Annabel Smith, Cask Marque Training Manager & Beer Sommelier talks about her appearance on 'This Morning' to talk about matching stouts and food for St Patrick's Day.
Live Beer Tasting on ITV’s This Morning
The day before…
The call came through on a Tuesday afternoon, just less than a week before the event. Could I go on ITV’s This Morning programme to talk about stout on St Patrick’s day?
Of course I can, I said confidently to the researcher. I was told to keep a lid on it until the feature was definitely confirmed, but to get myself organised with some different stouts, and be prepared to be in London for 8am the following Monday.
Putting my thinking cap on, and knowing the beers were going to be sampled by females (Holly Willoughby and Christine Bleakley) I wanted to choose four unusual yet accessible stouts. So the first of numerous frantic phones call to the brewers.
I chose Wadworth Beer Kitchen Espresso Stout first. This was a beer I had first tasted when down in Devizes and I drank it with a sticky toffee pudding, and thought it was sublime. A real showstopper of a beer, perfect with puddings, and I paired it with Tiramisu.
Secondly, Marston’s offered up their Oyster Stout, a gorgeous silky smooth beer which blows Guinness out of the water any day. Their head brewer offered me a selection of food matches, the first of course being oysters. Now call me a wuss, but if there is one food I can’t stomach, it’s oysters. I’ve tried, and tried again, but the words of AA Gill the food critic always return to haunt me as I tip my head back to swallow the slimy molluscs: “Like sea flavoured snot”. Therefore the choices of goat’s cheese or Christmas pudding seemed infinitely more appealing. We settled on a rich fruit cake.
What do all women love? Chocolate. So I had to ask Wells and Young’s for some of their Double Chocolate Stout, made with real dark chocolate and chocolate essence. I wanted something to contrast with this luxurious decadent beer so chose fresh strawberries to highlight the sweetness of the beer. Strangely, the courier who was meant to deliver the beer to me two days before the show informed me that there had been a ‘terrible accident in the back of the transit van and all the bottles had been smashed’. There was no sign of the aforementioned smashed bottles, case or wrapping, so take your own conclusions from what happened to the beer, all I’ll say is it illustrates how much people want this beer. I sent the other half off down to Tesco to buy up their stock.
Finally, I wanted a really powerful strong Imperial Stout – as far removed from Guinness as you could get. Who else to turn to but a brewer in my home county, Black Sheep. They produced an 8.5% Russian Imperial Stout which in my opinion is so special is should be served in goblets, and blessed before you take a mouthful. To match flavour with flavour I picked a strong dark chocolate to go with this.
With my beers all packed up in a suitcase, and the feature given the green light, I started on myself. What to wear on St Patrick’s day? A green dress of course! So I hit the shops with 24 hours to go and returned with a bright green dress with daisies on. My other half took one look at it, wrinkled his nose, and said I looked like a cleaner come dinner lady. It went back in the bag, and I packed my trusty blue frock and a pair of heels I have worn only once before, as they take me to over six foot two. Hell, it’s TV, I’ve got to ramp up the glamour.
Then I had a massive crisis of confidence, thinking the trusty dress might make me look dowdy, so I packed 5 other dresses, just in case. And three pairs of shoes. Oo, and 4 pairs of tights in case of severe ladderage. The suitcase was now straining at the seams.
12 hours to go: style hair with care (not the usual mega nuclear blast with the hairdryer); paint nails and try to remember not to rake wet nails through newly styled hair; check and re-check train ticket and alarm clock.
The day arrives…
At 5.30am I’m on the train whizzing to London. Funnily enough, the bit I was most excited about was the fact the studio had arranged to send a car to pick me up from Kings Cross. Good job really as trying to get a suitcase full of bottles plus half my wardrobe on the tube at 8am on a Monday morning was a task I didn’t relish. Ah, a chauffeur driven car, I day dreamed on the train. A stretch limo maybe, with a uniformed driver, whisking me importantly through the streets of London.
“Smith?” bellowed a chap in a polo shirt standing next to a Prius as I emerged from Kings Cross station. Between us we wrestled the suitcase into the boot (a roof rack might have been more appropriate) and we hurtled towards the City. Well, ‘crawled’ is a better description in the Monday morning traffic.
