ALE Spring 2001 No. 301

Cask Marque

What's it all about?

Despite the increasing number of pubs in the region being awarded the Cask Marque, it appears that many people aren't clear what it means or stands for. So here's a brief review.

The Cask Marque Trust was initiated and sponsored by four regional brewers (Adnams, Greene King, Marstons and Morlands) in response to a significant decline in cask ale sales in the mid-1990s. There was much anecdotal evidence that this decline could in part be attributed to poor or inconsistent quality at the point of dispense. So a survey was commissioned in the spring of 1997 in which qualified auditors visited over 1,000 pubs, 83% of which served traditional cask ale. It found that the quality of the pint in the glass was so poor in 23% of the outlets that inspectors stated that they would not buy the pint again.

Two main causes were identified. First, too many beers on offer: if there isn't sufficient demand for, say, five different real ales, they won't sell quickly enough and the beer quality natually tails off as it gets older. This was true for over half of the outlets in which the beer was found to be unacceptably poor. The second major cause of poor quality was failure to serve beer at the appropriate temperature.

As a result, the four brewers decided that an independent, industry-wide acceditation scheme would be the most effective way of addressing these problems. And so we have Cask Marque, an award which recognises the skills of the licensee in keeping and serving cask ale at a consistently high quality.

Sounds like a great idea. But is there a but?

Well, yes. CAMRA is happy to give broad support to the scheme on the basis that it champions beer quality, and is a very welcome initiative from the "other" side of the bar. We are, after all, both in the business of encouraging people to try real ale - and to stick with it once they've tried it. However, this support has not been without reservation, particularly at "grass-roots" level. There have been a number of points of disagreement but for a large number of CAMRA members the main bone of contention in an often lively debate has been about beer temperature: whilst Cask Marque now sets an upper temperature limit of 60F, there was initially no lower limit, resulting in many accedited licensees serving beer far below the ideal temperature of between 53 and 56F. At temperatures below this, the full flavour of the beer can become markedly inhibited, so reducing its quality.

However, after more that a year of discussion with CAMRA, Cask Marque plans to respond positively to most of the criticisms, including setting a lower temperature limit for dispense of cask ale of 50F. With these problems resolved, the way is open for ever closer collaboration between CAMRA, which encourages people to try real ale, and Cask Marque, which ensures that they have the quality assurance that will keep them drinking the stuff.

Cask Marque plans

If these work as intended, they should address many of the problems. However others will still remain, such as inappropriate use of sparklers, which reduce flavour. [See Wring the Swan's Neck.]

The Cask Marque Web site has further information. For Cask Marque in the Branch area, see the Branch Cask Marque page.

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