Quantity and Quality

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Quantity and Quality

Joined: April 2nd, 2017, 7:46 pm

November 7th, 2017, 3:27 pm #1

I've recently had cause to think about the question of how many cask ales to offer at any one time after reading the blogs retiredmartin, pub curmudgeon and barleeds.

I'll start by outlining what I think affects beer quality.
1. The brewing of it. No amount of cellarmanship can make a bad beer good (although the reverse is true).
2. Temperature. It's often said that certain beers 'don't travel well'. This is bollocks. What's happened is it's been handled badly, probably left unchilled for too long.
  Wholesalers are the weak link here. Also buying direct gets you a better price anyway. For most pubs temperature isn't a problem - beer goes straight in thecellar.
3. Conditioning. Every cellar course i've ever been on has been too prescriptive about conditioning. Not a single trainer talked about actually tasting the beer. It was always: 'leave it for X time'. But that doesn't work because every beer is different.
4. Dispense. Get a clean, oversized glass and pour so that you get a nice head. Can't be done right in a brim measure without complaint. If using hand pulls, clean  the lines after each beer.
5. Freshness. Ideally you'd sell the whole firkin the same day you put it on sale. My personal record is about an hour :) The longest you can keep a beer on is ....well  every beer is different. You have to taste them at the start of each trading session. An obvious point but not something widely done. No cellar course ever
    recommended doing this to me, yet it seems essential. Instead they say 3 days for best quality, 5 days max. This is a good rule of thumb but cannot be relied on.

So how do you achieve best quality consistently? Well, you need people to buy it. So you have to either have or create demand. This can be a bit chicken and egg. What comes first, the ale selection or the ale drinkers?

You have got to put on what sells, and just as every beer is different, there is no typical pub and no prescriptive advice that can be given; but i'm going to have a go anyway and give my thoughts on what pubs should be doing. You may well think of real life exceptions to every rule I make here.
1. Mid size estate or suburban working class boozer. A single beer here ain't enough but 3 could be too many. Two beers of different styles, say a dark bitter and a
    hoppy pale, both around 4.5%. Even tied houses could manage that. Sell 3 firkins per fortnight of each and that's enough if (and these rules apply to every pub):
   a) it's kept at 10 degrees C all the time.
   b) you use a racing spile or hard peg between sessions.
   c) you pour off some beer before each session- every line is a different length, some are chilled, but the stuff in the beer engine is definitely waste.
   Now if you start selling 2 per week you can think about adding a third beer. Make it a guest maybe, to give extra interest and allow seasonal variation eg. green
    hopped beers and winter warmers.
2. Food led dining pub. Same as above really, except you're gonna want to cook with the beer to improve throughput further. Get your prices right as well. Put
    Landlord on if you want but don't expect to make the same margin on it. If it's overpriced it will only sell to diners and if you are only selling to diners stick to
    bottles.
3. Busy city centre pub. You'll have a broader mix of customers here that will include 'beer enthusiasts' (I believe this is the polite term). You'll have an
    oppurtunity to convert people to cask if you want to. A broad selection is needed and for me the minimum is 5, if you are serious about it. This allows for
    a bitter, a session pale, a stout or porter, a mild and an IPA.  Too many pubs have 3 beers of varying brownness. You don't have to have permanent beers
    (although it's a good idea that one or two are) so long as you get the style mix right.
    Now if you think you can sell more than 5 at once then go for it but don't think you can flex up and down during the week, and have more beers available
    at the weekend. This doesn't work. The people who want a broader range are usually mid week drinkers and at weekend punters are more infrequent (not
    regulars) so they go for what they've had before and can rely on. Instances of buying rounds goes up, especially on match days, with everyone drinking the
    same thing. If you change the amount of beers you have day to day on it just leads to disappointment and confusion, in my opinion. You have to manage
    expectations.
4. Specialist ale house. Go for the biggest choice you possibly can and be prepared to pour beer down the drain when you need to. It's the cost of doing
    business. If you don't sometimes chuck half a firkin you're doing something wrong. Get your selection right as well.
    At the Blue Boar, we have 9 hand pulls but also the ability to serve direct from the cask and can go up to 20 beers available if needed. When you're a
    specialist, your turnover of your specialist product is higher because it makes up the majority of your sales. We are small but the space is mostly taken up
    by ale drinkers. We are city centre so we have a constant flow of customers from 11am to 11pm.
    I could tell you how many firkins a week we usually sell and you could work out how long each beer stays on the bar, on average, but that wouldn't give you the
    full picture. 36 Gallons of the house pale goes through the same line each week; but we've had a barley wine on sale served from stillage for a fortnight and it
    was at it's best on the last day. The point is we are constantly tasting it and are not afraid to take beer off sale if it's out of condition.

