The way beers are dispensed today is becoming more sophisticated as drinks companies try to cash in - just like that
Picture a Friday night down the Dog & Duck, spirits are high, stories are being told, everyone's troubles seem far away and all is well.
Suddenly, disaster strikes! Unaware of the comic minefield ahead of him, the group's "funnyman" attempts the ill-fated Tommy Cooper impersonation that never fails to disappoint. Someone should point out, as soon as possible and for the sake of all involved, that Mr Cooper's comic legacy was based on a great deal more than delicately placing three beer mats on his head, repeatedly shrugging his shoulders and saying "just like that, just like that".
As Tommy himself would no doubt concede - the secret is in the delivery. It can make the difference between a glorious standing ovation and a bout of heckling that would have Big Brother's Nasty Nick running for cover.
A link, albeit a rather weak one, can be drawn to the world of lagers, ales and beers.
Although it's yet to reach the stage where publicans and their staff are flinging pint glasses over their shoulder, balancing them on their nose or performing back flips on the bar before serving a pint, the pouring process is becoming an increasingly important factor when it comes to product marketing.
Brands such as Caffrey's and Guinness have already successfully hijacked the aesthetic qualities of dispense through their "There's a storm brewing" and "Good things come to those who wait" campaigns respectively.
However, there are more practical reasons for creating more sophisticated dispense techniques. Increasing emphasis is being placed on serving a pint the way it's supposed to be served.
As the battle of brands intensifies, and marketing spends rocket skywards, it is essential for drinks companies to ensure the end product closely resembles the brand advertised.
Marketing executives who fill their days organising promotional nights, advertising campaigns, PR initiatives and celebrity endorsements have previously spent their nights lying wide awake in the knowledge that sloppy pints, with heads big enough to stick a Cadbury's Flake in, are being served by inexperienced barstaff throughout the country.
The tide is turning and steps are being taken to ensure the end to marketing-related insomnia. The major brewers are allocating huge amounts of money in dispense technology aimed at achieving consistency in temperature, taste and presentation from Lands End to John O'Groats.
A great example of this progress has arrived in the form of Arc lager. The new product development team at Bass Brewers recently joined forces with their colleagues from the company's technical centre and devised revolutionary dispense technology that removes the potential for human error.
David Griffiths, new product development manager at Bass, said: "We have spent a considerable amount of time and money on the Arc font which contains a huge amount of technology."
Arc is poured from a specially patented high-tech font at a teeth-chattering -2oC, and was the brainchild of a PhD student on a work placement at Bass - a discovery that pre-empted a significant investment from the Burton-based company.
The drink is stored at high pressure to keep it from freezing solid. It is then poured from the fully automated pump, before pressure is released and a blast of ultrasonic waves triggers the formation of ice crystals around the beer's gas bubbles.
However, much of the pleasure from Arc comes in the pouring, and the fully automated process is genuinely unique.
The launch of Arc is likely to send shivers down the spine of CAMRA members who have dismissed the new lager as a marketing gimmick.
Iain Loe, research manager at CAMRA, said: "Beers, be they ales or lagers, should be served cool, but never iced. Certainly not in a way where they could almost be served on a stick."
Griffiths dismissed suggestions that the Arc font is a gimmick. "The font was primarily designed to ensure Arc stays cold right to the bottom of the glass," he said. "It happened to be a nice spin-off that it also has real presence at the bar. Anyone who has seen it will admit it's a great piece of visual theatre and beautiful to watch."
However, this 'theatre of dispense' is to be priced at between £3 and £3.50 a pint. Not surprisingly, the cost of this state-of-the-art technology has filtered down to the consumer, confirming there's no such thing as a free pint.
A similar pouring revolution is taking place within cask ale. The inconsistencies of cask ales have plagued the category for a number of years and have been cited as a principal factor in its year-on-year double digit decline. A recent inspection carried out by Cask Marque, a scheme set up more than two years ago with the aim of raising the standards of cask ale in order to challenge the big lager and smooth beer brands, revealed that temperature is a major issue in the category.
Chris Sladen, director and marketing controller at Theakston Ales, pointed towards consistency as the driving force behind the high-performing nitro-keg and smooth beer brands such as Tetley's Smooth, Guinness Extra Cold and Caffrey's.
Recent research undertaken for the release of Theakston Cool Cask found that a staggering 76 per cent of pubs were serving its cask ale at the wrong temperature.
Sladen said: "The range of temperatures was horrendous, it went from an unbelievable one degree to a sweltering 32oC. The beer was almost always too hot."
With a £25million investment Theakston is anxious to ensure its Cool Cask brand is served at the optimum temperature.
The company embarked on 26 different consumer research initiatives and found that, in order to ensure coolness, refreshment and flavour, 10oC was the preferred temperature among drinkers.
Sladen added: "We needed to serve beer at 10oC which meant we had to ensure that it stayed at that temperature from cellar to swan neck, and do away with the lottery that was cask ale."
In conjunction with its new Scottish Courage stable mate, Amber, Theakston came up with the "Motown C" System (a title intended to play on the fact that Amber is served at three degrees, and a title that stubbornly remained despite the revelation that the female soul trio actually recorded under the Philadelphia record label!) after more than two years of technical research.
The Motown C Cool Cask system starts when the beer leaves a black box cooler installed in the cellar, through a specially designed python containing three beer lines and surrounded by an outer pipe containing cold water. Protected from the heat of boilers, pipes and heating systems, the beer reaches the bar at 10oC where a Theakston-branded handpump, housed in a jacket that recirculates the cold water, ensures the beer doesn't warm up.
Whether it's a technical revolution aimed at maintaining consistency, or a marketing tool that mesmerises the customer at the bar, there's little doubt that the world of dispense is changing.
Incidentally, all major brewers have dismissed rumours that licensees are to be replaced with electronic robots in order to ensure consistency in service.
The Arc experience
- The specially designed pint glass is placed on a turntable on a special font and rotated. It is cooled by a spray of cold water.
- The lager is stored at high pressure and is poured into the glass at a temperature of -2oC.
- At -2oC the water in the lager should be frozen but at high pressure the freezing point is lower. As it is poured the pressure drops and the lager is bombarded with ultrasonic waves. The energy from these acts as a trigger starting the formation of ice crystals around gas bubbles in the lager.