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Alastair Macnaught

Alastair Macnaught

I am the Operations Manager at Cask Marque and I've been here since 1999, just after Cask Marque's inception. Amongst other things, I liaise with our corporate members, look after our 45 beer assessors, run the office, I'm IT manager, telecomms manager, paper clip purchasing manager and now chief blogging manager.

Posted by on in Cask Marque Blog

August is the month when the biggest Beer Festival in Britain hits London. The Great British Beer Festival – or GBBF - attracts around 55,000 drinkers over a 5 day period, offering up to 700 different cask ales, and a plethora of ‘foreign’ bottled and keg beers. Every year there is a theme, (always good to have a theme at a Beer Festival). 2014’s theme was ‘The Circus’. Not quite sure why, other than the visuals were quite spectacular, and it gave an excuse to name each of the bars after a circus act – trapeze, circus ring, acrobats. It was all a bit random, but in a good way.

GBBF is one of my favourite beer events of the year. Not just because of the huge variety of beers available but because of the people who attend. If you want to attend an event which covers every type of demographic – young, old, male, female, black, white, slightly bonkers to the totally deranged, you’ve got to come here. We already know that Beer Festivals are a great way of introducing non beer drinkers to cask ale in a sociable and non-judgemental way, and this is the biggest of them all.

It’s a bit beyond bonkerdom to be honest. The Festival is held in a huge hall at Olympia in which sound and speech bounce around, a bit like in a giant swimming pool. Everyone who works behind the bars at the Festival is a volunteer. They don’t get paid and they work 12 hour shifts – minimum. They come from all over the country, and they all do it ‘for fun’. Yes, you read that right, they give up 5 days of their hard earned annual leave to stand behind a bar in a venue resembling an aircraft hangar and serve beer to over 55,000 visitors. And they clearly love being a part of this ‘real ale revolution’ and being involved in one of the biggest events in the beer calendar.

A trade day kicks off the Festival and brewers from across the land network feverishly. It’s business as usual for the first couple of hours, then all those people who you’ve met formally across a desk in a meeting room become your best friends. You bond over your love of beer and notes are compared, beers recommended, rounds bought in. It’s a suspension from reality and the commercial cut and thrust of everyday life. It’s a light bulb moment for every licensee, brewer, pub company area manager and PR guru: could we work in any other industry which throws us together in such a supremely social environment as the GBBF? I can’t imagine, for example, the toilet roll industry, or the pet food conglomerates having such fun at any of their annual conferences.

Which brings me to the beers. Don’t try and make sense of the way the beers are laid out. It’s futile and it wastes valuable time. Similarly, just as the programme is professionally and well laid out with tasting notes for every beer, just stick it in your back pocket and only bring it out when you’re feeling a bit ‘Billy No Mates’ because all your friends are trying to find the loos/playing bar games/in search of food.

Here are some Annabel rules to GBBF and Beer Festivals in general:

  •   Do not feel totally intimidated by the huge variety of beers and the size of the venue. Don’t head straight to the nearest bar, order the strongest beer going (or the one with the most appealing pump clip). You’ll miss out on the fun of exploring the festival, and being in the ‘biggest pub in the world’
  •   Don’t get stuck talking to random bloke who wants to discuss the intricacies of single hopped beers. There is a reason he is on his own. And there is no escape.
  • Don’t get sidelined into sticking to one particular beer “because it’s so awesome”. You’ll miss out on 699 equally awesome beers
  • Don’t hit the Belgian/Abbey/Trappist beer bar until later on. These beers may be fabulous beyond belief but waking up under a table as the cleaners sweep up debris around you is not a good place to be. As is finding yourself at Heathrow airport Terminal 5 when you really needed to be at Kings Cross


  • Take your time to wander round when you arrive and check out all the beers you would like to try. It’s not a trolley dash - the beer will still be there when you come back. If you’re lucky.
  • Ask other beer drinkers and the bar staff what they recommend. Beer drinkers are a sociable lot and they’ll tell you what they think you should try
  • Be adventurous. This is your opportunity to try something different to your usual tipple, and with third of a pint measures available it really, REALLY doesn’t matter if you get a beer you don’t like. You haven’t bust your overdraft and purchased a duff car. It’s a beer. Just ask the bar staff to get rid of the remnants in your glass, start again and put it down to experience
  • Embrace the atmosphere. Not everyone will be your cup of tea but you could say that about the regulars in your local pub on a Friday night. Everyone at beer festivals has a shared love of beer and they’re there for a good time. So make some beer-friends!
  • Visit the cider bar. Beer Festivals are very diverse (it’s not ‘all beer’) and cider is usually the category that sells out the quickest. Probably because you’ve dragged along non beer drinking mates and they’ll be totally stunned by the range of amazing real ciders on offer. Proceed with caution.