One final point I will make - when you serve ever changing guest beers because that's what your customers demand, you are going to get mixed quality. It's why beer scores don't bother me too much. I don't brew it and i'm not going to take offence if you don't rate it. I won't even get defensive if you say it's in poor condition - i'll try to find out what went wrong.
 In general though you learn which breweries to trust and which to avoid. We wouldn't buy a beer off someone new without researching it at least a little bit, and the rule of thumb is to give a new brewery a year to get good before buying.

Posted on Beer and Pubs forum and also CAMRA discourse.

Cheers.
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Joined: November 5th, 2016, 8:00 pm

November 7th, 2017, 5:08 pm #2

Thanks for some stimulating thoughts, Kieran. It's always good to have a contribution from someone actually in the trade.

It's interesting that, for very cogent reasons, you reject the conventional wisdom of putting more beers on at weekends. I've read that 50% of all drinks sales in pubs occur on Friday and Saturday nights.
"Raising taxes on alcohol to prevent problem drinking is akin to raising the price of gasoline to prevent people from speeding." (Edward Peter Stringham)
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Joined: November 5th, 2016, 9:31 pm

November 7th, 2017, 5:39 pm #3

An interesting insight, much of which is common sense you would think, if only all pubs would put in the required thought and effort. 
"Everybody's got to believe in something, I believe I'll have another beer." W.C.Fields.
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Joined: April 4th, 2017, 2:16 pm

November 8th, 2017, 10:36 am #4

That is very interesting and informative - straight from the horse`s mouth, as it were 😬. When I win the pools and buy a NI pub, will you come and run it Kieran ? 🍻
The Lancashire Luddite
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Joined: April 2nd, 2017, 7:46 pm

November 8th, 2017, 12:43 pm #5

Hardy wrote: That is very interesting and informative - straight from the horse`s mouth, as it were 😬. When I win the pools and buy a NI pub, will you come and run it Kieran ? 🍻
I'll send someone i've trained if you like - I couldn't ever going back to working for someone :)
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Joined: November 8th, 2017, 1:14 pm

November 8th, 2017, 1:20 pm #6

Pretty much agree with everything Kieran says, but then we have similar pubs in the same area and share the same customers and philosophies.
One point I differ on is the trying of new breweries. That's not because I don't think he has a valid point but because our business is interested in doing this. It creates national interest for us at our festivals and puntersnow expect it. Some are hits and some misses, but it gives these breweries a platform and genuine feedback
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Joined: November 5th, 2016, 8:00 pm

November 8th, 2017, 2:01 pm #7

I think there are enough pubs willing to stock beers from brand-new breweries, and punters eager to try them, that it isn't a problem overall.

I can understand Kieran's wariness, though, and if I ran a pub I'd be very reluctant to order beers from breweries I had never heard of. If I knew something of their background and the people involved I might be more interested.

Welcome to the forum, btw 😊
"Raising taxes on alcohol to prevent problem drinking is akin to raising the price of gasoline to prevent people from speeding." (Edward Peter Stringham)
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Joined: November 8th, 2017, 1:14 pm

November 8th, 2017, 2:28 pm #8

PeterE wrote: I think there are enough pubs willing to stock beers from brand-new breweries, and punters eager to try them, that it isn't a problem overall.

I can understand Kieran's wariness, though, and if I ran a pub I'd be very reluctant to order beers from breweries I had never heard of. If I knew something of their background and the people involved I might be more interested.