Then we turned down an alley way. And another. Through a building site. And there, through a tiny entrance I saw a small sign saying “This Morning”. It looked like the entrance to a particularly dodgy underground car park. The driver left me in the hands of security who pointed me towards the back of a warehouse. I walked through corridors of props towards a sinister looking lift. It’s a set up, I thought. This is my punishment for once commenting I thought the world’s biggest selling lager tasted like Alka Seltzer.
The lift popped open and I was thrown into the world of high energy, buzzing television. Well, no not really. It was another corridor, and a lovely young man called Ollie greeted me and told me to get changed straight away. In a cupboard. I struggled into the blue dress, handed the suitcase full of beers over to Ollie, and was escorted into make up. The other two chairs in the room were occupied by two of the most staggeringly beautiful women I have ever seen (shiny blonde hair, skin positively glowing from a diet of lettuce and mangoes, you know the score). Throw a towel over my head now and be done with it, I thought. These girls must be models, presenters, real stars. No, there were there for a feature on facials. We all had an animated discussion about botox, and I nodded and laughed and took part even though it was clear from the lines on my forehead that a botox needle had never been near my face.
Next the rehearsals. In front of the cameras in the studio, a couple of researchers ran through my segment with me, then asked if we could do some shots to use as trailers throughout the programme. I had to stand behind the ‘counter’ and pour a bottle of stout into a glass whilst smiling into the camera. All good to go until the camera man said “Can you bend your knees love, you’re a bit too big to get you all in shot”. The humiliation.
And off to the Green Room. Two hours to wait until my slot so I got chatting to the people who came and went. Martyn Lewis – money saving expert! I’ve no money anyway so he wasn’t that much of an expert to me. Stephen Mulholland – Catchphrase host! (Didn’t speak to anyone so I felt like making up sign language to communicate with him). Kian Egan – winner of I’m a Celebrity and all round boyband member (sigh, so lovely. But very small compared to me in my heels). Oh, and Neil Morrisey passed in the corridor. “Oi, Morrisey”, I felt like yelling after him, “I failed your pub’s Cask Marque assessment five years ago, remember me?” Maybe not such a good idea.
The call came to go on air. At which point – and this is really really odd for me – I started to get the shakes. What if I knocked all the glasses over? What if words wouldn’t come out of my mouth? What if I fell over – or worse, knocked the pregnant Holly Willoughby to the ground?
Camera roll: funny how when you do a feature on beer, the whole studio turns out. Kian, Holly and Christine crowded round the beers, started talking about Guinness and I stared very hard into the middle distance whilst I tried to control the wobbly legs which were threatening to topple me.
So on with the beer tasting – and it went so fast! I managed to get the name of the brewer, the beer and where it was produced into each segment and then it was on to the next, then the next and before I knew it, Holly had a big plate of Chocolate Stout Cake in her hand and was asking me how to make it. Erm, not sure, never made a cake in my life but I waffled about how the addition of stout created a lovely chocolate-y flavour (if in doubt, blag it). I also had to talk through Macaroni Cheese made with Guinness which undoubtedly is the worst beer and food combination they could possibly have come up with, but brave Holly sampled it. I think the look on her face said it all, and we quickly moved onto the Stout Ice Cream, which was a hit.
Cue the music for a break. Holly kissed me. Christine kissed me. Kian kissed me (well, I forced one on him actually) and Ollie the researcher bundled me back into the cupboard to get changed back into my normal Annabel clothes.
Feeling slightly deflated I headed back to Kings Cross for the train back North. I bought a sandwich in Marks and Spencers and caught a chap looking at me. I smiled my best ‘personality’ smile thinking he might have recognised me from the programme. But no, he was just a weirdo.
Back to normality and my lovely life with Cask Marque.
The day is over.
To watch Annabel on ITV http://www.itv.com/thismorning/food/stout-drink-masterclass
Annabel Smith March 2014
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.
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)
By Annabel Smith, Cask Marque Training Manager and Beer Sommelier
One of the questions I’m asked most about my job at Cask Marque (other than “can I have your job?”) is how our beer inspectors are tested to make sure they know their stuff and have the credentials to pass judgement on whether a beer is perfect or not. Obviously, some technology comes into it, the temperature of beer is not something that can be disputed with a thermometer in hand. Nor is the beer inspectors’ experience (all of them are, or have been brewers or beer quality technicians in their careers) called to question. But what about their sense of taste? How do we make sure their taste buds are fit for purpose and can detect off flavours and aromas? Well, at least once a year all of us are tested by the Brewing Research International team in Surrey. We take part in blind taste tests under the supervision of their sensory training manager, and have to be able to identify numerous faults in spiked samples of beer. Often the beer is served in black glasses under ultra violet light so our senses are not skewed by the colour of the beer.
