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Posted by on in Cask Marque Blog

By Annabel Smith, Cask Marque Training Manager.

I’m always a little wary of being asked the question “which is your favourite pub?” as it leads to lots of complications. If I name one particular pub, I risk offending a hundred others who inevitably demand to know why I haven’t named them.

It’s a bit like asking me what my favourite beer is; I can’t name just one, because my favourite beer depends on what kind of day I’ve had, what the weather’s like, who I’m with and even what mood I’m in.

I started thinking about why I love pubs when I looked at a website called www.itsbetterdownthepub.com. It’s worth having a look at the film on this website. So I compiled a bit of a mental checklist on how I pick a favourite pub; it’s a combination of things and not always about what beer they serve.

It’s got to adapt to the climate (I hate seeing unlit fires in the middle of winter or windows locked shut on a bright sunny day).

I want any music playing to be appropriate to the environment and customers. We visited a ‘family’ pub in Poole once with my other half’s children when they were younger. The rap music playing at full blast through the bar gave rise to the youngest asking me ‘what’s a hoe?’

It’s got to be clean – clean tables, clean loos, clean glasses. If you’re a beer drinker you know that sinking feeling when you walk into a pub for the first time and all you can smell is vinegar, or fish, or chemicals. 80% of what we taste is experienced through our nose, so being assailed with any of these aromas does physiologically affect what you taste in your beer.

I like the staff to look as though they want to be there, and say ‘hello’, rather than the incarcerated ‘can’t be bothered with you’ look I come across occasionally. It’s good to see a familiar face behind the bar, one who recognises you from your last visit. A little bit of good service sticks in your mind – being served in turn, the beer being topped up without having to request it, even a recommendation if I’m not sure what beer to choose.

I want to feel as though I belong. I call this the ‘American Werewolf in London’ syndrome. Remember the scene where the two backpackers walk into the Slaughtered Lamb on the North Yorkshire moors? As they open the door, every customer in the pub stops talking and turns around to stare at them for a few excruciating, awkward moments. Oh yes, I’ve experienced that a few times.

And then of course there’s the beer. I’m not bothered if there’s one beer or ten beers on the bar, as long as there’s beer that’s been looked after properly. I remember going into a pub in Liverpool that advertised ’15 different cask ales!’ on a board outside the pub. On venturing in, there was one bloke miserably supping a half in a corner. I nervously picked a beer I recognised, and it was undrinkable. Pure vinegar. As was the next one. Too many beers and too few customers does not make a happy cask ale pub.

I’m not in any way preaching to pubs about how to run their business. I’m the first to admit it can be a hard slog and you can’t please all of the people all of the time – I did it for many years, and it’s a lifestyle, not a job.

But I’m happy to say we have a wealth of pubs in the UK who tick everything on my checklist.  They know who they are because I go back to these pubs time and time again. What’s on your checklist?

Posted by on in Cask Marque Blog

In an evening designed to span political divisions, Dea Latis, the industry’s beer and women forum,  this week hosted the first-ever beer tasting designed for women MPs at the House of Commons.

A lively crowd of over 50 women (and some brave men) were guests of Charlotte Leslie MP, Meg Hillier MP and Jenny Willot MP who sponsored the event. The group were tasted six beers from around the country with food selected to match each beer style, ably guided by Cask Marque's beer sommelier Annabel Smith.

In her introductory speech, Charlotte Leslie suggested that women had the power to re-shape UK drinking habits and that it would be driven by “food and family” – demonstrated earlier by the arrival of Jenny Willott with her two small children to the event.

In her address, Brigid Simmonds, the first female chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, reminded guests that 22% of people taking brewing qualifications were now women. Then Inge Plochaet, chief executive of AB InBev ,highlighted some research which showed only 12% of women in the UK drank beer and that this could be as high as other beer drinking nations such as the US and Belgium where rates are around 25%. She urged brewers to rethink their communication strategies to be more inclusive of female drinkers. Sara Barton, founder of Brewsters Brewery and current Guild of Beer Writers’ Brewer of the Year, ended speeches with her thoughts on how women brewers had brought innovation and diversity to UK brewing.

