Sunday, 26 September 2010

Luck of the Draw

As several of you will know I've recently returned from a short break completing the Wealdway walk down in deepest Sussex. As well as enjoying some pleasant and unspoilt countryside we visited some excellent pubs. However the word "excellent" could not always be applied to the beers we sampled, many of which were tired and past their best. On several occasions I seemed to end up with the last pint out of the barrel; my friend's pint was alright but mine definitely wasn't!

You could say that this was just luck of the draw, and to a large extent it was, but there is no excuse for the tired and over-aged beer we were served in a number of establishments. One such pub, all flower be-decked and in a picture post-card setting seemed far more interested in the food trade, even though it still two separate bars. Another pub, listed in the Good Beer Guide no-less, was obviously doing something wrong in the cellar, as despite changing two of the casks whilst we were there, the fresh ones didn't taste particularly fresh! We were chatting to the bar-staff and they told us how they religiously cleaned the lines every week, and also pulled clean water through in between changing casks (we saw then doing this). Something though had allowed the beer to become tired and un-interesting, and I suspect insufficient use of a hard spile was the prime cause.

It was a shame in the latter case, as the staff were obviously keen to serve up a decent pint and to do things right. My friend thought I was being a bit fussy and at one stage I was almost beginning to doubt my own judgement, but at the end of the day it's what was in the glass that counted. Back in the days when breweries maintained large tied estates teams from the brewery's cellar department would visit the company's pubs to instruct staff in how to look after beer properly and how to serve up the perfect pint. With a few exceptions this just doesn't happen nowadays. although the role played by Cask Marque in improving the condition of the nation's beer has to be applauded.

I won't go so far to say that the poor quality of much of the beer I drank spoiled the holiday, but it certainly took the shine off things. It wasn't as though the pubs in question were quiet either; most seemed to be doing a reasonable trade. It just seemed to be a combination of ineptitude or just plain lack of training that prevented me from receiving the perfect pint on a number of occasions.

I'm certain that I'm not alone in experiencing beer that isn't quite bad enough to send back, but at the same time isn't exactly an enjoyable experience either. When one is paying £3 and upwards for a pint, one expects better!


Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

Do you think the problem might also be down to pubs sourcing casks at thier expiry cheap?

Folowing the JDW model.

Paul Bailey said...

I hadn't thought of that Kieran, but it would explain a lot. The bar staff would be on a hiding to nothing, with all their hard work, if the beer was approaching, or even passed, it's sell-by-date!