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Cask Marque Calling

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About the Author - Annabel Smith

Annabel has multiple roles at Cask Marque, the beer quality watchdog.

- She is the National Account Manager working with brewers and pub companies to ensure quality is the watchword when beer leaves their premises.
- She is the UK Training Manager, ensuring licensees know how to look after beer once it’s left the brewery gates.
- She’s a qualified Beer Inspector for Cask Marque, so she checks how beer is served to consumers and accredits pubs who serve great quality beer.

She’s also a Beer Sommelier (only the second female in the UK to gain this accreditation) so she advises pubs, clubs and hotels on how to put together a beer menu, and match the beers with foods. Oh, and she’s a founder member of the Dea Latis (www.dealatis.org.uk), a group of women beer drinkers who want to spread the word to other women about how great beer is. She lives in Yorkshire with a boisterous Labrador and a penchant for trekking the Dales searching out great beer pubs.

How I came to work for Cask Marque

One of the questions I’m asked most frequently is “how did you get your job as a beer inspector with Cask Marque?” I’m not entirely sure how this happened. It wasn’t planned and it wasn’t a career choice. The careers advisor at school identified through a series of random tests that I would end up as a ceramic pottery maker, at which point I lost faith in taking advice from this quarter. Like most people, I fell upon my dream job purely by accident and fate.

Desperately broke and with no career prospects looming, I did what a lot of people do – I took a job in a pub grafting all hours as a barmaid and constantly pondering what I would do for a ‘proper job’. Perhaps it was fate that I started my bar work in a ‘serious’ cask ale pub. For a lager and white wine loving lass, this environment came as a serious learning curve for me. How seriously these cask ale drinkers took their drink! How much time and care was taken in the cellar over getting this product just right! How each brand was discussed in great detail around the bar, and how drinkers became excited with the prospect of a ‘rare’ brand appearing on a Friday teatime.

My customers enthusiasm was infectious, and from talking to them I learned what they loved, what they wanted, what was popular.

In a red Astra van I scooted all over the country, picking up a firkin here, a firkin there and always having a nosey around the cask ale breweries and absorbing the absolute conviction from every brewer that their brand was ‘the best’. My ‘beer request’ book at the end of the bar was always packed full of suggestions from customers, and I always had a warm glow from writing up on the chalkboard “Bob requested ‘such and such’ a beer and it’s conditioning in the cellar”. ‘Bob’ would always bring his mates in to drink his beer, and the beer would sell out within hours. I noticed other things about the cask ale drinkers; there was rarely any trouble in the pub, there was a community feel and it all centred around cask. Strangers talked to each other about beer and so created a good vibe. And it wasn’t all the beards and sandals brigade – it was 18 to 80, male female split, people just wanting to enjoy a convivial drink with each other.

So I wanted to learn more. After 12 years of serving perfect pints (I hope) I wanted to spread the word about how great this traditional British drink is. Cask Marque, the custodians of beer quality came calling. The company was only a few years old, but they had already made a lot of noise about getting beer quality right first time. I loved the philosophy of the company - you can have the greatest beer in the world, but if something damages the quality of it, such as handling in the cellar, or the way it’s poured, or even the glassware, the product is damaged irreparably. We have so many fantastic beer brands out there and at Cask Marque we make it our mission to ensure you get served a perfect beer every time. The way I would have served it in my own pub.

So back to the original question – how did I become a beer inspector? I had a wealth of tutors with over 40 beer inspectors at Cask Marque, all of whom had been brewers or quality technicians for years. I got my head down and studied, I learned what customers did and didn’t like, I tasted lots of beers and I spent a lot of time in beer cellars and breweries. I had my taste buds tested to ensure I could spot good flavours from bad (all Cask Marque inspectors go through this annually). I listened to the brewers, the distributors and the drinkers and realised that whilst everyone has their own agenda, a perfect pint at the end of the day is all they’re after.

I could have pursued the advice my careers teacher gave me, but I’m pretty certain making ceramic pottery would not have given me half the pleasure I get today from being in the beer industry.