Speeches over and barring a short interruption while MPs dashed to vote, the room was filled with lots of chatter and appreciative noises for each of the beer and food combinations, which were:

Adnam’s Ghost Ship 4.5%
Southwold, Suffolk served with Mini Cones of Fish and Chips

Butcombe Adam Henson’s Rare Breed 4.2%
Wrington, Bristol served with Chicken Teriyaki bites with Coriander Yoghurt

Marstons Pedigree 4.5%
Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire served with Vegetable Samosas

Brains Bragging Rights 5%
Cardiff, South Wales served with Mini Welsh Rarebit with Green Peppercorns and Mustard

Jennings Snecklifter 5.1%
Cockermouth, Cumbria served with Baby Cumberland Sausage with Wholegrain Mustard Mayonnaise

Ilkley Holy Cow Cranberry Milk Stout 4.7%
Ilkley, West Yorkshire served with Mini Roast Beef in Yorkshire Pudding with Horseradish Cream

Dea Latis was founded in 2010 by a group of women working in the beer and pubs industries and now has c. 150 supporters including brewers, beer tasters, marketeers, licensees, writers and bloggers. The group meets several times a year to network, share ideas and enjoy good beer and food. For more info, visit www.dealatisuk.wordpress.com

Pictured are Charlotte Leslie MP (Bristol North West), Annabel Smith (Cask Marque) and Meg Hillier MP (Shoreditch)

Posted by on in Cask Marque Blog

For those of you lucky enough to have an iPhone or Android powered smartphone, a new version of our CaskFinder app was released today. So this seemed like a good time to tell you what has changed and how we have worked to address some of the valuable feedback we have received from our app users since the last release.

What's new?

- The most requested item for a new release was the facility to tell the difference between pubs which you have scanned on your ale trail, and those which you have not previously visited. These are now differentiated on the Pub Map by red logos if you have visited, blue if you are still due to visit.

- If you change phones you can now restore your ale trail scans to your new phone. Just reinstall the app on the new phone and go to ale trail. It will ask you to register but will give you the opportunity to enter your username and password. If you can remember your email address then you can reset your password if you have forgotten it. If you can't remember which email address you registered with then please contact us and we can find out for you.

- If you visit a pub or drink a beer you like you can now add them to a favourites list, so you can remember what they were in the morning!

- You can rate pubs when you visit them on the pub details page. Let us know about beer quality, the welcome you received and whether you had the option to 'try before you buy'. It's a chance to have your say!app-beers-2013

- Also on the pub details page, you can let us know if you had problems scanning a certificate during the ale trail. We will then add the certificate manually to your ale trail. It saves you time contacting us by email.

- Beer festivals are now displayed on a map as well as in list form. This should help you see what is happening near you. (Currently iPhone only).

- Lots more bottled beer codes have been added to the list so if you are in a supermarket you can scan a beer using the 'beer codes' button and view the tasting notes. There are now over 300 beers on this list.

Further update

There will be a second update coming out in the next month or so which will allow you to:

- Share on Twitter and Facebook when you have visited a pub, drunk a great beer or scanned a certificate - great for building a community with other like minded people

- Search for pubs with WiFi so you can go and enjoy a beer whilst playing on your laptop

How many people are using the app?

The app is used over 50,000 times each month and we now have well over 9,500 people registered for the ale trail.

I don't have an iPhone or Android phoneapp-festivals-2013

Some people have requested the app on Blackberrys and Windows phones. At the moment we do not have any plans to release the app on either of these formats. It is not because we don't want to, we would just rather make sure the iPhone/Android version is as good as it can be, rather than spending some of the money making a mediocre app on all different formats.

