As a prelude to the Branch Committee Meeting on 9 October, we were pleased to welcome David Waller of Cask Marque. Rather than a formal talk or presentation, this was more of an open two-way discussion, and pleasantly informal.
David introduced himself as a Cask Marque assessor, albeit not for our area. He's an ex-brewer, having started at Bass in 1969 before moving to Adnams, where he invented the recipe for Broadside. He described Cask Marque's main thrust on assessing the quality of a pint served in terms of flavour, aroma, clarity and temperature. We in turn observed that the cellar environment and the age of the beer itself are also important factors; these are not easily observable in the pint glass. Other criteria which we thought should become be taken into account during assessment were full measures and general hygiene.
David then mentioned that CM is working towards developing a wholesalers charter to drive up standards. This gave several people present the opportunity to raise problems that they have had or perceive with wholesale suppliers, including cask drops, wide dispersal of depots leading to unnecessarily long trips between brewery and customer, and frequent short 'best before' dates on casks when delivered.
It was also suggested that more brewers should be encouraged to consider providing beer in pins (half-firkins, 4.5 gallons), making less popular beers viable. Other ideas for helping to improve beer quality include Adnams' glass-ended casks, and new developments in pump technology and cooling systems which will stop beer getting warm as it sits in the cylinder and the line.
The main bone of contention between CAMRA and Cask Marque remains temperature, although much has already been done to resolve this. Currently a landlord fails accreditation if the pint is warmer than 15°C/60°F, full marks are awarded for temperatures between 14°C/57°F and 10°C/50°F. Below 10°C and the landlord loses marks in the overall assessment. We suggested that temperatures below 10°C should also warrant a fail. (The ideal temperature is 13°C/55°F.)
More generally we expressed concerns at how Cask Marque was open to abuse by some pubcos to justify marketing or management decisions, or inappropriate training. For example, unnecessarily low temperatures can mask poor beer quality. Also, JD Wetherspoon uses the CM logo on much of its corporate promotional material, even though only some of its landlords are accredited at any one time. (It is the landlord, not the establishment or brewery/pubco, who is accredited.)
Laurel Pubco has also recently used CM as an excuse to justify a drastic reduction in beer choice, when the real reason is more likely to be increased profits via centralised ordering. This kind of misuse can undermine CM's welcome drive to be recognised as a guarantee of quality, and we advise CM to pay attention to how it's being used for other purposes by others in the industry.
All in all this was a very useful meeting for both parties. It was pleasing to see the interest David showed in our concerns and suggestions, and we thank him for taking the time to come and see us.
Afterwards, the business of the committee meeting proper was concluded in record time!
Cask Marque now has 26 regional guides to its award holders, covering the whole country. The Cask Marque Web site now links to the pubs247 site, a get-your-pub-web-presence-easily site.
For Cask Marque in the Branch area, see the Branch Cask Marque page.