Welcome to the forum, btw 😊
It's true we've had some that just were'nt right. But you get that with established breweries as well. We have had 'usually keg' breweries cask for us and some work done don't. As with a lot if things when you run a pub, you try it out and sometimes stuff works sometimes it doesn't.
Now I run four fests a year, I intend to balance established and new but I'll stick be getting in my van and bringing back beers from 'the new boys'. In 630 different beers in 11 months I've had five that weren't very good.
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Joined: November 6th, 2016, 1:26 am

November 12th, 2017, 1:57 am #9

Kieran,
It’s great hearing some words of wisdom from your side of the bar for a change – but you shouldn’t give up the day job to become a beer writer !
There’s scarcely anything I can disagree with there so shall just add a few comments.
“You have to either have or create demand”, yes, and “What comes first, the ale selection or the ale drinkers?”, I don’t know, but you are fortunate in having one of the few specialist real ale pubs that Leicester could support, something that many towns only have the demand for one of.
You’re doing well because you know how to do things right and because you do do them right.
Your “low overheads“ mean that you might manage nearer sixty pints out of a firkin rather than the eighty necessary for a Pubco lessee with a £50,000 rent and paying £100 rather than perhaps £50 for the 72 pints. That gives you the ‘luxury’ of “wasting“ beer on oversized glasses ( much nicer and appreciated by us beer buffs ), drawing off some beer before each session, regularly tasting each beer yourself, encouraging ‘tasters’ and pouring “off” beer down the drain.
“A constant flow of customers from 11am to 11pm” is so different from all those pubs that are open “all day” not because they expect any customers but more that they fear losing business to another pub.
Your “It's been handled badly, probably left unchilled for too long. Wholesalers are the weak link here” reminds me of a Uttoxeter publican who was meticulous about the quality of his Draught Bass saying how supply direct by Bass from Burton giving way to Punch supplying it via a depot had seriously affected the quality.
The two lengthy replies within a day or so on the CAMRA Discourse, from a Nick and a Tom, were not surprisingly but disappointingly about what to do having bought, elsewhere, a poor pint of cask beer, not about why so many duff pints are sold and what CAMRA might do about it such as encouraging the necessary reduction in the number of handpumps or suggesting introducing race spiles or properly used cask breathers.
As for “you can have a bigger selection if you pick beers that can be blended together” I am reminded of older Southern drinkers who would have a “(bottled) Brown and (draught) Mild” or “(bottled) Light and (draught) Bitter” but that was to liven up a flat cask beer, a problem solved fifty years ago by the widespread introduction down there of keg beers. Then I remember in local 1970s Marstons pubs ‘half and half’ pints of “Pedro” made up of PEDigree and Owd ROger. Brewers are probably best at blending beer but it’s very rare and I am lucky to have had a few pints of Gales cask XXXXX, renamed Winter Brew, composed of about an eighth Prize Old Ale and seven-eights Butser Bitter and well capturing the richness of the Old Ale while still being not much above the strength of a session beer. Also about ten years ago I had a very nice blended Greene King beer, I think Morlands Crafty Hen, as part of the Wetherspoons ‘Beer Festival’ but the Westgate Brewery probably have the greatest experience of blending beer including for as long as I can remember the 12% Old 5X with Burton Pale Ale to give their bottled, but not BCA, Strong Suffolk. I’m not sure how much thought microbrewers give to their three-from-two blended beers such as Woods Shropshire Lad that quickly proved so popular that it was soon brewed as a beer in its own right.
Peter’s “I've read that 50% of all drinks sales in pubs occur on Friday and Saturday nights” is very much like a taxi driver expecting to make as much money on Friday and Saturday nights as through the rest of the week.
We shall have to make sure it’s not your day off the next time we visit Leicester and the Blue Boar.
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Joined: April 2nd, 2017, 7:46 pm

November 14th, 2017, 11:29 pm #10

Cheers Paul. I read a blog somewhere about blending beers in craft bars and tap houses in the states, like it's a new thing. I may have to do some experimenting on a few willing guinea pigs.

Hi brooodboy.
If you do come back to Leicester, Paul, you should schedule a visit at his place too, it's the one next to the King's Head.
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Joined: November 6th, 2016, 1:26 am

