Tradition and Science in the Pub Cellar

We know next to nothing about the cellaring of cask ale which is why we’ve been so interested to read a couple of blog posts which have appeared this week.

First, pub man­ag­er Ed Raz­za­ll wrote this piece out­lin­ing his own approach:

I’ve drunk in pubs where I’ve seen on twit­ter that they proud­ly announce “Yay! [Insert beer name here] deliv­ered this morn­ing – on the bar tonight”. I defy any­one to tell me that it is phys­i­cal­ly pos­si­ble to rack, con­di­tion, set­tle, and serve a beer in less than 24 hours (Marstons Fast­Cask I hear you cry! That’s a dif­fer­ent ket­tle of fish all togeth­er).

Now, we have rea­son to trust Mr Razzall’s opin­ion, because the pub he runs is owned by Mark Dor­ber, of whom he is some­thing of a pro­tégé.

Dor­ber was, for a time, the most famous cel­lar­man in the world, hav­ing had a star­ring role in Michael Jackson’s 1990 tele­vi­sion series The Beer Hunter. In the very first episode, he demon­strat­ed to Mr Jack­son how to care for Bass Pale Ale in the base­ment of the White Horse, Ful­ham. Dor­ber start­ed work­ing there as a stu­dent in 1981 and almost imme­di­ate­ly took over man­age­ment of the cel­lar, as he told us last year:

I hadn’t been there long when some­one said, ‘The Everard’s has run out,’ and no-one knew what to do about it. I knew Everard’s beer from a pub in Sal­ford, so I said, ‘I’ll go down and sort it out.’ I didn’t real­ly know what I was doing, but I sup­pose I applied an aca­d­e­m­ic approach. I spent an hour on the phone to the head brew­er at Bass talk­ing about cel­lar­ing and cask-con­di­tion­ing…

With 30+ years expe­ri­ence under his belt, and an approach based on (a) metic­u­lous care and (b) a frankly elit­ist view of beer appre­ci­a­tion which brooks no medi­oc­rity, Dorber’s opin­ions are not to be dis­missed light­ly.

But beer dis­trib­u­tor and blog­ger Yvan Seth has sug­gest­ed that some prac­tices of the Dor­ber-Raz­za­ll school of cel­lar­man­ship might owe more to tra­di­tion than to rea­son:

Myth (most­ly): “sec­ondary occurs at the pub”: It is per­haps a lega­cy of his­toric prac­tices that peo­ple believe brew­eries ship beer to pubs before sub­stan­tial sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion has occurred. I hear this still hap­pens some­times… but in almost all cas­es: no. Most brew­eries do their best to ensure sec­ondary has pro­gressed suf­fi­cient­ly before the beer leaves the brew­ery.

We’re very much in favour of ques­tion­ing assump­tions, and will con­tin­ue to watch this con­ver­sa­tion with inter­est.

Cellar doctor

cellardoctor.jpgGreene King are obvi­ous­ly try­ing to win some brown­ie points in the face of a lot of vit­ri­ol from ale fans – they’ve launched a web­site to help pub land­lords diag­nose and cure prob­lems with their cel­lars which are lead­ing to dodgy pints.

It’s a clever idea, and could real­ly be use­ful, espe­cial­ly for novice land­lords. Many are sad­dled with poor qual­i­ty cel­lars, or are deal­ing with equip­ment that their pre­de­ces­sors just didn’t look after, so this could make a real dif­fer­ence.

But it’s also stan­dard prac­tice for com­pa­nies with poor rep­u­ta­tions – and Greene King are going that way – to try to asso­ciate them­selves with the very peo­ple who oppose them. BP are now brand­ed much like Green­peace or Friends of the Earth, for exam­ple. Is this Greene King’s attempt to start a “Cam­paign for Decent Pints”?

And, of course, a good beer tast­ing course might be just as use­fu. The land­lord of one of my local pubs – which often serves bad pints – told me once that he didn’t drink ale, and had no idea what it was meant to taste like… wor­ry­ing.