You might be thinking “why does this blog matter? GBBF is a once a year event”. Well, everything that GBBF does well can be replicated on a smaller scale in any pub, club or even carnival and fete. Get your offering right; a good selection of different beers, some entertainment, great food and you’ve got yourself an event that beer and non beer drinkers alike will want to come to.

My highlight of GBBF this year was seeing the Skinners crew from Cornwall march into the Festival hall dressed as Stormtroopers from Star Wars. There was no rhyme or reason as to why they were all dressed up as Stormtroopers, especially as they were led by a transvestite bloke dressed up as a buxom barmaid. You suspect this was a plan hatched up in the pub on a Saturday night after a few beers. But it kind of all made sense in the context of a totally bonkers beer festival.

Tagged in: Beer festival

Posted by on in Cask Marque Blog

In this day and age of technology where you can control the temperature of your house from another country, play different music in different rooms of your house using your phone, run away from a bunch of zombies using a pair of google glasses, why is it that we still get warm beer in the pub?

Cask Marque conducted some research during the summer of 2013 which showed that pubs holding our award were selling good beer 82% of the time, whilst the ‘pub next door’ without the award was selling good beer only 51% of the time. Virtually all of these failures were at least in part due to warm beer. Admittedly it was warm weather over the period, but as a consumer you would be even more keen to get a cool refreshing pint when it was warm, than at any other time of year.

So why does beer get warm? There are several stages on the journey from the cask to the customer’s glass. Firstly the cask of beer will be sitting in a cellar where it will acclimatise over a few days to become the same temperature as the cellar. The cellar should be 11-13°C and cellar coolers are used to control this. If the ambient temperature rises then it follows that the cellar cooler will have to work harder to keep the temperature the same. If cellar doors are left open, or heat producing white goods such as freezers are kept in the cellar then the cellar cooler will often be stretched to breaking point. The cellar temperature then rises as does the beer.

topping-up-APC-with-waterAssuming the cellar temperature is correct then the beer leaves the cask through a beer line. This travels from the cellar all the way to the bar; in some pubs this can be very long distances easily in excess of 30m. The beer lines wind their way through the route of least resistance, sometimes going behind freezers or over kitchens, all the time being subjected to heat pick up.

Once the beer lines reach the bar they are connected to the beer engines where depending on the size, ¼, 1/3 or ½ a pint of beer can sit. Only then does the beer make it into the glass for the customer to enjoy. Clearly there are plenty of opportunities for beer to warm up during this journey, but as you can guess there are ways to minimise this.

Maintaining and cleaning the cellar cooler, as well as ensuring cellar doors are closed when possible and well fitted, makes certain that the cellar temperature is correct.

Insulating and cooling the beer lines ensures the beer maintains its temperature all the way to the beer engine. The beer engine, which is directly below the handpull should also be cooled and insulated and if all this is done then the beer should come out the same temperature as it started in the cellar.

So how do you cool and insulate a cask beer line? The best way is through the use of an Ale Python Controller (APC). An APC is a wall mounted device with its own water reservoir which circulates water around the outside of the beer lines. The ‘python’, so called as it looks like a big snake, is insulation with beer lines running inside it (see picture). There is also a flow and return line within the python which contains cold water to maintain the beer at 11-13°C. The exact temperature of the cold water is normally determined by a dial on the APC.

The beer engines can be covered by a beer jacket and can then be connected up to the APC system with cold water circulating around them too.

If all this is set up and maintained properly then there should be no chance of a warm pint ever again.

However, there are a couple of stumbling blocks:

Whilst cheaper than they used to be, APCs still cost a fair bit of money and if sales of cask ale are relatively low and not a main focus of the pub, then the potential benefits may not justify the initial investment. Pubs and technical service companies therefore try and find cheaper alternative cooling methods. These are not methods which are reliable or often even aimed at cask ale and the only way to guarantee consistent temperature is to get the correct equipment.

Whilst relatively simple to understand, many licensees have not had the training to understand simple maintenance tips, and indeed we have been to many pubs selling cask ale where the licensee does not even know they have an APC.

Recent research from Cask Marque has picked up that 39% of ale python controllers are not working properly, leading to warm beer and increased technical service call out charges for the pubs.

