Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - July 2004

* Keep Your Cool *

Complaints about chilly real ale are still much overdone

A COLLEAGUE I drink with from time to time has a habit of going in virtually every pub and saying that the beer’s too cold. In most cases the temperature seems fine to me, but short of attracting funny looks by getting a thermometer and dipping it in my pint there’s no way of proving the point.

Real ale is not meant to be served at room temperature or anything like it. Ideally, it should be kept at a natural cellar temperature of around 12-13 ºC (54-56 ºF). This means it will be pleasantly cool and refreshing without being tooth-numbingly chilly. And I’m sure that most of the pubs my friend is grumbling about achive precisely that.

Some concerns have been expressed that the Cask Marque beer quality accreditation scheme has been far keener to mark pubs down for warm than ice-cold beer, and I have been in the occasional pub where real ale was spoilt by being dispensed at lager temperatures. But I must say that in my experience it is still much more common to find beer that is too warm than too cold. All too often you go in a pub with an array of handpumps at a quietish time and just know that you’re going to get a pint of tepid glop.

Once you’ve found some means of reliably serving your beer below room temperature, then you can start to think about how to fine-tune it. And a cold pint will warm up after a while, but one that is too warm to start with will just get worse, so erring a bit on the cool side is not the end of the world. There are far more important things in the beer world to get worked up about.

* Happy Customers *

Real ale and a trouble-free drinking experience seem to go together

THE RECENT Stockport Beer Festival was a resounding success, with the extra space at Edgeley Park accomodating more customers than ever on the Friday night, and the whole place being drunk dry by around 10 pm on Saturday. You might imagine that such an event would be a recipe for trouble, with upwards of a thousand people crowded into a venue, many of them standing up, and confronted by a tempting array of often very strong beers and ciders. It was also by no means something that appealed only to old fogeys, with a substantial proportion of the customers being under 30. Yet, although inevitably there was the odd bit of boisterous behaviour, like virtually all beer festivals it passed off without serious disturbance. This was in glaring contrast to most town centres on a Friday and Saturday night, which become a sea of puking, brawling youngsters fuelled by alcopops and designer lagers.

The key factor in this must be that people are actually appreciating the taste and character of alcoholic drinks rather than just pouring them down their necks with the aim of getting drunk as quickly as possible. It was interesting that the strongest beers were the last to sell out. I'm sure that a close correlation could be drawn between the level of trouble and the proportion of real ale sold in pubs, and perhaps this is something that the authorities need to take into account when reviewing applications to open new bars and renew the licenses of existing ones.

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