April 7th, 2018, 12:06 am #11

Kieran,
You make the very valid point that there are two aspects to beer quality, what comes from the brewery and its condition in the pub.
CAMRA’s National Beer Scoring System (NBSS), which is primarily for selecting pubs for the Good Beer Guide, is a 0 to 5 point scale “for judging beer quality in pubs”. Guidance on “competently kept / in good form / in excellent condition” confirms that we should be scoring on the beer’s condition in the pub but then “Bland, uninspiring beers score a 2” suggests that pubs stocking subtle session beers, such as are still popular in some areas, don’t deserve a listing in the Good Beer Guide. I wouldn’t necessarily expect even the best of beers to be “inspiring” but then we might each have different definitions of “bland” and “uninspiring”.
We are never all going to agree on what is and what is not a “quality” Real Ale, let alone concur on “high-quality” non-Real Ales, but, for arguments sake, if Oakham Citra is accepted as a higher quality beer than Sharp’s Doom Bar would many CAMRA members finding both beers in an equally good, or equally bad, condition in the same pub give them the same scores ?
I ask this having seen comments on that new Discourse in response to statistics about the NBSS scheme including that ( after Timothy Taylor’s Landlord ) Sharp’s Doom Bar is the second “most scored beer” ( most scored, NOT most highly scored ) and ( after Oakham ) Greene King is the second “most scored” ( NOT most highly scored ) brewery. That is no surprise to me given that Doom Bar and Greene King cask beers are available in thousands of pubs but Nick Carrington of Swindon then comments that he’s “Worrying that people are wasting so much time scoring GK and Sharps”.  Sarah Durham rightly questions “Why is that a waste of time?” but adding “All scores count, you need low scores as well as high. No point doing scoring if you only score the flyers” suggests that scores might be being made as much on whether it’s a beer we like as on what condition it’s in in the pub.
Maybe some members do score proportionately to strength and hop rating with NBSS 2 for a “bland uninspiring” 4% beer with an IBU of 20, NBSS 3 for a 6% beer with an IBU of 50, 4 for 8% and 80, and NBSS 5 for that rare 10%er with an IBU of 110.
Surely CAMRA’s local, regional and national Beer of the Year competitions, not the NBSS scheme, are where we should express our opinions on what we think are actually the best beers.
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Joined: November 5th, 2016, 8:00 pm

April 7th, 2018, 10:14 am #12

retiredmartin has come up ith his own suggestions for the reform of the NBSS here. Mind you, it was posted on Sunday April 1st 😂

https://retiredmartin.com/2018/04/01/ma ... ng-system/
"Raising taxes on alcohol to prevent problem drinking is akin to raising the price of gasoline to prevent people from speeding." (Edward Peter Stringham)
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Joined: December 22nd, 2017, 12:18 am

April 7th, 2018, 3:22 pm #13

PeterE wrote: retiredmartin has come up ith his own suggestions for the reform of the NBSS here. Mind you, it was posted on Sunday April 1st 😂

https://retiredmartin.com/2018/04/01/ma ... ng-system/
Pure coincidence.
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Joined: December 22nd, 2017, 12:18 am

April 7th, 2018, 3:29 pm #14

Paul Mudge wrote: " Nick Carrington of Swindon then comments that he’s “Worrying that people are wasting so much time scoring GK and Sharps”.  Sarah Durham rightly questions “Why is that a waste of time?” but adding “All scores count, you need low scores as well as high. No point doing scoring if you only score the flyers” suggests that scores might be being made as much on whether it’s a beer we like as on what condition it’s in in the pub.
Excellent points Paul, as usual, and agree that the Champion Beer of Britain contest is where those bothered can judge their favourite beers
My experience is that an excellent landlord can equally make or break a good pint out of Landlord, Tiny Rebel or Pedigree.

This week in Wolves I had pints of Banks's Mild that I thought were superbly presented (NBSS 4 -4.5) in the Stile and the brewery; often I've scored that beer much lower than that.  Last year Dick and Dave (our US readers) had the same beer on electric dispense in Bewdley with similar results.  It's (nearly) all about the licensee.
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Joined: November 6th, 2016, 1:29 pm

April 7th, 2018, 5:42 pm #15

Yes, an excellent post, Paul. However, I think one of the failings of the beer-scoring/WhatPub is that I am sure many people score on how much they like the beer. As I see it, the scoring should mirror the quality of the beer, not necessarily whether or not you like it. For example, I have yet to enjoy a pint of Dark Star beer, yet Richard and others wax lyrical about it. Where I have had a pint, and it has been in excellent condition, I mark accordingly. The fact that I don't particularly like it does not come into the equation. 
Nigel Rowe
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Joined: April 11th, 2017, 5:21 pm