APC-stickerThere are a number of things which can go wrong with an APC but by far the most common are low water levels or poor circulation. Each week the licensee should check the water levels of the APC and if necessary top up from a jug. If the water levels run low (through evaporation or leaking) then what flows through the flow and return lines will be air and water, which won’t be as effective as just water. Poor circulation can be caused by blockages in the system which prevent cold water getting through quickly enough. It is also a common occurrence that beer engines whilst jacketed, are not connected up to the APC system and as such, at busy times beer sits in the beer engine rising in temperature. This is not so noticeable if the beer engine is ¼ pint, as once mixed with ¾ pint of cool beer the temperature will come down, but if the beer engine is larger or if the customer orders a half pint then it can easily produce a warm drink.

There are two things which Cask Marque are doing to try and help with these issues. Firstly, whenever we visit a pub (we make 20,000 pub visits a year) if there are any signs of APC problems then we will explain to the licensee what they are for, how they work and what they should do to prevent them breaking down. And secondly we have produced a big sticker which we are sticking on ale python controllers across the country to remind staff that each week they need to check their APC has sufficient water to deliver their beer at the perfect temperature, every time. Sometimes the simplest plans work the best...we await with quenchthirsting anticipation.

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By Annabel Smith, Cask Marque's National Account & Training Manager I’ll be the first to admit I’m a ‘fair weather’ football fan. By that, I mean I don’t know a lot about football, I can take it or leave it, but if a big match is on in the pub, I’ll usually get drawn in, and cheer with all the other drinkers when a goal is scored (albeit a milli second behind everyone else cos I don’t know who the drinkers are supporting. Nothing worse than punching the air in victory only to find every other person staring at you with hate in their eyes). With this summer’s World Cup looming, I thought I’d share with you a cautionary tale about cask ale and football. Back in 1998 I was running a pub in Leeds city centre. It was a big cask ale pub and attracted a really diverse crowd of drinkers – old and young, professionals and labourers, students and office workers. The main pull was the six different ales I always had on the bar. That year, the World Cup was held in France. Every pub in Leeds (and indeed the rest of the country) was pulling out all the stops to attract drinkers to their pubs for the big matches – reserved seating, promotional offers, table service, anything you could think of to pull the punters in. I sat down with my staff and we came up with, what we thought, was a unique idea. And we made a massive assumption. We assumed that cask ale drinkers weren’t really into football or the World Cup, so we’d be a ‘football free zone’ for the duration of the tournament. We would be an oasis of calm in a sea of frenzy. Our cask ale drinkers could enjoy their pint in peace. We put A boards on the pavement outside the pub proclaiming our mission. We distributed leaflets all over town. We told all our customers what we had decided to do. Hell, we even had ITN ask if they could come and interview me in the pub about this brilliant notion. Alarm bells should have started ringing when ITN stuck the feature at the end of the news that night, usually the spot where they say “And finally, here’s a crazy story for you all to have a chuckle at”. The World Cup started, and we smugly congratulated ourselves on being ‘different’ to every pub in town. Our smiles started becoming slightly more strained when we could hear the cheers and whistles coming up the street from every other bar, whilst we watched tumbleweed drift across the pub. It was an utter disaster; staff morale plummeted, takings in the till fell, and I had a cellar full of cask ale coming dangerously close to its sell by date. What we had failed to recognise was the sociability of the World Cup. Even if you’re not a football fanatic, the World Cup creates a unique opportunity for pubs. It draws people together, regardless of what team they usually support. It creates highs and lows, and a bond for everyone in that pub, regardless of what they drink. Cask ale drinkers are a sociable bunch, and they go to the pub not only for the beer, but also for the atmosphere and convivial nature they experience. We assumed (okay, I assumed) that cask ale drinkers would reject the World Cup experience in favour of a range of beers, not realising that they may feel they were missing out on something special. I assumed there were two separate entities: the cask ale drinker and the football fans. I was totally wrong, there is a natural synergy between the sociability of the two. Cask ale drinkers don’t all want to nurse their pint in a quiet corner whilst everyone else around them is having fun. So what did I do? I reneged on my initial decision, dragged the television down from my flat (keep up, this is before the days of multiple plasma screens) and created a hub of excitement in the tap room. Yes, I faced a barrage of derogatory comments from the rest of the licensees in Leeds who had benefited so brilliantly from the World Cup opportunity. But sometimes it’s best to hold your hand up and admit “I was wrong”. The moral of this story is, don’t ever stereotype cask ale drinkers into a box. They’re beer drinkers at the end of the day and beer – whatever type of beer - is the glue that holds our pubs together. To this day, I get people in the village where I live saying “Do you remember when you were on News at Ten talking about a football free zone during the World Cup?” and I cringe. My only consolation was that my Mum was very proud of me being on the national news.

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Article reproduced courtesy of'It comes in pints' http://icipints.wordpress.com/

ICIP is feeling a little bit intimidated.

