Pubpaper 696 – The art of keeping and selling beer.

Posted: 16th February 2013 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing
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In the past I have mentioned the hotel I stay at when I visit Head Office with work.  It is usually in reference to their total inability to keep or serve ale.  However they topped themselves this week during my last visit.   After being served a pint of drinkable ale from a local brewer, I asked for them to add a “northern head” using a sparkler, only to be told they don’t have one.  From the look on the barmans face I doubt that he even knew what one was.   I thought that pouring a warm bottle conditioned ale into a bolt upright pint glass, leading to a half pint head was a bad enough offence, but one attributable to an individual.  Not giving the option of a sparkler head on traditional ale is a failure on the pub as a whole, either through lack of training or absence of equipment.

This is why I rarely venture from bottled Worthington White Shield when visiting, a sad indictment of the quality of the cellarmanship.    The other thing I have noticed is that the colder it gets the better their beer gets, in summer it is plain undrinkable, in winter it causes no particular offense, the natural seasonal cooling masking what could be substandard cellar control.   With this particular venue its it not the individual offences which irk me, but the continuing roll call of offences which are building up.

I don’t know if I am more critical because I consider we are spoilt for landlords who keep a good cellar all year round in Calderdale and its neighbouring towns. I can’t remember the last time I sent a pint back for being off when in my adopted home county, the only reason for a returned pint being due to cloudiness in an otherwise OK pint.  This is a transgression I easily forgive as cloudiness can be easily caused by a barrel accidentally being shifted during deliveries and have never had any problems getting a replacement pint.

This cellarmanship and the brewers skill is something you come to appreciate over time once you start to drink real ale regularly. Lager can mask small problems due to its coldness subduing minor flaws in taste.  However ale is sold at more moderate serving temperature and the more natural methods used in production and the readying the beer mean that there is more that can go wrong if not handled right at any stage.   Anybody who has drunk a significant number of ales during their lifetime will recognise the “eggy” smell from a bad pint.

Lager can be served as soon as it reaches serving temperature, it is prefiltered at the brewery so it arrives almost ready to serve.  Most ales are rested for 24 to 72 hours between arriving at the pub and the first pint being served.  This is to let the larger particles settle to the bottom of the cask and allow the beer to run clear through the pumps.   When a landlord tells you the ale is not ready yet, it simply means that it hasn’t been rested long enough.

That and the fact that the beer is still conditioning in the cask as it sits in the cellar means that if something has gone wrong in production it will come to light in the first tasting, this continuing conditioning also means that a beer can taste different when it is first tapped to when it is running low.  I’ve had the same beer from the same cask several days apart and the brew was very different, the citrus notes dominating the first tasting, but the dryer notes coming to the fore in the latter pint.

As I have said in previous articles, the pub is nothing without a good landlord and when someone gains a reputation for keeping good beer customers follow.  Back in the late 1990s an Irish guy called Ralph used to run Cookies in Halifax (behind McDonalds) and that became my regular haunt, when he moved to the Old Bailey in Elland, I followed and when he went to run a club in Wakefield, I still made occasional visits.  It is the same with the Kevin, one of the brothers who ran Lewins in Halifax until late last year, who’s new pub, the Plough Inn at Mirfield opened a couple of weeks ago.  Ten of Lewins old customers turned up for opening night despite it being well out of the way.

If you endear loyalty from your customers as a landlord, they will follow your reputation and can be one of our greatest assets.  Until next week, happy supping.

  1. Phil Short says:

    I agree, when I was (a lot) younger I drank in one local pub which had a very bad reputation for everything but its beer! The fact that the landlord liked his beer helped enormously, but he liked it a little too much so general upkeep of the pub was poor, but he kept a good cellar and the beer reflected that.

    The pub was eventually taken over by a large chain, and the quality of the beer dissappeared overnight, as did the “regulars”.