).  I love my dark drinks so these will always be judged more harshly and this was already creating waves in my twitter feed as a few bloggers (@FoodGeekUK@hungerjams and @DasKegster) had not found it up to scratch, especially in the (planned) lack of carbonation.

The weren’t wrong.  The most favourable comparison for me is coffee-flavour Gazpacho.  I got flavours and aromas I’d expect in a stout, just with the volume set on 1 when I expect Spinal Tap 11.  A massive let-down.

Citrus Gose

The Citrus Gose (keg, 5.5%) was a disappointing mouthful of nothing. A got a very slight taste of something for a millisecond and then it was just flat and oddly warm, water. I also didn’t get much of an aroma either.  Not horrendous but completely uninspiring.

Pale

The Pale (cask, 4.1%) did indeed have a strong bitter taste and despite being brewed with a plethora of non-UK hops it did taste distinctly British – not really my thing these days but a good representation of the style.

Pennine Light

The Pennine Light (cask, 3.6%) was, like the Pale, not my style of drink but again was a very good version of the style, even if a mild that is pale seems like an anathema.

IPA

Having the IPA on both cask and keg at the same time lead to an interesting side-by-side comparison. Both were everything you’d expect from a modern strong (7.2%) IPA but for me the cask won out, not through slavish militant Camra tendencies but because it was slightly less sweet than the keg and had a more alcoholic taste. A very, very nice drink either way.

Table Beer

Table Beer (cask and keg, 4.2%) was my favourite of the bunch. This was tried on cask first and both were tasted before I saw and of the notes (as were all the beers) so I was unaware that this was attempting to be a Saison/Farmhouse style ale.  The cask was just a fragrant, light (though when I see Table beer I expect sub-3%) and stupidly drinkable pale ale, the palest of all the drinks I sampled.  It was on keg that it really did scream Saison, the citrus and berries coming to the fore in the taste and aroma.  Top marks.

———–

In short CloudWater beers are a bit like the girl who had a little curl, but to clarify the bad beers are not bad and they are far from horrid, it is just some don’t match up to the hype and so are ultimately an even bigger disappointment because of it.

But the Pennine Light and Pale are good session beers and their Table Beer and IPA are superb.

I’ll end this blog with the words of Chuck D…

“Rock the hard jams – treat it like a seminar
Teach the bourgeoise, and rock the boulevard”

No, I don’t know of what relevence that is either, but it made sense when I was writing this drunk on Tuesday.

I look forward to trying more of Cloudwater’s coming season’s fashions drinks.