Sitting on our table alone are a beer sommelier, an owner of a successful gastropub, an editor of an industry magazine and a brewer. And they are all women.

“A group of us got together to try to regain our voice in the beer world,” says our MC for the afternoon, Annabel Smith, co-founder of Dea Latis. “We recognised that there were a lot of women working in the beer industry who didn’t have a united voice. That’s why we set up Dea Latis.”

It is clear that much has changed in the five years since Dea Latis was founded. As Annabel rattles through the list of of achievements made by women in the industry, many of these trailblazers sitting in the room with us, ICIP feels a massive swell of pride and empowerment.

Women hold the current positions of Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, Beer Sommelier of the Year, Brewer of the Year, BII Licensee of the Year and Director of Supply Chain at one of the biggest breweries in the UK. And that’s not all.

“We have two women in the room who brewed a beer for International Women’s Day. We had the first female beer inspector at Cask Marque. Broadcaster Marverine Cole founded Beer Beauty, bringing beer to the media. Jane Peyton and Melissa Cole are published authors of beer books,” Annabel continues. “Nearly 25% of CAMRA membership are women now. Considering that’s a membership of 160,000 members – that’s a huge number of women interested in and engaging with beer. We know from the latest Cask Report which was launched last September that there are 1.3m female regular cask ale drinkers in the UK. And yet it’s less than 100 years since we got the vote. I think to have done what we’ve done in the last 5 years – we’ve come a long, long way.”

Our heads are spinning with this seemingly unstoppable march of progress. But Annabel knows what we really turned up for.

“I can see you starting to think ‘“when will we get to the beer?’”

_0003975With a membership of over 200, Dea Latis runs regular events up and down the country to encourage women to discover and enjoy beer, and their beer and food matching events seem to be the most popular: “we found that one of the best ways to reach out to women is to match beer and foods; it completely changes the characteristics of the beer. We’ve done beer and chocolate, beer and breakfast, beer and cheese… perhaps most controversially we’ve done beer on its own!” says Annabel. “Beer works with chocolate in a way that wine can’t,” agrees her fellow Dea Latis founder, Ros Shiel.

We’re about to find out if they’re right as we are poured glasses of our first beer, Blue Moon, and handed out segments of Terry’s Chocolate Orange.

Blue Moon is a Belgian-style witbier originally hailing from Colorado in the States and now part of the MillerCoors leviathan. It’s not a beer that ICIP would usually pick off the pumps, but we’re prepared to be swayed.


We get – predictably – orange notes on the nose, and the beer is sweet and incredibly mild for its 5.4% ABV. “The conception that all beer is bitter is blown out of the water with this beer,” Annabel notes. “While we obviously went for the pairing of the orange flavour in this and the chocolate, the light carbonation is also important. When you eat chocolate, it coats your tongue with a little layer of fat. The carbonation scrubs that away and cuts through it.”

We actually found that the beer mingled with the chocolate as we chewed and spread it all around our mouths even more, spreading the mellow orangey flavours. While it was tasty, we likened the match to the Chocolate Orange you got at Christmas and happily ate, but you probably wouldn’t have bought one yourself.


Beer number two is a different animal (sorry) – Tiger, brewed by Everards Brewery from Lancashire and clocking in at 4.2%. “It’s a bit darker than the Blue Moon and has a real burnished, gold colour to it. This is what I’d call a very ‘traditional’ beer, and it’s got a very good balance between bitterness and sweetness,” says Annabel. “Rather than overpower it, we’ve paired it with Green and Blacks Butterscotch Milk Chocolate.”

This offers something very different to our orange experience. The beer is rich and malty, and the toffee sweetness from this really compliments the butterscotch.

Annabel points out that the bitter cocoa pairs with the hops in beer, while the sugar in chocolate pairs with the sweetness of the malted barley. It might seem obvious, but we it hadn’t really struck us before. “There’s also a similar mouthfeel between the two, so they really complement each other,” she says.

DSC_0039This is especially apparent with our third match, which is a massive hit on our table. We are poured glasses of ink-black Thwaites’ Tavern Porter (4.7%), and asked to shout out what aromas we notice. A variety of replies from around the room include coffee, liquorice and cinder toffee.

“You notice when you taste it you get an almost drying feeling in your mouth,” says Annabel, and it certainly ends with a bitter, almost astringent hoppiness. “When we talked to the brewer she was adamant that she wanted to counteract that drying feeling with something very sweet.”

My god, was that feeling counteracted! We are passed around those old-fashioned chocolate cupcakes that you used to get as a kid before the Hummingbird Bakery-style boom – the flat-topped ones with a thick, hard layer of icing on top. ICIP is developing diabetes just looking at it.

