Monday, January 16, 2017

Why it's time to ‘just say no’ to cask ale.

Pete Brown is a British beer writer. He was, until 2015, the author of The Cask Report, a yearly analysis of the state of the business of cask ale in the U.K., sponsored by the British brewing community. Which is why it was so surprising to read his essay today in the Morning Advertiser, entitled, “Why it’s time to say no to cask ale*:
I have a terrible confession to make — terrible for someone with my CV anyway. I've mostly stopped drinking cask ale. [...] I've had enough of :
  • Bar staff saying 'it seems all right to me,' or 'well, no one else has complained,' when I take a pint back to the bar and patiently explain that it's laced with diacetyl.
  • Being told that the beer is supposed to be flat and dead because that's what real ale is like.
  • Taking back hazy pints and being told it's supposed to be like that because it's craft beer.
  • Pints that are not off, or infected, or hazy, but just dull and sub-par, whether because the beer is tired or because it's not finished its cellar conditioning and shouldn't be on sale.
We're always saying cask ale is special, unique, a cut above other beer, that it requires more care and attention. If you're not prepared to treat it like that, you're not supporting cask ale - you're wrecking it. [...] Do yourself, your customers, and cask ale brewers a favour and stop selling it.

For Pete Brown, of all people, a partisan of cask ale, to confess, “I’ve mostly stopped drinking cask ale,” is a disconsolate and surprising thing indeed. Commentators have noted that the article's title is click-bait: Mr. Brown is referring to 'bad' cask ale not to cask ale per se. But, in fact, Mr. Brown states that he has "mostly stopped drinking cask ale" because he finds too much in poor condition. It's this confession, his finding, not the editor's title, that is inflammatory.

How NOT to tap a cask (of cask-conditioned ale)
How NOT to tap a cask (of cask-conditioned ale)

And, I’m afraid that I’m 90% there with Mr. Brown when it comes to cask ale in the U.S.

Here's my bill of particulars. When, instead of producing cask-conditioned ale as the freshest and most vibrant it can be,
  • American breweries, too often, toss 'shit' into their casks, not because they should, but because they can;
  • American breweries, too often, rack unfinished beer into a cask and call it cask-conditioned;
  • American ‘craft’ beer bars, too often, toss casks onto a bar and serve them unattended for days;
  • When American cask ale, too often, is warm, flat, infected, crud-speckled, amateurishly prepared, and horribly served...
Why should I waste my dollars on that? Why, indeed, when I can enjoy a well-crafted beer ... on draft?

  • * Britain's Morning Advertiser had originally published the headline of the piece as "Just say no to cask ale," a photo of which is cached from the interwebs above. They have since altered the headline to read, "Just say no to bad cask ale," which was, of course, Mr. Brown's point in the first place. Read Mr. Brown’s entire essay at the Morning Advertiser: here.
  • With an apology to Mr. Brown, I have ‘Nancy Reaganed’ his headline when writing mine.
  • I had originally published this rant to my Facebook page, but after reading it, I felt it ranty. enough to re-post it here.
  • I should offer an apology for my profanity. In the past, I've borrowed the less scatological phrase, "cocoa-puffs and dingleberries," coined by Joseph Marunowski, past brewer at Boston Beer (Cincinnati, Ohio) and past Director of Brewing Operations at Heavy Seas Beer (Baltimore, Maryland).
  • Related post: America is doing cask ale wrong.
  • I will be attending the Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting this weekend. Nearly 50 casks will be served; I hope to be proven wrong, at least once.

  • For more from YFGF:

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