Which led me to conduct a little research project with the help of some students from Leeds Metropolitan University. We wanted to find out if the colour of some beers is a barrier to people buying them. Many people (especially younger or female drinkers) actively shy away from black or dark beers because they perceive the drink to be ‘heavy’ or too challenging.
So on a rainy afternoon in the middle of the Students Union we recruited a group of students to do a blind taste test using three beers (okay, the promise of free beer was a big draw factor). We chose a very pale ale, an amber beer and a dark beer. All the beers were the same strength, all served at exactly the same temperature, and all were served in the same type of glass. Blindfolding the students (this caused much hilarity when the only blindfold we could find was leopard skin, not mine I hasten to add), we tested 10 men, and 10 women. Each sample of beer was put in the tester’s hand and they were asked to rate each beer out of 10 on taste, and then they were asked to choose their favourite beer. After recording the score, we mixed up the order the beers were served in, took the blindfold off and showed them the samples of beer. We then asked them which of the beers they would choose in a pub based on colour alone.
In the female group, 90% - yes, 9 out of the 10 girls picked the dark beer as their favourite in the blindfold test. It was smoother, sweeter, more ‘drinkable’ according to them. With the blindfold off, only 1 of the girls said she would pick the dark beer in a pub. The rest said they wouldn’t dream of ordering the darker beer because – yes, you’ve guessed it, it looked heavy and bitter and thick. The boys had an even spread of likeability across the three beers when blindfolded, but almost all of them picked the blonde beer as the one they would most likely choose on appearance alone, as it “looked more like lager”.
It wasn’t a hugely scientific approach admittedly, and we may have had a different result if we tested 200 students instead of 20. But it did make us realise that we have huge preconceptions about flavour and taste of beer when we see its colour – and that sometimes these preconceptions are misguided, even downright wrong.
My message this month is to the drinkers who always reject dark beers. Don’t be put off by the colour, judge the beer on its taste and you just might find you’re surprised.
THE GREAT BIG TASTE CHALLENGE
Calling pubs up and down the country to start planning for Cask Ale Week! The Week runs from 27t September to 6th October – and is a chance to get people celebrating Britain’s national drink at your pub.
The theme, the Great Big Taste Challenge gives plenty of scope to highlight your cask offer, run promotions and put on events. Get your chef to recommend cask ales to match each dish on the menu; involve your local CAMRA branch in an event; get loyal cask ale drinkers to ‘introduce a friend’ through promotions or sampling activity; give prizes for the best descriptions of the taste of each cask ale you sell.
“It doesn’t matter what you do,” says Annabel Smith of Cask Marque, “so long as it stimulates interest in cask ale – and drives some sales".
The celebration kicks off on Thursday 26th with ‘ale tasting master classes’ in pubs and breweries up and down the country. If you would like to be involved in this, or in a tutored tasting event during the Week, why not invite a brewer or a beer expert to your pub to host an event? Check out details on www.caskaleweek.co.uk/tastingexperts and snap up an expert now so you don’t miss out!
Annabel Smith, one of the country’s first three women to qualify as a Beer Academy Sommelier, will be hosting a Ladies’ Cask Ale and Chocolate tasting event at The Coach and Four in Wilmslow. It’s in conjunction with Hydes brewery.
She says: “The event is part of the nationwide launch of Cask Ale Week on 26th September. It’ll be educational and informative, but also huge fun and a treat for the taste buds! Every licensee who’s interested in cask ale should be able to think of something for The Great Big Taste Challenge – and there are lots of brewers and Beer Experts out there to help them in putting on an exciting activity."
“Cask ale is a live, natural product, simply bursting with flavours. Yet, nearly 50% of adults have never tried it. The whole point of Cask Ale Week and the Great Big Taste Challenge is to change that. So I’d say to pubs and breweries ‘get involved; use the platform to create some fun activity; create a real buzz around Britain’s national drink - and get more people drinking it!
“Whether it’s tutored tastings, a beer festival, beer and food menus, a promotion or competition, make the most of the Week to get your tills ringing and cask ale sales soaring!”
For more information contact:
Frances Brace, Red Flame Communications 07432 692309 or
Heather Ryland, Red Flame Communications 07527 375847
Facebook: National Cask Ale Week
By Annabel Smith, Cask Marque training manager and Beer Sommelier.