Pubs Not Displaying Certificates

One of the biggest frustrations for ale trail users (and us) is pubs not displaying their certificates. All pubs are sent certificates with a letter explaining why they should display it. Some however choose not to put them up even though they know it may frustrate some customers. If you let us know where you have experienced a problem using the link on the pub's page then we will send them another certificate. Our assessors also explain to the pubs about how the app works when they do their visits to check the beer quality. Please continue to ask the staff where their certificate is and hopefully this will push them to display it!

Using the Ratings Information

If you rate a pub we will use this information to speak to the pubs to let them know public opinion. We cannot act immediately on every rating, but will gather information over a period of time and then target the bottom percentage to see if we can help them improve.

Love the app? Then shout about it!

And finally, if you enjoy using our app please can you rate it for us on either iTunes or Android Play Store? If you have negative feedback we would rather you contacted us directly so we can address it - on these sites we are not able to respond to each comment.

We hope you have lots of fun with the app, please let us know what you think!

How do I download the app?

Visit either the iTunes App Store or the Android Play Store and search for "CaskFinder". Alternatively find it directly from https://www.cask-marque.co.uk/find-real-ale-pubs/mobile-phone-app

Posted by on in Cask Marque Blog

By Annabel Smith, Cask Marque Training Manager

There is a scene in the film ‘Educating Rita’ which I’ve always remembered. Rita is asked to write an essay about how best to stage a production of Ibsen’s ‘Peer Gynt’. Her essay consists of five words: “Do it on the radio”. Always makes me laugh.

Every year I get contacted by university students who are about to embark on their final year hospitality degree course.  They’ve usually tracked me down through the Cask Marque website and want an opinion from an industry organisation to add to their studies. Their thesis usually has uplifting titles like “The Demise of the British Pub” or “The Death of the Beer Industry in Britain”. Quite honestly, I wish one of them would ask me how well the industry is surviving, and some recommendations on what we could do to make pubs better, rather than analyse how horribly wrong it has all gone, as though it were a study of the Third Reich.

So I was reminded of Rita a few weeks ago when I was asked to respond to the following question: “Does the pub have a future in British society?”  I sat there, chewed my pen, gazed into space, ate a biscuit whilst I tried to think of a really well balanced intellectual response. However, I got so fed up I decided to go to the pub for a couple of beers to cheer myself up.

And it was then the lightbulb went on in my head. Of course the pub has a future, ESPECIALLY in British society, more so than any other nation on earth.
Yes, the pub industry has had a really tough time. Rising beer prices, the smoking ban, high rents and low wages. Everyone’s had a tough time, whatever business they’re in. But through this crippling, exhausting recession, there are pubs who have survived. There are breweries who have survived. And much of it has been because they have looked at our changing society and drinking culture, taken a step back and said “Actually, we need a rethink. We need to do things differently”.

Customers won’t put up with poor service, or bad food, or a dirty environment. Beer drinkers won’t put up with bland, tasteless, shoddy quality beer. So pubs have changed to give customers what they want, rather than what they think they want.

I probably won’t give these students what they want. They want me to supply a controversial quote, stating that all pubs in the future will be museums that we visit with our grandchildren. The grandchildren will gaze up at us, wide eyed in astonishment as we tell them how we used to gather together and drink beer in – wait for it – public! Do we want our pubs, and our breweries to be viewed as a dying industry by the future intellectuals of this country?

But I’m an optimist, a glass half full type of girl, and I’ve never, ever entertained the thought that the British pub – or British beer – won’t be here in the future. I haven’t responded to the student yet. But I’m so tempted to be a ‘Rita’ and send a five word response. I’ll let you decide your own response...

Posted by on in Cask Marque Blog

By Annabel Smith, Cask Marque Training Manager

smashDo you remember the ‘Smash’ adverts from the 1970’s? The ones where a group of Martians would watch in astonishment as humans prepared mashed potato the traditional way, using real potatos , and then roll around laughing in mirth? It always made me giggle (it still does), and the adverts were voted number one in ‘ITV’s Best Ever Ads’.

