Quantity and Quality

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Quantity and Quality

Kieran Lyons
Joined: 02 Apr 2017, 19:46

07 Nov 2017, 15:27 #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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PeterE
Joined: 05 Nov 2016, 20:00

07 Nov 2017, 17:08 #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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Citra
Joined: 05 Nov 2016, 21:31

07 Nov 2017, 17:39 #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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Hardy
Joined: 04 Apr 2017, 14:16

08 Nov 2017, 10:36 #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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Kieran Lyons
Joined: 02 Apr 2017, 19:46

08 Nov 2017, 12:43 #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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Brooodboy
Joined: 08 Nov 2017, 13:14

08 Nov 2017, 13:20 #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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PeterE
Joined: 05 Nov 2016, 20:00

08 Nov 2017, 14:01 #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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Brooodboy
Joined: 08 Nov 2017, 13:14

08 Nov 2017, 14:28 #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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Paul Mudge
Joined: 06 Nov 2016, 01:26

12 Nov 2017, 01:57 #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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Kieran Lyons
Joined: 02 Apr 2017, 19:46

14 Nov 2017, 23:29 #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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