“This should be a perfect example of the contrast between a dry bitter beer and an intensely sweet dessert,” says Annabel. “When we go out for a meal, especially to Italian restaurants, you get very sweet desserts, like tiramisu, and invariably you have coffee to go with it. The bitterness of an intense espresso balances out the sweetness of the sugary dessert. We’re trying to demonstrate the same principle here.”

The smokiness and richness of the porter mingled with the icing as it began to warm and melt in the mouth, bringing the sweetness down to an acceptable level. This match also benefited from the soft, crumbly texture of the cupcake, as some were struggling with the concept of matching a beverage to hard, brittle chunks of chocolate.


The next beer is a little bit special, and comes in a gorgeous wooden presentation box. “This is Shepherd Neame Generation Ale,” Annabel tells us. “Only 3,000 bottles of this beer were produced and it went through a 12-month aging process. It was brewed to commemorate five generations of Shepherd Neame as an independent family brewery, containing five classic malts and five hop varieties.” We can tell that what we’re swirling around our glass is a very special beer indeed. Coming at a 9%, the beer is brewed in the UK’s last remaining wooden mash tuns.

We get honey, dried fruit and nutty notes on the nose – and several people liken the aroma to Christmas cake. This carries through to the flavour, which has hints of molasses, cherries and other rich fruits. “It reminds me of my mum’s Christmas cake when she used to inject it with brandy,” agrees Annabel. “You get the warmth of the alcohol coming through.”

“The brewer wanted to match that dried fruit, so we’ve got Green and Black’s dark chocolate with Hazelnut & Currant.”

As we begin munching, the genius of this match soon becomes apparent. Despite the high ABV, the beer hasn’t too much of a lingering, alcoholic burn, and is quite soft in character. This gentle booziness mingles with the raisins, accentuating that Christmas cake or pudding association, but at the same time it really brings out the bitterness of the dark chocolate. We are in festive booze choccy heaven.

“Gosh, that’s made everyone go quiet!” Annabel laughs. Making the most of our momentary silence, she hits us with the bombshell that this amazing, limited edition, 9% beer in its beautiful presentation box, costs just £17.50. “I’m never going to be able to experience the most expensive bottle of wine in the world. I will never be able to afford a £20,000 bottle of wine. But I do know that in my lifetime I will be able to sample the best beers because it is so affordable,” Annabel says. ICIP already has their phone out and is trying to buy out the other 2,999 bottles.


Our penultimate match throws us a bit of a curveball. It’s another strong and special beer, this time brewed by ICIP’s pals up in Southwold, Adnams. Solebay was first brewed in 2009 to celebrate 350 years of the historic brewery, and was inspired by strong Belgian styles. It comes in with a 10% ABV, and pours hazy and golden.

We get orange and ginger on the nose, and also some estery notes like banana and pear drops. There is a distinct sweetness to this beer, thanks of the addition of Demerara and Muscovado sugars. They also add a few sprigs of lavender, so there’s a floral note.

“There’s a lot going on in this beer,” says Annabel. “It’s sweet, because there’s a lot of residual sugar, and it has some citrus notes, so this was the first brewer to say they wanted to pair it with a white chocolate.”

We’re not sure about this. While ICIP has an entire cupboard dedicated to chocolate (really), we are big on the dark stuff, and haven’t really touched its pale cousin since we ate white choccy buttons as toddlers.

We were wrong. We were so wrong.

We are handed around Montezuma’s Peeling Amorous, which marries white chocolate with lemon and sour cherry. The bitter and sour fruits easily balance the very sweet and creamy chocolate.

“White chocolate has a higher fat content than milk and dark chocolate,” says Annabel. “But there is such a high carbonation in this beer that it cuts through the fattiness.” As well as taking the edge of the sweetness, stopping it from being too sickly, the citrus notes in the beer match the lemon in the chocolate. It is mind-blowingly good, and a complete surprise.


Just when we thought our day couldn’t get any better, someone puts a bottle of Liefmans Kriek in front of us. Now we’re just being spoiled.

“If any beer could demonstrate how versatile beer can be, this is the one,” says Annabel. Some of the tasters in the room are about to get acquainted with their first lambic. “It is fermented using wild yeast which gives it a slightly sour flavour. They use whole cherries – the stalks, the stones, the skins and the flesh. So you might get a slightly marzipan flavour which comes from the cherry stones – sweetness balanced with the sourness.”

Chocolate and cherry can’t fail. We know that already. But Dea Latis has pulled the rug out from under our feet by passing around some Thornton’s dark chocolate… with chilli.

