Saturday, 21 August 2010

Fast beers and slow brewers

Yesterday I delivered to a pub at 6.15 p.m. The poor landlord was frantically tapping and venting extra casks because he’d been told that ‘nine CAMRA people’ were en route to his pub, and he was worried because he only had four beers on the bar. I hope they turned up and drank more than the usual CAMRA trips. Three halves and a couple of extra glasses, please.

Anyway, it started me thinking about Marstons Fast Cask.

Fast Cask starts with bright beer. Chilled, filtered, and forced through some pretty sophisticated processes to strip out ALL of the yeast before racking. Then the yeast goes back, in a gel bead, to be released into the beer. And this beer is ready for sale “more or less immediately after delivery”.

Marston’s are very reticent about how this is done, for understandable reasons. I’m indebted to Pat O’Neill of South Hants CAMRA, whose excellent article explained the technology to me and provided the illustration I have shamelessly ripped off.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an attack on Marston’s or their Fast Cask beer. I haven’t tasted any, and I’m not questioning the quality. If you have tasted, and have any comments, please let me know.

I’m just a slow brewer, who can’t see why this is happening.

Marston’s say ….. “Our fastcask process delivers real cask beer that drops bright immediately and overcomes some of the operational barriers associated with cask beer.”

What are those operational barriers? Bringing beer in out of the sun on delivery days? Stripping down beer taps and washing them properly? Keeping a clean, cold cellar? Having coherent stock rotation? Not moving casks once they are on stillage?

It’s not rocket surgery, is it? I suggest that the landlords unable to get this right are also the landlords who dispense stale beer through dirty lines into smeary glasses.

It’s a bit like dining out at Witheringspoon’s. All of the operational barriers associated with good, fresh food have been successfully overcome there. It’s hot, reasonably tasty, and doesn’t cost a bomb. But it’s the culinary version of smoothflow.

I leave you with the image conjured by Marston’s latest press release.

Fast cask means that it will soon be possible to drink real ale on high-speed trains. Lovely.

Think back to every overheated, overcrowded, overpriced railway car buffet you’ve ever been to. You’ve saved up to buy a pint, and you’ve fought your way past the seatless and the smokers and the loo queues in the aisles. You’re trying not to touch the sticky counter top as you sway and shout to make yourself heard. You know that whatever you want to drink is going to be served in a plastic beaker which will spill and split before you get back to your seat.

(Which is in a set of four. Your three companions are overweight/selfish with the legroom/listening to something by Morrisey on their tinny IPod).

You carefully position your ‘glass’ of real ale in the 6cm2 of space left on the table, the train jolts over some points, and your glass is empty.

Don’t you wish you’d accepted the can of Special offered by the drunk in the next carriage?


  1. Fast Cask doesn't sound so appealing when described your way. Nice post. Of course the pop at CAMRA was no doubt affectionate and tongue in cheek!

  2. Not sure the poor landlord need have bothered. I remember a CAMRA visit to present a POTS (pub of the season award thingy) to an establishment which had only one "Real Ale" on - and that was flat, appley, Robbies Unicorn.

    In case you didn't see it, I did a bit of a post on the subject of fast cask a while ago.

  3. Isn't it sad that the landlord felt it necessary to screw up his rotation plan simply because a few CAMRA bods were on their way? Assuming the landlord knew his onions, then four beers well conditioned and served should be plenty.