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Posted by on in Cask Marque Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by on in Cask Marque Blog

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.

Posted by on in Cask Marque Blog


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