I’ve been reminded of this advert a few times over the last few months as I’ve been doing some training for call centre staff around the country. These staff sell a huge amount of beer to publicans and I was hired to get them to recognise the difference between cask beer and keg beers (like lagers and smoothflow beers). I had been asked to teach them how cask ale ‘worked’ and why it was different to other beer categories.

Now considering I had been given strict instructions that I could only spend 1 hour doing this training, I needed to get their attention fast, but more importantly make them understand that cask ale needed some careful looking after in a beer cellar after their company had delivered it. So armed with a few ‘dummy’ casks filled with water I thought the best thing to do was get them all practicing what to do with the product, from a cask being delivered into a pub cellar, getting it ready for sale and how to dispense it.

At the first session I did, after going through all the stages of conditioning cask ale and getting my trainees to practice, one of the group stared me in the eye and said “Seriously? They do all of this work just to get beer ready? Why do they bother?” And she started giggling. Which set the rest of the group off giggling, and it became infectious whilst we all pondered how ridiculous it was in this generation of convenience that we spend so much time looking after, and nurturing this product before it’s even handed across the bar to a customer.

The same thing happened at the next training session I did, and the next. In total I delivered twelve training sessions throughout the UK and without a doubt we recreated the Smash Martians in every session. If it’s this funny I could get a second job doing a stand up routine, I thought.

But it did bring it home to me – as I tried to explain to all my trainees – that there are thousands and thousands of publicans in the UK who are spending hours in their beer cellars tapping, venting, tilting, checking and chocking cask ale – because they know that the real thing is always better than the ‘easy’ product. They recognise there is a huge taste difference between real cask conditioned ale and pasteurised, mass produced beer, and that as long as customers demand real ale, this work will have to be done.

I always preferred ‘real’ mashed potato to instant granules. Some things never change...

Posted by on in Cask Marque Blog

Carl Griffin, CAMRA member and ale fanatic writes about his experience using the CaskFinder App's 'World's Biggest Ale Trail' feature.

Carl-GriffinOver the last 12 months I have been taking part in a new initiative introduced by Cask Marque termed the ‘World’s Biggest Ale Trail’.

The concept began in September 2011 to coincide with Cask Ale Week in order to encourage people to visit more pubs and try real ale. The scheme involves using a smart phone to scan QR codes on the bottom of the pub’s Cask Marque accreditation certificate. The name and a running total of the pubs visited are stored on your phone and prizes gained for reaching certain thresholds.

As we approach this year’s Cask Ale Week (28th September – 7th October) I have now visited 400 different pubs that have achieved Cask Marque accreditation. During this period of time I have been sent prizes such as a bottle opener magnet for surpassing 25 pubs, a Cask Marque Polo shirt for surpassing 50, and was given the honour of becoming Cask Marque’s first ambassador for surpassing 100 pubs. Becoming an ambassador entitles me to a free Brewery Tour, a day visiting pubs with a Cask Marque assessor and a free place on a cellar management training course worth over £100. So far 27 people have become Cask Marque Ambassadors with many more on the verge of achieving this landmark.

My tours of Cask Marque pubs have taken me to all corners of the UK and have involved some amazing weekend bar crawls in some very ale conscious cities such as Birmingham, Edinburgh, Nottingham, to name just a few. Along the way such gems ranging from traditional country pubs to ‘trendy’ town centre bars have been found serving a wondrous array of real ale in tremendous condition. My favourite find has been the Nook in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire. This tiny brewpub, home of the Nook Brewhouse, dating from 1754 is hidden away in a small square in the centre of the town made famous as the setting for the BBC comedy Last of the Summer Wine. Offering a great range of their beers, from Blond through to Oat Stout, this pub is worthy detour if you’re exploring this area of Yorkshire.

Many of my tours have involved my ale-loving wife, Sandra, who has enjoyed drinking ale since first trying our national drink after moving to the UK from lager-only Bosnia two years ago. The ale trail has also encouraged us to discover more of our wonderfully beautiful group of islands.