The addition of the chilli is certainly subtle. At first, several ladies on our table think they’ve been given the wrong chocolate. But it’s a few seconds after you’ve eaten it that you get a gentle heat at the back of your throat.

“If you think about it, a lot of people put dark chocolate in meat chillies to take the edge off the heat and add a richness of flavour,” says Annabel. “We already know this flavour combination of the cherry and chocolate never fails – like Black Forest gâteau on the tongue. Let’s mix it up a bit with the addition of the chillies.”

This is a beautiful match. It turns into cherry truffle in your mouth, with a gentle heat lingering on your tongue. The tingle of the chilli plays off the sour fizz of the lambic and brings your palate alive.

Once our hosts have finally prized the beer and chocolate from our vice-like grip, we take a vote on our favourite match. The Liefmans Kriek and dark chilli chocolate is the runaway winner, although apparently the Adnams Solebay and white chocolate surprise entry comes a close second.

Having spent a whole afternoon being plied with deliciousness in some pretty inspiring company, we’re feeling hugely positive about women’s ever-growing role in the beer world._0004003

“There is a way to convert women to drinking beer, and it is for other women to talk to them about it,” says Jane Peyton, beer sommelier and beer writer. “Let them know that it’s a drink for everyone, and give them a really flavoursome beer – not that pale, insipid, blank, watery thing that the industry seems to think women want. It’s the complete opposite. It’s about giving them permission to try it – I know that sounds patronising, but it’s true.”

“What we find is that although brewers are waking up to the fact that a lot of women are drinking beer, and are doing their own women-oriented marketing, as an overall generic campaign we act as an adjunct to that – we want to add to it, not replace it,” says Ros.

“Out of all alcoholic drinks beer is the most female, ironically, even though it is marketed at men,” adds Jane. “Women invented beer. Yeast is female. The female part of the hop plant is used in brewing. Historically women were the brewers. All the deities of beer are female… so it is actually a drink for everybody.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it!”

Thanks to Dea Latis for some of the photos used above.

Want more? Check out interviews with Annabel Smith and Jane Peyton, as well as our coverage of the most recent Dea Latis breakfast.


Posted by on in Cask Marque Blog


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

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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.

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You may have heard the term ‘craft beer’ bandied around a lot more recently, and as a cask ale drinker you may be thinking “What’s the difference between cask and craft?” So here’s a challenge for you: type ‘What is Craft Beer?’ into any search engine and you will encounter a wealth of definitions, debates, arguments and missions to pin point what craft beer actually is. Everyone in the beer world seems to have an opinion of what it is, and more importantly what it’s not. It’s a hot topic right now and it’s getting a lot of people talking.

I find myself cowering slightly and giving an apologetic little shrug when I’m asked a question about craft beer as I’ve seen so many writers and bloggers being sneered at and shouted down whenever they try and explain their own definition of craft.

Craft is a subjective term and people will disagree about whether some beers are ‘craft brewed’ or not, depending on who you talk to. Talk to any brewer, from the large regional breweries to the micros, and they will all say their product is lovingly ‘crafted’. Talk to any beer drinkers (I’ve done this extensively) and their definition will almost certainly differ: small volume, keg, American, strong, artisan, independent.

I’m a great fan of the beer writer Pete Brown (if you haven’t checked out his website, it’s a must for beer lovers www.petebrownblogspot.com ). He has recently written a piece about the arguments surrounding the definition of craft beer on his blog. He made a brilliant analogy which put the whole craft beer debate into perspective for me. So with all credit to Pete, here’s my take on what he said.

When people first started talking about ‘indie’ music back in the early nineties, there were lots of discussions, arguments and debates about how an ‘indie’ band was defined. And no one could agree what the criteria was. Small, independent, special, limited coverage? The same arguments we are now currently having about what craft beer is.

Take Oasis as an example, the epitomy of an ‘indie’ band. They started small, then they broke through, became massively popular, tabloid front page regulars and played to a third of a million people at Knebworth. Were they still an ‘indie’ band?

Try substituting the word ‘Oasis’ with the name of a beer brand that has started small (craft?) and then become one of the most successful beers in the country (still craft?). It could apply to almost every brewery in the world.

If you look at newspaper reports from a decade ago discussing the definition of ‘indie’ music, you can substitute the phrase ‘craft beer’ for ‘indie’ in almost all of them.

I’ve taken a growing interest in what craft beer is and realised a precise technical definition isn’t the most important thing at this point in time. What is important is that there is a definite interest amongst publicans and drinkers (especially younger, curious drinkers) about beers which are slightly different to the mainstream, and craft beer is driving renewed interest in all things beer.

