Sunday, June 30, 2013

Cask pour? You must be joking.

My usual practice on this blog is to ignore bad beer, write about good. Not so in this case. On a recent visit to a restaurant in my local area, I saw such an egregious ignorance of basic cask ale cellarmanship or, worse yet, disdain for its customers that I could not remain silent.

In addition to serving draught beer, this pub serves cask ale, both via hand-pump from temperature-controlled and blanket-pressure-protected casks, and by gravity-pour from casks on the bartop.

On the early afternoon of my visit, a cask was sitting on the bar, warm, unprotected by any cooling method, neither ice-blanket, nor insulated jacket, nor simple wet towel. The cask may have resided there for a couple of days, as there was scant in it.

I watched as the bartender tilted the cask almost vertically, and, with a straight face, poured a customer the below-pictured murky glass of spent yeast and proteinaceous sludge.

Cask pour? You must be joking.

Really? You must be joking!

Cask ale is fresh, CLEAR, cool, gently carbonated, and refreshing. What was served was not cask ale; it was the final dregs of the cask, meant to be discarded, never served. And it tasted as it looked: doughy, bitter, semi-solid, and rancid. What was the bartender thinking?

A customer, not knowing the actual appearance and flavor of the beer in question, might have easily assumed that it and its brewery were not worth a second chance, let alone cask ale itself. (I, knowing the beer, can attest that it is, in its normal state, delicious and only slightly hazy, whether in bottle, keg, or cask.) If the U.K.'s Casque Marque operated in the United States, the pub's accreditation for "serving great cask ale" would have been summarily suspended.

I've re-touched the photo to remove incriminating logos from the glass. I'll say no more than this: the restaurant is located within the Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia area. I'll protect the restaurant's identity but I abjure its actions.

UPDATE: I've been contacted by restaurant management, who has assured me that this was an aberration, not the restaurant's standard practice, and that it is taking corrective measures to prevent a recurrence. I understand that 'things happen,' which is one reason why I kept all names anonymous. I write Yours for Good Fermentables to promote good beer, not to flame someone's livelihood. I thought this a teachable moment, not a 'Yelp' moment, and I was correct.

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  • Upon complaint, the bartender did remove the cost of the pint from the check. There was another cask ale at the pub that day, served via beer engine, that was in fine condition. That's the one one I drank ... and enjoyed. I can hope that the restaurant recognizes its errors, appreciates my discretion, and corrects its procedures. [Restaurant management responded positively. See the above update.]
  • More information about the proper service of cask ale can be found at CaskAleUSA.

7 comments:

  1. Wow, they intended to sell that glass of foam?

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    1. Jim, that's not foam, it's the murky sludge of yeast and dregs obtained by tilting the cask. I would not mind a nice shot glass of B-12 and protein if served on the side, but a pint of spent yeast? Sold as a pint of cask ale?? Egregious ignorance at best.

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  2. That is horrendous and reprehensible and that beer should never have been served period. I’m shocked that someone would try to pass that off in a place that carries cask beer. By the way, Casque Marque does have at least one pub in the United States that has been awarded their rating - The Bulls Head in Lititz, PA.

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  3. Tom, I am a fan of cask-conditioned ales and I appreciate all you have done and continue to do to promote this traditional method of serving beer. I appreciate your gentle discretion in reporting this incident without embarrassing anyone. I, too, hope the restaurant manager finds your post and takes immediate and decisive corrective action. You are widely read and respected, so the chances are good.

    I am not in the beer business but in my line I learned that "hope is not a method." Therefore, if you want to increase the odds that the offending restaurant manager gets the message, please consider emailing the manager a link to your post.

    It bothers me that an untrained bartender has the potential to do so much damage to the public's awareness of and appreciation for cask-conditioned ales. Personally, if I were the manager responsible for hiring and training the bar staff, I would value receiving feedback such as yours directly (as well as discretely).

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  4. Dave, rest assured. Folk involved have been contacted.

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  5. Well done, Tom. I hope the establishment in question will make cask ale training a higher priority.

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  6. That looks like a great yeast starter if the buyer of that beer had a homebrew scheduled later that day.

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