It is worth mentioning that we have many pubs within our district that have achieved Cask Marque accreditation including 11 in Aylesbury and 6 in High Wycombe, along with many of our small town or village pubs. I would encourage you, especially as Cask Ale Week is upon us, to visit these pubs that you may have not tried before and partake in the Cask Marque initiative. You will not be disappointed by the quality of the beer and may even find a rare gem of pub or even a new favourite ale along the way.

For a pub to achieve Cask Marque accreditation, they must pass two unannounced visits by qualified assessors whom are all qualified brewers. All beers on offer are tested for temperature, appearance, aroma and taste. If both visits reach the required standard Cask Marque accreditation is awarded. The award is renewable every 12 months subject to satisfactory annual inspections. Look out for the tell tale hand pump sign on the outside of the premises or signs attached to the bar’s hand pumps themselves.

If you are interested in discovering more about the scheme, or want to join the ale trail, visit http://www.cask-marque.co.uk/biggest-ale-trail/ale-trail

Posted by on in Cask Marque Blog

Cheshire based family brewers Frederic Robinsons are officially serving some of best Real Ale in Britain, according to the results of an independent quality assessment.

The Blossoms in Heaviley is the 35th Robinsons owned and operated pub to be awarded Cask Marque accreditation; which recognises quality of presentation and service for traditional, hand-pulled and cask conditioned beer.

robinson-35th-accredited-pubScrupulous assessors from Cask Marque carried out two unannounced inspections at each of the 35 sites to check all of the beers on sale for the quality of their appearance, temperature, aroma and taste.

Annabel Smith, National Account Manager for Cask Marque, said: “Robinsons should feel proud of this excellent achievement, which not only recognises the effort put into serving great beer but also acts as an independent guarantee of quality for their customers.”

“Achieving Cask Marque accreditation in one pub is a challenge in itself. But to repeat those high standards across a number of outlets without exception is simply outstanding.”

Cask beer in general is enjoying a resurgence. In 2010 it found its way into 2,500 new pubs and its share of the beer category grew from 14.6% to 15%, outperforming lager & keg ale by 6%. With huge growth in the number of 18-24s drinking cask ale, it is clear that young people are searching for a new drinking experience – different to that of the traditional cheapest pint of lager – and in doing so they are driving the evolution of cask ale.

In addition, during a recession, consumers tend to support local producers which can often be brewers. 46% in fact actively try to support local producers and businesses and use social media such as Facebook and Twitter to discuss such products with their friends. There are now more than 30 million Facebook users in the UK and a billion tweets every 5 days with 70% of tweeters recommending brands they use.

Paul Nunny, Director of Cask Marque Trust, explains how “Robinsons have in the last 18 months invested heavily in beer quality – both in the brewer and their pubs. Their technical support team audit their estate twice a year and those tenants achieving top marks are put forward for the Cask Marque Award at the brewery’s expense.”

Paul Nunny goes on to highlight the fact that “with over 110,000 beer drinkers using the Caskfinder App in the last 3 months to find Cask Marque pubs, successful Robinson tenants will gain a direct benefit.”

David Bremner, Marketing Director at Robinsons, said “There were a package of reasons why we chose to invest in Cask Marque accreditation. The award carries good recognition from within the trade and customers. It is a fair reflection on the licensee’s commitment and skill in keeping high quality cask ale. Finally, we knew that the feedback would be professional, accurate and useful in identifying weak areas which we could address.”

As attested to by Mark McConachie – a CAMRA representative and ale-house aficionado who recently completed a 300 pub-crawl of Robinsons estate – people enjoy tasting different beers in different places but one thing that remains constant is the quality of Robinsons Real Cask Ale.

David Bremner enthuses: “The cask ale customer will travel to a pub with recognised beer quality. There can never be enough emphasis on getting the quality excellent and consistent.”

Cask Marque has awarded quality standards to 8,000 pubs across the country. To find your nearest outlet, visit www.cask-marque.co.uk or download the free app Caskfinder to your smartphone.

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There are a number of benefits for licensees and pubs in being members of Cask Marque. Amongst many others these include: