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CAMRA boss defends cask quality in face of Brown's snub

By Nicholas Robinson+

16-Jan-2017
Last updated on 25-Jan-2017 at 15:44 GMT2017-01-25T15:44:07Z

In hot water: Pete Brown's cask comments draw fire from CAMRA
In hot water: Pete Brown's cask comments draw fire from CAMRA

Beer writer Pete Brown’s shocking confession that he’s mostly stopped drinking cask ale has drawn fire from Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) national chairman Colin Valentine.

Former Cask Report author Brown wrote in The Morning Advertiser (MA) today (16 January) that he’s “had enough” of and has “mostly stopped” drinking cask ale because of the poor quality of serve in all but a handful of pubs.

He said: “I have a terrible confession to make – terrible for someone with my CV anyway. I’ve mostly stopped drinking cask ale.

“This may seem tantamount to a betrayal from someone who championed cask ale via The Cask Report for nine years, but I’ve had enough.”

When asked, Valentine told MA: “It’s a shame that a high-profile and respected beer writer such as Pete has come to this conclusion, especially as there are so many examples of breweries brewing great cask ale and many thousands of pubs across the country keeping and serving it in excellent condition.

“This is evidenced by the many thousands of UK pubs that make it into CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide.”

How to store and serve cask

However, Brown maintained that far too many pubs were ill-informed of how to store and serve cask, with the majority of them serving a reputation-crushing pint as a result.

Too frequently Brown said he had found himself taking pints of cask ale back and explaining to bar staff that it was not supposed to be flat, dead and laced with diacetyl.

He had grown weary of bar staff agreeing he had been served a sub-par pint that even they would not drink, but then refusing to take it off sale.  

The beer guru went on to claim he wasn’t the only one who had reached this point. “As beer bloggers and Twitterati returned from their Christmas break, the discussion that dominated social media that first week back was Cloudwater’s decision to stop offering beer in cask.”

Cloudwater’s move to axe cask from its portfolio was based on two main reasons, said Brown, including “the artificially depressed price expectations of cask” and the fact that the brewer “simply doubts that most pubs and bars are capable of serving their beer in cask to the standard it should be served”.

Yet, while Valentine defended the high standard of cask ale in pubs, he conceded that more could be done to promote and improve its quality.

He said: "We’ve seen some breweries decide to move away from cask over the years. Some cite commercial reasons, or raise issues about quality once beer reaches the pub. Breweries need to do what works for their business model and if they feel they can’t make cask work for them, that’s always disappointing, but you have to respect their decision.

"However, the 1,500 breweries committed to producing cask beer across the UK shows that the cask beer market is still vibrant. The fact that brewers in the US and other countries have recently showed such interest in brewing cask beers also demonstrates how respected and revered it is, and how exciting brewers find it as an expression of their skill."

CAMRA’s revitalisation consultation made it clear to members and those in the brewing and pub trade that beer quality is a key priority and those that have read the Revitalisation Project report would know that, he said.

‘Open and honest debate’

“Part of promoting quality is that we continue to have an open and honest debate about the issue and the input of writers like Pete, along with many others who comment online, is important in keeping it on the agenda,” said Valentine.

“As drinkers we need to highlight problems when we find them, or they will not be solved.

“However, it’s important to maintain perspective and remember just how much high-quality cask ale is available across the country and how many drinkers continue to find great cask beer in their pubs.”

Other beer writers, such as Jane Peyton, said Brown’s comments were likely to set alarm bells ringing in the pub trade.

“Let's hope Pete Brown's comment will be a wake-up call to the pub sector that cask ale is a living product and needs to be treated with care and knowledge and if they serve poor-quality beer they will lose customers,” she said.

“For such a prominent beer advocate as Pete to say he eschews cask ale is very worrisome as the pub is the only place to drink cask ale. If people stop drinking cask ale because of poor quality, they may stop going to the pub all together and drink filtered beer elsewhere.”

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