Cellars are on the up

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Risk assessment, Beer, Cask ale, Pub association

A range of initiatives have been planned to drive up standards below stairs.Suddenly, cellars are sexy - and not just the kind of cellar with whips...

A range of initiatives have been planned to drive up standards below stairs.

Suddenly, cellars are sexy - and not just the kind of cellar with whips and chains and comical instruments of torture presided over by a leather-clad dominatrix. We're talking about beer cellars.

The months ahead promise a whole range of initiatives to drive up standards in the cellar, both in terms of beer quality and health and safety, as operators have begun to understand the importance of the pub's engine room.

It may not be the most glamorous part of the pub but the cellar's role in ensuring the quality of beer service is vital.

That role has been compromised over the past decade, however, as the restructuring of the pub and brewing industries has snipped the umbilical cord that used to connect the production and retailing of beer.

The majority of pubs are no longer owned by brewers and the freeing of the tie, meaning that tens of thousands of leased and tenanted houses may get their beer supplies from several companies, has tended to create confusion about standards for the licensee.

Now that has come to a head - so to speak. On the one hand brewers, concerned for the integrity of their brands at the point of purchase, have begun to put in place a variety of quality initiatives. On the other, pub and bar operators have also recognised that it is in their interests to raise standards and impress an increasingly demanding customer.

It's not just about cask ale. The presentation of a pint of lager is just as important, as brand owners such as Coors and Interbrew UK have recognised with their own quality schemes.

Cask Marque, the beer quality initiative originally set up to accredit cask ale pubs, has found that it is carrying out a much broader service. Managed pub group JD Wetherspoon has recruited its inspector network to carry out a complete quality audit of its pub cellars and other chains have also been talking to the organisation about how they can raise standards.

Quality within the giant tenanted estates is harder to achieve, but groups have moved to at least simplify matters for their licensees with InnSpired consolidating beer deliveries through Coors and Punch Pub Company doing the same with Carlsberg-Tetley.

Punch has also put its technical services in the hands of a single, independent agency called City in a bid to overcome the confused messages from different brewers.

This year should see the industry take things a step further. The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) is working closely with the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) to produce a single cellar management qualification and a single set of standards for the licensed trade. The BII hopes the qualification will be ready in a few months.

The initiative has already succeeded in bringing most of the major players together to agree on an outline of core standards that will form, for the first time, a national set of benchmarks on cellar management.

Each brand will then add their own messages around that common core, bringing in new technologies such as Scottish Courage's HIT dispense system and Carlsberg-Tetley's Vortex tap as well as the needs of specialist beers such as Hoegaarden.

Paul Arnold, the former Coors technical services director who, as an independent consultant, has led the project, believes that brewers and retailers have realised they have a common interest in the quality of beer.

"Times have changed," he said. "Most bars now stock a range of beers from the major brewers and that shift means it makes sense for them to work together.

"Everyone wants to reverse declining sales and there is a set of standards for the presentation of a pint, a quality template, that all can agree on."

At the same time the BBPA has begun to take a different approach to the image campaign it has run for many years, understanding that any improvement in the way that beer is perceived by consumers has to be underpinned by a fundamental improvement in the quality of beer served across the bar.

"An enormous amount of effort is being put into this at the moment and hopefully the industry will end up with a common scheme which will cover basic standards from the cellar to the glass," added Paul.

Regulation relief

Among the tangle of regulations designed to trip up publicans, at least one of them looks as though it will soon be simplified.

The confined spaces regulations, introduced in 1998, currently require licensees to carry out a risk assessment of their cellars in the event of any leakage of CO2 dispense gas.

A build-up of CO2 is, of course, dangerous and possibly lethal to licensees and staff who work in the cellar. But the regulations themselves have long been considered unwieldy and inapproprite to a pub business.

Now the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) is close to coming to an agreement with the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) which will radically simplify the guidelines for the trade.

"Most pubs have large, well-ventilated cellars which aren't the kind of spaces which were intended to come within the regulations," explained Paul Arnold, who works as a technical consultant for the BBPA.

"The HSE has been very open to our arguments and within weeks we should be able to provide a new set of recommendations for pubs which will save licensees time and money."

At the moment licensees are advised to pay for an expert risk assessment from a brewer or gas supplier. The simplified rules will mean that they will be able to carry out the assessment themselves in a few minutes.

"It will just be a matter of measuring the size of the cellar and counting the stocks," said Paul. "I'm confident that, on that basis, the vast majority of pubs will quickly get through the regulations."

At the same time brewers' safety code on pressurised containers is being toughened up. This need not bother licensees, says Paul, "but it is ever more important that you don't tamper with the gas pressures set by brewers."

Total Safety Solution

Gas supplier Cryoservice has announced it is adopting a "Total Safety Solution" theme in 2003.

CryoService's Accellarate Cellar Gas Management team will concentrate on pushing for best practice in not only selecting the most appropriate gas system for each pub cellar, including installation of such equipment as CO2 monitors and repeaters, but also in providing training and expert advice for pub licensees and their staff.

In addition it is compiling a risk assessment manual that will help you complete a full risk assessment yourself. It spells out the need for risk assessment and explains how to do it and the tools to do it with in a step-by-step guide. It also provides a checklist for all aspects of cellar management - not just gases - including manual handling.

For more information on the risk assessment manual and general cellar safety information contact CryoService on 01905 754500 or via email at info@cryoservice.co.uk.

Purchasing guide

The British Compressed Gases Association (BGCA) has teamed up with the Health and Safety Executive and the British Beer and Pub Association to produce a purchasing guide.

The eight-page booklet contains a compliance checklist to help the trade choose reputable suppliers which comply with the industry's quality and safety requirements.

Also included is the essential knowledge you need about your stock of CO2, mixed gas and N2, from understanding the identification labelling to the relevance of colour coding, serial numbers, traceability, cylinder testing and the protection of cylinder valves.

To order your copies contact the BCGA on 01491 825533, visit the website at www.bcga.co.uk or write to BCGA, 6 St Mary's Street,

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