Earlier on this year, I went to Bruges for the weekend with my lovely other half. I had heard many other beery people talk about how fantastic Bruges is, and we both felt it was a gap in our beer education. So under the guise of widening our knowledge we planned a trip to do some sightseeing, walking, but most of all to experience the beer. I’m a massive fan of Belgian beer and looked forward to sampling some unusual, quirky and inevitably strong beers. It was as beautiful a city as I’d anticipated (especially as it was snowing) and we visited a LOT of bars. Every beer was served in its correct glass, every bar had a beer menu rather than a wine list, and every beer we ordered was brought to our table. Service was exceptional and on more than one occasion we were recommended a beer by the staff. It was Beer Paradise. With my ‘work head’ on, I commented that we had a lot to learn in Britain about the way beer is served. But over the three days we were there, we never once sat at a bar, we didn’t engage with other customers, and we didn’t discuss the weather with the bar person. We were served our beers at the table, and chatted to each other, and played cards, and Yahtzee and hangman (yes, really). It was a totally different experience to going to a British pub. The beer was amazing, don’t get me wrong – but something was missing.
And it reminded me of some friends who have recently emigrated to a suburb on the outskirts of Auckland in New Zealand. They love their new life, but they’re a sociable couple who love their beer, and one of the things they miss is not being able to drop down to the local pub. There is no pub culture in New Zealand, no popping out for a couple of pints after work because the distances to travel are too huge. Socialising for them has now taken on the form of going round to friends (early evening) for a barbie, with a few bottles of ‘beer’ thrown in. No sitting at the bar, bumping into people you haven’t seen for a while. No getting to know new people through a shared love of a particular beer, or a common interest, or a mutual friend. No standing at the bar inspecting the range of pumpclips and trying to decide what you’re going to start with.
Going to Bruges was a great beer experience. My friends in New Zealand have embarked on an amazing new life. But I would desperately miss my local pub if it wasn’t there. I take pubs for granted, I take the huge range and variety of ‘real’ beer for granted. So on the journey home from Bruges (feeling a bit ‘beered’ out), when my other half said “Fancy a pint when we get home?” I jumped at the offer. We went down the pub, propped up the bar and got as much pleasure from telling everyone about Bruges and socialising as we did going on the trip itself.
The reason I’m telling you this ‘Tale of Two Cities’? Well, you never really appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone. We have the best pub culture in the world. Pubs may sometimes get it wrong with service, or quality, or environment, but we’re very, very lucky to have such a unique culture. And the rest of the world might want to look on and take note.
A group of women in Leeds yesterday joined the growing number of female beer drinkers when the Leeds Brewery Tap hosted a pre-Easter beer and chocolate tasting.
The tasting was organised by Dea Latis - named after the Celtic goddess of beer - a nationwide group aiming to encourage more women to enjoy beer. They have staged beer and chocolate tastings in London and Brighton before, but last night’s event was the first to be held north of the capital.
Guests tasted six different beers, each with a different chocolate designed to bring out the taste in each. Expert guidance was provided by Annabel Smith, Dea Latis founder and one of the country’s few beer sommeliers.
Smith said, “Beer and chocolate are perfect partners. They are both a balance of sweetness and bitterness, so when consumed together, the tastes and textures complement each other.
“Our guests at yesterday’s tasting included experienced beer lovers, occasional beer drinkers and complete novices, but everyone learned something new and, more importantly, had a great evening tasting beer with chocolate. “
The matches sampled by guests were:
- Leeds Brewery’s Yorkshire Gold, 4% abv and Ye Old Sun Inn Venezuelan Chocolate
- Ossett Brewery’s Treacle Stout, 5% abv with Bon Bon’s Dark Chocolate Caramels
- Brains Boilermaker IPA, 6.5% abv with Dar Chocolate and Lemon Parfait
- Jacobsen Velvet Ale, 5.9% abv with Champagne Truffles
- Ilkley Brewery’s ‘The Mayan’ Chocolate Chipotle Stout, 5.3% abv with Turkish Delight
- Molson Coors’ Blue Moon, 5.4% abv with Terry’s Chocolate Orange
A vote was taken by the group at the end of the evening to choose their favourite beer and chocolate match, and this was won by Ilkley Brewery’s ‘The Mayan’ matched with Turkish Delight. In a double coup, ‘The Mayan’ was brewed by Harriet Marks, the only beer of the evening to be brewed by a female.