In my opinion, craft beer can encompass cask beer from brewers large and small. But it also stretches to other beer styles reflecting the advances in technology that allow smaller brewers to create better quality keg and bottled beers than we have been accustomed to in the UK.

So, I’ve stuck my neck on the line and written a piece about the hotly debated definition of craft beer. Broadly speaking, it does cover a broad range of beer styles, and most importantly is helping spread coverage and appreciation of interesting, well made beer. Like interesting, well made music, would you agree?

Tagged in: craft beer oasis

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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?

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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)

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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.

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A Cambridgeshire man has become to first to visit 1,000 pubs as part of Cask Marque’s World’s Biggest Ale Trail.

The Ale Trail is one of the features of the Cask Marque phone app (CaskFinder), which pinpoints cask ale pubs across the country.  Users can ‘scan’ the Cask Marque certificate in pubs across the country where they will automatically be entered onto a leaderboard.
Jean-Paul Russek, who resides in Huntingdon and works for Punch Taverns as an area manager covering 40 pubs across the South East, was thrilled to have reached so far in the trail: “I scanned my first certificate in May 5th  2012 in Reading and I can’t believe how far I’ve come – and how many pubs I’ve visited – in just under a year.

“I started visiting pubs on the app, partly out of research for my role at Punch as well as a genuine love of cask ale. From then, it has escalated, taking me across the country to visit so many different types of pubs from Devon to as north as Edinburgh – I really have scoured the country!

 “At Punch, we encourage our pubs to serve cask ale and gain Cask Marque accreditation as we believe that cask ale represents what is really unique about the authentic, British pub experience. By using this app, it is a great way to get out, try some real ale and discover some exceptional pubs, full of character and quality ale.”

Paul Nunny, Director of Cask Marque presented Jean-Paul with a framed certificate at Punch Taverns-owned pub, the Boot at Histon on 30th April.

Paul Nunny said: “The Cask Finder app is a great tool for real-ale lovers, or those who want to try it for the first time, to search for cask-marque accredited pubs nationwide. The app lists 8348 pubs and as it is viewed in real-time so users can see their nearest pub.

“Since we began 15 months ago, 11,000 people have registered for the ‘Ale Trail’ and over 60,000 scans have been recorded.  The app has grown in popularity and the trail feature is extremely competitive amongst users, currently seeing over 2,000 scans per week.

“Around a quarter of Punch pubs are cask-marque accredited, with Kevin and Renata Bridges at the Boot, as prime examples of publicans who recognise the importance of the cask ale in pubs today.  

 “Jean-Paul has been a great supporter of the World’s Biggest Ale Trail and it is a great achievement to become the first person to reach 1,000 pubs. The app’s popularity has exceeded our expectations, and we look to see if anyone goes on to beat his score.”
A new version of the app now locates beer festivals by area and allows users to record their favourite beers and share it with friends on other social networking sites.  
Readers can join in and download the free Cask Marque iPhone or Android app by searching for ‘Cask Finder’ on your smart phone’s app store. Alternatively, visit www.cask-marque.co.uk/app

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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

Twitter: @caskaleweek
Facebook: National Cask Ale Week

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I've just been sent this wonderful image by the American Brewers' Association showing the unity of American craft brewing and wondered if anybody out there had produced a similar one for British brewing. Admittedly it would need to be pretty big to showcase over 1,000 UK brewers, but if anybody has a bit of spare time on their hands...!


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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.

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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. “

dealatis-beersThe 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

For information:          Annabel Smith: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 07920 058500

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

The 25th of January was a date that had been red-ringed in my calendar for many months and not without good reason. Not only because it would mean the arrival of the long awaited January wage packet after scrimping since before Xmas, but because I wasn’t going to be at work that day, I was instead going to be a guest at Fuller’s brewery for a day courtesy of the fine folk from Cask Marque.

Fans of the Cask Finder app will know that the “top prize” is the honour of becoming a Cask Marque Ambassador for achieving 100 Cask Marque certificate scans, but along with this awe inspiring title comes an invitation to visit a brewery and to spend the day on the Cask Marque Training Day course, just to see exactly what those who want their establishments to achieve the Cask Marque accreditation get up to.

This was the first round of these Ambassadors’ courses and parallel courses were being held at the Black Sheep brewery in Masham and at Marston’s in Wolverhampton as well as the one at Fuller’s in Chiswick. That gave Ambassadors from around the county at least a fighting chance to visit a more local brewery, although as it turned out, several of the chaps on my course in London had travelled from as far as Preston, Leeds and South Wales.

guest-blogger-richBut for me the day started exactly as usual, catching the same rush hour train into Paddington, the only difference being I wasn’t suited and booted and having once arrived at Paddington I caught a west bound tube instead of an east bound one to the City. It’s a comfortable 15 minutes stroll from Turnham Green station to the brewery which is located adjacent to the busy A4 Great West Road but at least all the snow had disappeared meaning I was nice and early for the 09:30 start.

