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What’s Behind The Plaque?

Below is an introduction to Cask Marque that was written for Ale Cry – CAMRA’s Central Lancashire Branch free magazine.

The Cask Marque plaque adorns pubs up and down the country and is a sign of great beer in each one. Have you ever wondered what a pub has to do to earn their accreditation and respected plaque? And indeed, who Cask Marque are?

What is Cask Marque?

Founded in 1998, Cask Marque is a not-for-profit organisation set up to promote cask beer, and particularly beer quality.

A team of over 50 beer assessors, most of whom are qualified brewers, make over 21,000 visits to pubs each year, testing in excess of 65,000 samples of beer. Between them, they have over 1,000 years’ industry experience and dutifully carry out their role to ensure drinkers get a great pint of cask ale in every pub!

Twice a year, they visit each pub that applies for the Cask Marque award to check the temperature, appearance, aroma and taste of the cask ales on sale. A minimum score has to be achieved to gain the award, and if just one beer fails the test, the pub will fail the whole inspection. Pubs that pass are awarded the plaque and other POS, and a place on the ‘World’s Biggest Ale Trail’ for thousands of beer lovers to visit (although not all at the same time, as they would run out of beer!)

How Do Pubs Get Accredited?

Once rated in the top 10 greatest jobs of all time by Men’s Health Magazine, sandwiched between a porn star and fighter pilot, the role of a Cask Marque assessor often draws lots of attention (and job applications!).

Turning up at the pub unannounced, they sample a maximum of six different cask ales – five random ones and then the slowest selling beer. This is because cask beer, as a living product, starts to deteriorate quicker than keg beers when touched by air and has to be sold within three days of being opened.

They test the temperature using a professionally calibrated thermometer. The temperature specification worked to is 11-13 degrees Celsius with a 1-degree tolerance either side. This is the temperature that 99% of brewers request their beer to be dispensed at. When served at this temperature cask ale is cool and refreshing. During the course of drinking a pint, the temperature will normally rise by 2 or 3 degrees, so to ensure the whole pint is enjoyable, it is important to get the temperature spot on.

They then have a good look at the beer, holding it up to the light. If it is a gloomy day, gloomy pub or dark beer, a torch is shone through the glass to highlight any haze or impurities.

Next, they inhale the wonderful aromas that cask beer offers. When it gets too cold some of the smells can be lost, but at the correct temperature these will all come through and tingle the senses.

Finally, they get to taste the product – just enough to decide if there are any tastes or smells which should not be present in the beer. Being able to judge beer quality is not about knowing every beer, but is about recognising the flavours which should not be present and identifying what has caused them.

Where the beer in the glass standard fails, the assessor works to find out why and hopefully resolve the situation. Warm beer is the cause of 80%+ failed visits. It can occur for a number of reasons, ranging from a warm cellar, beer lines running through a hot kitchen, to ale pythons not being topped up with water by the licensee.

If there is a problem with the taste, appearance or aroma, it can normally be narrowed down to a training issue (as opposed to faulty equipment) and can be resolved by providing some on the spot training and advice.

Cask Marque also inspect the cellars where the beer is stored to ensure perfection behind the scenes, with each pub being given a rating of between 1 and 5 stars. Part of the ‘Grain To Glass’ quality program, the 11-point Scores On The Cellar Doors audit covers stock rotation, beer line cleanliness, equipment maintenance, glasswashing cleanliness and hygiene (http://cask-marque.co.uk/scores-on-the-cellar-doors/).

Are you wondering why the condition of the cellar is important to the quality of the beer? There is a very strong link between the quality of cellar management and the quality of the beer in the glass. This is clearly illustrated by the graph, which shows those achieving 4 or 5-star cellar ratings also serve a considerably better pint.

Those that pass the whole inspection are given a certificate, plaque, bar runners, pump clip stickers and lots of drip mats to take pride of place and they earn their rightful place on the CaskFinder app!

Finding Great Beer With The FREE CaskFinder App

Developed for beer lovers and enthusiasts to find pubs serving great beer, the CaskFinder app features all of Cask Marque’s 10,000+ accredited pubs, over 9,000 tasting beer tasting notes, and all of the upcoming beer festivals.

Users are encouraged to join the ‘World’s Biggest Ale Trail’ – a network of ale lovers across the country who visit pubs, scanning the unique QR codes on the certificate issued to each pub and climbing the leader board for the number of pub visited. Plus, prizes are sent for reaching pub scan milestones, including polo shirts, glasses, fleeces and a special ‘ale ambassador’ day at a brewery where they learn how to become a beer taster.

Cask Marque also recently introduced pump clip recognition technology to the app that can be used on any beer and includes instant information on allergens, alcohol units, calories and food matches from the brewer. This year will also see the introduction of individual ale trails to share with friends, to join other local ones, or those from breweries and pub groups themselves!

The CaskFinder app is free to download and is available on iPhone and Android.

What Else Do Cask Marque Do?

Cask Marque are also industry leaders in providing training courses for licensees and bar staff, including cellar management qualifications and on site one-to-one training. Currently, over 13,500 people have been trained by Cask Marque in the skill of handling cask ale and this is set to grow with the introduction of a ‘one-stop shop’ for Beer Education that covers all beer styles later this year.

Additionally, Cask Marque run their ‘Grain To Grass’ quality program, designed to ensure quality throughout the whole of the supply chain. It is made up of the four key areas which result in the customer receiving the perfect pint of cask ale, every time.

Starting with the brewery itself, their SALSA plus Beer accreditation (http://cask-marque.co.uk/salsa-plus-beer-2-5/) is a brewery accreditation guaranteeing a safe, legal and consistent product is produced.

Further into the supply chain, Cask Marque ensure that distributors take the care the product deserves, is temperature controlled, and goes through a recognised process before arriving in the pub. Their Distributor Charter (http://cask-marque.co.uk/info-for-pubs/distributor-charter/) is currently held by over 35 companies, including Fullers, Greene King and Carlsberg UK.

The final two pieces of the Grain To Glass program is made up of the Scores on the Cellar Doors and beer in the glass accreditation.

Finally, Cask Marque organise the annual ‘Cask Ale Week’ to celebrate Britain’s national drink in pubs up and down the country. Beer festivals, brewery tours, tutored tastings, beer and food matches and many more take place throughout the event. Cask Ale Week 2018 takes place 20th-30th September.

For more information on Cask Marque, follow them on social media – @caskmarque on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

The full article can be found here.

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