Smith concluded, “This was one of our most successful events and it’s great to move Dea Latis north of London and start involving women in other parts of the country. We chose Leeds because it has such a wonderful, thriving brewing scene and the Brewery Tap was the perfect venue for us.”
For news of upcoming Dea Latis events during 2013, visit www.dealatis.org
In a recent NOP Survey, 57% of cask ale drinkers recognised the Cask Marque plaque and 62% related the sign to beer quality.
Interestingly, awareness is higher; 67% in the 21 to 44yr old category, which must in some part be due to the CaskFinder app, which is used over 60,000 times per month to find Cask Marque Pubs. The app also offers the opportunity to join the World’s biggest Ale Trail and so far, the Cask Marque certificate in Pubs has been scanned over 30,000 times to record visits.
The region with the most awareness of Cask Marque is the West Midlands; 75%, followed by the South West; 68% and Yorkshire and Humberside; 65%. The lowest awareness was in Scotland; 40%. This awareness has a significant effect on footfall in Pubs, as indicated in the Licensee Survey undertaken in 2012, which showed that:
Paul Nunny was delighted with the results “It is particularly pleasing that our licensees through the survey have stated that the accreditation increases cask ale sales. We are all in a commercial world and today quality is a key component of retailing success.”
Miles Selby, head of purchasing at Stonegate Pub Company said “As the popularity of cask ale continues to grow within our estate it is important to have a badge of quality that consumers can recognise and trust. Over 85% of the Stonegate cask ale houses have Cask Marque accreditation and the performance of cask can be partly attributed to the award. When an assessor visits from Cask Marque, as well as checking beer quality, they also undertake a cellar audit, ensuring that all elements in the serving and dispensing of cask ale are checked and verified”
By Annabel Smith, Beer Sommelier and Cask Marque Training Manager.
Not long ago I hosted a Beer and Cheese event at a pub in London. The British Cheese Board supplied the cheeses and I was given a list of the beers the pub stocked (both bottled and cask) so I could match them up with the cheeses. Most of the beers were quite mainstream, so after deciding which of the beers went best with each cheese, I hit the internet to see what quirky or funny facts I could find out about the beers so I could include these in my talk.
One of the beers was Affligem, a Belgian Abbey Ale, and a real favourite of mine. On further research I found out that Affligem is owned by Heineken. Affligem is one of the worlds greatest beers (in my opinion), I love the stuff, and I don’t really care who owns the brand as long as they don’t change it. But some of the comments on the beer blogs shocked me. So many beer ‘elitists’ said they wouldn’t touch the stuff as it was owned by Heineken. Has the beer changed? No. Have Heineken knocked down the Abbey where the beer is brewed? No. Have all the monks been kicked out on the street? No. But because its Heineken, some beer drinkers have now vilified the brand and said they will never touch a drop of it again. Can these drinkers not see that a major benefit of one of the largest brewers in the world buying this brewery meant the brand went global – and survived. Heineken ensured people all over the world would continue to discover the delights of Affligem. Heineken also protected the provenance of this brand by signing a guarantee that it would continue to only be brewed in Belgium.
Now, I’m not on a Heineken back hander here, but it did disappoint me that because of the name on the bottle, some drinkers have chosen to boycott this brand.
I use this as an example of some things I’m observing in the cask ale world. Cask ale has enjoyed unprecedented growth in pubs over the past five years – the only drinks category which has displayed such growth. But this has also created a group of beer ‘snobs’ , drinkers who look at the pump clips of well known brands and dismiss them outright – because of who they are brewed by. There is an automatic assumption by this small group that anything from a well known nationally distributed brewery is bland and inferior, yet the local micro brewer produces a far superior product. It’s irrational, it’s misguided – and it’s also a dangerous opinion which may damage the cask ale industry in the long run.
Of course there are mainstream cask ale brands – these breweries provide the cask equipment, the hand pulls on the bar, the drip mats on the tables and training in many pubs. Without these large regional brewers, the public may not have embraced cask ale so fondly over the past few years, and pubs would not have been able to start stocking cask. But there is demand for the big cask ale brands as well as the lesser known micro ales. Listen to your own taste buds and form your own opinion rather than reject a product based on who owns it.
By Annabel Smith, Cask Marque Training Manager
Do 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...
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.
Scrupulous 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.