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Still, upon reading Tand’s post my first thought was “they must be desperate” (*cheerfully withdrawn by request*) – but to be fair there may well be gaps in the market for premium cask beer.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

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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.

 

VineHop – Poynton, Cheshire

…and then from Stockport...

You can get the train (very rarely but it does happen) to Poynton and visit…

Vine Hop

 

The annoying thing about train travel to Poynton is that it happens to be the first stop outside the Greater Manchester travel boundary, so anyone with a season ticket will need to pay extra…

…or just sit in the carriage furtherest from the conductor and hope they don’t reach you until you disembark.

A swift 10 minute walk into the town centre from the station, this is the latest addition to the growing beer/bottle bar sector but with the emphasis less on beer (only slightly) and more for wine, because Cheshire is properly middle-class and hasn’t fully dumped wine for craft beer just yet.

As you may be able to tell, this new venture’s previous building identity was a butchers, inside the only things hanging are the 6 keg lines…

 

And the 8 (4 white, 4 red) wine lines that you buy a special card for (and top-up I expect)…

 

Its like looking into the future with this set-up, I was more struck by this than the very large range of bottle/cans of beer that were available, very reasonably priced, though to drink in you did have the additional £1.20 charge…

 

Spirits, heavy emphasis on gins, are also available…oh and a box of cider (along with a choice of bottles too)…when you aren’t lost between all the wine…

 

Look…coat hangers…

It is a nice place for a few quiet drinks but then again Poynton has a drinking establishment for everybody’s tastes and maybe a full on blog is required.

Warning: You may well get to meet Stanley at this venue…

 

Which would be fantastic…if he wasn’t accompanied by his entourage of hangers-on owner.

 

Thanks for reading.

Pub Guilt

I was going to start this off with a lyric that Ian MacKaye wrote when he was in Minor Threat, but that would detract from the focus of this piece.

One of my mates commented that I can now disguise any heavy drinking I do as “part of my hobby.”

A quick flick through the vast ways I can keep track about what I drink (this blog, Twitter, Untapped, photos, good old-fashioned memory) highlights that over recent months I’ve imbibed a lot of beer, but seldom was it in pubs.

I drink bottles at home, bought from a vast array of local beer shops, many of whichthemselves now serve alcohol in the increasingly micropub (or microbar) vane via keg and/or cask.

I’ve been to a hell of a lot of beer festivals and even the breweries themselves and/or associated brew taps.

I’ve been to beer tastings and meet the brewer events, which though held in pubs seldom see me venture into the reaches on the actual pub and purchase anything from the bar.

In fact as I type this (while not drinking) I do think; I could buy myself a laptop or tablet and quite easily stroll down to my local and compose this there.

But that in itself it quite an insular thing – why would I go out to a social environment and then put my face into a big electronic screen for the entire time I was there?

What there is, is a feeling, the pub was and still very much is about a community spirit and about comfort.

I’ve been to beer festivals and some just feel too regimented- you are there to drink, interaction with anyone outside your social circle is minimal.

Many modern bars that just feel empty.  Hollow carcasses where people wish to been seen to be drinking rather than getting any actual pleasure from the experience, but I suppose if you are surround by plywood, IKEA-lite furnishings or the very strange industrial-chic stylings, what is there to enjoy?

Beer can only cover-up so many things.

Some of the newer beer festivals also fall into this trapping and where they may be blessed with having lovely surroundings or interesting opportunities to meet brewers or go to lectures they still just come across as a place to be seen at; something that was read about in some trendy publication and needs to be ticked off some frivolous bucket list.

In writing this I open myself up to my own hypocrisy.  I am an anti-social, social drinker.

I go to places on my own and confide in the warm, glowing, warming glow of my phone until inebriated enough to possibly grumble at someone sat near me, or maybe ask a few questions of the bar staff.

I drink less in pubs since I started “my hobby” that I did before – but a pub is like riding a bike, in which that provided the community is still there, you aren’t ever quite forgotten.

There is one pub in my locale which is possibly the worst when it comes to beer selection.  They had casks for a year and then ripped them out to replace them with more generic keg lagers.  But I can go in and even though my palate might not be satisfied, my soul (and my wallet) and more than comforted.

The theme to Cheers would be appropriate now, but no one knows my name.

The problem is people are treating beer and the social experience it brings as a commodity of lifestyle.  The community feeling is ebbing away, save only for Christmas or those tedious weeks when England play football in some corrupt tournament people don’t seem to go out much.

People drink less, pubs keep on closing, old communities fracture and splinter and  the uptopian vision of amalgamation of new cultures grind is replaced by them wearily jarring against each other.

Of course, these is just the witterings of a sober, pessemistic man – tomorrow I could go out have a few beers and feel the world of the pub is safe; that drinking habits are evolving and they will merely take a while before settling down into the old regime and away from this cliquey glad-handing charade.

This isn’t solely the fault of customer, the pubs have to meet half-way, but that is a different discussion.

 

 

 

Anyway, I’ll leave you with this final thought…

 

pubkill