April 9th, 2018, 10:19 am #16

One of my proudest moments was managing to convince a judging panel that a competition beer was meant to be cloudy (oddly enough it wasn't) and it ended up winning the contest. Barring not having cleared, probably because it hadn't had enough time to truly settle, it was in good nick and deserved a placing. The beer that was actually best on the day came fourth, because it was the only one that wasn't a golden ale, but that's another bit of bias that was more difficult to overcome.
Scott Campbell
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Joined: November 6th, 2016, 1:26 am

April 14th, 2018, 12:29 am #17

retiredmartin wrote:
Paul Mudge wrote: " Nick Carrington of Swindon then comments that he’s “Worrying that people are wasting so much time scoring GK and Sharps”.  Sarah Durham rightly questions “Why is that a waste of time?” but adding “All scores count, you need low scores as well as high. No point doing scoring if you only score the flyers” suggests that scores might be being made as much on whether it’s a beer we like as on what condition it’s in in the pub.
Excellent points Paul, as usual, and agree that the Champion Beer of Britain contest is where those bothered can judge their favourite beers
My experience is that an excellent landlord can equally make or break a good pint out of Landlord, Tiny Rebel or Pedigree.

This week in Wolves I had pints of Banks's Mild that I thought were superbly presented (NBSS 4 -4.5) in the Stile and the brewery; often I've scored that beer much lower than that.  Last year Dick and Dave (our US readers) had the same beer on electric dispense in Bewdley with similar results.  It's (nearly) all about the licensee.
Martin,
Your mention that last year Dick and Dave had Banks’s Mild on electric dispense reminded me that since being struck down with a stroke nine years ago and not getting out so much I had so rarely seen electically pumped cask beer that I had forgotten it might have survived. I therefore yesterday returned to where I had last seen such dispense several years ago and the Cross Keys at Penkridge, now a Star (Heineken) pub, still has Banks’s Mild on metered electric pumps, that being alongside Holdens Golden Glow and two other beers on handpump. Metered electric pumps were so very widely used in the Midlands and North through the 1970s to ‘90s but, as far as I know, none of the brewers using them then, including Banks’s’ and Greenalls, do so now and metered electric pumps are so very rare that we should perhaps start up a National Inventory of Pubs with Electric Metered Cask Beer dispense, the first two on that list being the Rising Sun in Bewdley and the Cross Keys in Penkridge. It’s not going to be a long list with, I am told, 24 ounce pint glasses hard to come by.
While in Pekridge I also went to the Banks’s pub, the Star, and alongside their Bitter, Pedigree, Wainwright and Lancaster Bomber I was surprised to see a cask Shipyard beer, Melonhead (4.4%) which was one of the best fruit beers I have ever drunk. Going round the brewery nine days earlier we got no hint either of Shipyard in cask nor of a fruit beer from the Banks’s Brewery. Intersting times.
Then to the Swan at Whiston where I had a couple of pints of Timothy Taylors Boltmaker, a guest beer, rather than my usual Holdens Bitter.  
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Joined: November 5th, 2016, 8:00 pm

April 14th, 2018, 3:19 pm #18

Paul Mudge wrote: metered electric pumps are so very rare that we should perhaps start up a National Inventory of Pubs with Electric Metered Cask Beer dispense, the first two on that list being the Rising Sun in Bewdley and the Cross Keys in Penkridge. It’s not going to be a long list with, I am told, 24 ounce pint glasses hard to come by.
A recent discussion on Twitter has established that metered dispense is still common for keg beers in the club trade in the North-East.
"Raising taxes on alcohol to prevent problem drinking is akin to raising the price of gasoline to prevent people from speeding." (Edward Peter Stringham)
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Joined: December 22nd, 2017, 12:18 am

April 14th, 2018, 9:06 pm #19

Paul Mudge wrote: Martin, Your mention that last year Dick and Dave had Banks’s Mild on electric dispense
Paul - there's some good pubs in Penkridge, sounds like a good (mini) crawl you had.  This is the report on Dick & Dave's visit to the Bewdley Rising Sun (wonderful Proper Pub), where electric pumped Mild was much better than hand pumped Mild down the road.

https://retiredmartin.com/2017/10/25/hu ... n-bewdley/

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Joined: April 11th, 2017, 5:21 pm

April 15th, 2018, 9:13 am #20

OK, here's what has always got me about this, if I saw that I would instantly assume that was keg beer. How can you tell that cask beer is getting electric pump delivery and it isn't keg?
Scott Campbell
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