Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - April 1999
* Making the Marque *
A number of independent brewers, including micros such as Ringwood and Black Sheep as well as established regionals, have set up a scheme called "Cask Marque" which aims to give accreditation to pubs consistently serving real ale in good condition. Pubs have to pass stringent tests, and over 40% of those being inspected are currently failing, the chief faults being serving the beer too warm, and having too many beers on the bar to ensure a quick enough turnover. This scheme has to be applauded as a serious attempt to improve the overall quality of real ale by bringing the average pub up to the standard of the best - as "Opening Times" has often said before, the worst enemy of real ale is not nitrokeg or lager, it is the bad pint of real ale.
The Cask Marque inspection is available to free trade outlets as well as tied houses of the participating brewers, so it would be interesting see if some of our well-known local multi-beer alehouses made the mark. So far, certainly, none have gained the award, and I doubt whether any have tried. If they passed, that would be a real feather in their caps. However, if they failed - and I suspect most would - it would show clearly that they needed to review their cellar management and stock rotation policies very carefully to ensure that they served up a consistently good pint every hour of every day they were open.
This also raises the question of whether, in the future, entry into the Good Beer Guide should be dependent not only on the judgment of local branches of CAMRA, but also on pubs passing this kind of objective test. While the vast majority of pubs in the Guide thoroughly deserve to be there, anyone who has used it regularly will know that there are a few which don't consistently serve good beer, and have been included for reasons other than beer quality. A Cask Marque type assessment would help weed out these duds and improve the overall standard.
* Green Bottles *
The huge choice of bottled beers available today is matched by the variety in design of the bottles themselves, which are often highly elaborate and distinctive. It always seems a terrible waste to dump these into the bottle bank after they have only been used once. In comparison to British bottles, German imports often seem a touch dull, as most of them use the same design of tall, slim bottle with a curved neck. There's a valid reason for this, though, as the bottles are designed to be interchangeable so they can be returned and reused by different breweries.
I know it can be argued that the energy expended in transporting, cleaning and refilling bottles may well exceed that used in making new ones, but it must be right to use things again if possible, rather than throwing them away, and it would also create much-needed unskilled employment. Many Continental countries have legislation to encourage or insist on reusable drinks containers. Surely we should be following their example in the UK, particularly for beer, even at the cost of a more standardised look on the bottle shelf.