Whether or not to sell cask ale, or 'real ale' as it is sometimes called, is something all licensees have to decide. It helps to know exactly what cask ale involves before making the decision.
What is cask ale?
Cask ale is a beer, usually bitter, which is still fermenting when it is put in the cask at the brewery. The yeast in the beer continues to ferment in the cask and the carbon dioxide which results from the process absorbed into the beer since it cannot escape form the cask.
Is it better than other beers?
Cask ale enthusiasts claim it has a better taste because it is not at fizzy as keg beers, which include lager, 'nitrokegs' such as Caffrey's or John Smith Extra Smooth, and stouts such as Guinness, which is pasteurised. Cask ale is also typically served at a higher temperature than keg beers - although it should still be cool, rather than warm. This is said to give an increased appreciation of flavour of ingredients such as the malt and hops.
Is it hard to store and serve?
Keeping cask ale properly does require more time and care than keg beers.
Do cask ale sales justify the time and cost?
A reputation for keeping and serving good cask ale certainly helps some pub attract customers. Generally, cask ale sales have been in decline since the mid-1990s. Although it has been argues that this is mainly due to the very variable quality of cask ales served in some pubs. How can I learn to store and serve cask ale properly?
Many brewers and pub operators run cellar management training, and the British Institute of Innkeeping offers a cellar management module as part of its programme of Advanced Qualifications.
How many should I sell?
A long line of hand pumps on the bar top is part of the image of a 'traditional' British pub. The reality is that relatively few pubs can sell the volumes of cask ale which would allow them to keep more than two or three brands without all of them being kept too long and going off. Research for the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association shows that customers are more concerned about the quality of cask ale a pub offers than the number of brands it stocks.
If you already sell cask ale, the following guidelines will help you to ensure that proper cellar procedures are followed.
Ordering: order the correct size of cask so that contents are used within three to four days. Ale which has been kept too long is one of the commonest causes of a poor quality pint of cask ale, second only to:
Temperature: cask ale should be stored in a temperature controlled cellar. Cellar temperature should be 11.5?C to 14?C, or 53?F to 57?F to ensure the product reaches the glass at the right temperature.
Cellar practice: All empties should be sealed to avoid spillage during removal from the cellar. The cellar drop should be clean and tidy. Lighting should be in good working order, Floors and drains should be kept clean.
On receipt of products check the shelf life and make sure that all bungs are secure. If not, tap them back into place.
Stillage: This term refers to the storage of the casks before they are connected to the tap for sale. During stillage always ensure that casks are placed level and securely chocked on stillage. Casks must be stillaged for at least two days prior to sale to allow the beer to settle after transit and to become accustomed to the cellar temperature.
Venting: all casks must be vented on delivery. Hard peg after 12 hours when the beer has finished working. Always hard peg during non-serving hours.
Tapping: tap all casks at least 48 hours before
required for sale. Always use a clean tap.
Sampling: examine beer for clarity, aroma and taste 24 hours after tapping and daily before serving. Sample from the cask before connecting beer lines.
Tilting: tilt the cask two to three inches between two-thirds and half full, preferably after closing time to allow any disturbed sediment to resettle. If the cask has been stood waiting to be stillaged, it should be rolled before venting.
Cleaning: beer lines, engines and taps must be cleaned at least every seven days using approved detergent and recommended procedure.
Hygiene: beer should never be returned to the cask as this will affect its hygiene and quality.
Cask Ale Troubleshooting
Cask ale should be clear. If customers complain that it looks hazy or cloudy it is probably for one of the following reasons:
if a cask ale runs clear in the cellar but runs hazy though the dispense system, this is most likely to be due to dirty lines
if a cask ale tastes too strongly of hops - sometimes described as tasting 'green' - and looks hazy, it may have been put into service too soon after venting and need more time to resettle.
if beer runs hazy after previously being clear and is hazy from the cask, check the cask hasn't been disturbed and allow it time to resettle.
if beer turns hazy after several days on sale, the cask size is probably too large and the sale period has been overextended.
If there are small particles or 'floaters' in the beer, check that the hop filter in the cask is in place.
This organisation was set up in 1998 with the support of a number of brewers, with the aim of helping to reverse the decline in cask ale sales by promoting high standards of service in pubs.
The Cask Marque is awarded to a licensee who meets a range of quality criteria assessed by Cask Marque during a series of independent inspections.
Temperature is the most important of these criteria, with Cask Marque's research showing that the most common cause for complaint is cask ale which is served too warm.
The Cask Marque can be displayed in the pub and is now being promoted through a consumer education campaign designed to improve beer drinkers' understanding of cask ale.
The Campaign for Real Ale was set up in the early 1970s by cask ale enthusiasts concerned that the spread of eg bitters would end additional brewing, It successfully persuaded most of the major brewers to focus more attention on their cask ale brands.
CAMRA is one of the most successful consumer groups ever established, and continues to lobby the pub and brewing industries, as well as the government on a range of issues.
The annual CAMRA Good Beer Guide is a listing of pubs nominated by members which serve good quality cask ale.