Taking refuge in the brewery canteen (tea = 25p a cup!) I was just kicking myself for shelling out nigh on a fiver for a roll at Paddington station when I could have had a 6 item brewery from the canteen for £1.80 when some likely looking other chaps started to appear. Introductions were swiftly made (amazing how sociable us ale drinkers are!) including that of the legendary Alastair Macnaught from Cask Marque who even recognised me as the BGC (my blog alias)……………always a winner.

Alastair was accompanied by Natalie, also from Cask Marque and who tweeters and facebookers will know from the social media side of things. The final piece of the Cask Griffin-BreweryMarque triumvirate was Day Harvey (yes, that’s the right way round!) who was going to be leading our course today. We were taken off to the training room and it was by far the best venue I’ve even been in as it was mocked out to resemble the interior of a pub. And if that wasn’t cool enough, Day had also brought along his own Cask Marque certificate which meant that we could all collect another scan.

More official introductions were carried out as each of us in turn had to state where we were from, how long we’d been drinking cask ale and what our favourite beer was. Much joking around the second question (“too many years!” – “not long enough!” etc) ensued but as I say, it doesn’t take much for a bunch of ale enthusiasts to get to know each other.

Introductions out of the way, the day began with a tour around the brewery itself. Donning some very fetching hi-vis vests in the Hock Cellar tourist centre we began at the grist mill and finished three-quarters of hour later at the barrelling plant. I am rather skipping over the details of the visit mainly because I’m sure most readers of this Day-the-trainerwill have either been on other brewery visits and let’s face it, the process of grinding, mashing, boiling, fermenting and casking doesn’t really change from plant to plant. What was very interesting about Fuller’s though, was the historical elements as this brewery has had to modernise around the listed and protected original brewery buildings. The other interesting element was the top facts picked up along the way. Did you know for example, that 80% of Fuller’s brewing time is spent on London Pride? Well it is, and that’s a beer fact!

Retiring back to the training room, Day declared that it must be time for a beer but not before we’d been shown the process that a pub must carry out from receiving the new cask from the dray to the point that the beer is sold to the punter. Although it’s not rocket science it does prove that cask ale can live or die by what happens in this very final part of its journey and it’s also a reminder that cask ale, especially good cask ale does require considerable more work than just connecting up a keg. Well the proof, as they say, is in the pudding or in our case the pints of London Pride that we were now able to pull ourselves from the training room bar.

Lunch was next with a well deserved (it’s hard work this brewery visiting you know!) fish and chip dinner on the Cask Marque tab before returning to the training room Brewery-tourand a lesson in how to detect the things than can go wrong with beer and how to taste these elements. Day, ably assisted by Natalie had set up 9 examples of “bad beer” using our cask of London Pride and adding some dastardly chemicals to make them “go off” – Our mission (and we all chose to accept it) was to taste these concoctions and try to work out what the off-taste actually was. Some were easy, the sour-vinegar smack of the beer that had gone off due to age and bad sanitation was a gimme, but trying to taste the difference between the “skunky” beer (due to light contamination) and the “cardboard” taste of the beer that’s gone off due to oxidation was much more difficult. Luckily there was a slops bucket into which we could get rid of these beers and it didn’t turn out that drinking this was the penalty for coming last in the beer taste quiz!

We finally rounded up with a session on what we as Cask Marque Ambassadors can do to promote and support Cask Ale and ended with a back slapping photo in front of the training room bar.

pint-pullingIt should go without saying that a day spent at a brewery when I would normally be working is a fine way to spend a Friday, but it is worth praising Cask Marque for the time and effort to lay on such a good day. I’d like to take the opportunity to give a big thank you to Alastair, Natalie and Day (and great to be able to put faces to the names now!) for such an enjoyable day and hope that this report will enthuse those scanners who are edging towards their 100 that the effort to get Ambassador status is well worth it!

Posted by on in Cask Marque Blog

smartphon-in-hand-colourIn 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:

  • 88% of Cask Marque Licensees have seen an increase in Cask ale sales since accreditation
  • 98% of Licensees would recommend the scheme to other Licensees.

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”

Should you require any further information please contact Paul Nunny on; 07768 614065 or email; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . More information can be found on our website; www.caskmarque.co.uk

Posted by on in Cask Marque Blog

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.