On-the-job training

For all the beer we’ve drank, until fairly recently we had never worked behind a bar or pulled any pints. Our lack of cellar experience is the number one gap in our business plan and something we’ve started to address through hands-on training.

During this last summer for instance we volunteered at a local beer festival on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year. There were queues out the door of the venue and around the block. Like the other volunteers there we poured hundreds of pints that afternoon, probably one every minute. Despite this baptism by fire we were glad for the experience, happy to meet other CAMRA members and pleased to see such a young crowd almost equally split between men and women all keen to try even the most obscure beers. It also convinced us we’d rather be serving 30 customers of an evening, not 300!

We can also recommend the cellar management short course accredited by the British Institute of Innkeeping Awarding Body (BIIAB). Their Award in Beer & Cellar Quality is hosted by various breweries around the country, including Thwaites and Holts here in the North West. I however wanted to do it sooner rather than later, so I travelled down to Fuller’s in London.

A full-colour 80-page coursebook was provided in advance entitled Profit Through Quality which allowed me to familiarise myself with terminology like fobbing, soft spiles and stillaging.  I met a dozen or so other attendees on the day who were all experienced bar staff, but even they admitted to learning something during the course. Certainly for someone like me, who at the time had never worked behind the bar or tapped a cask, it was well worth it.

The course covered topics like cellar hygiene, temperature control, glass washing and cask handling. There was also a tour of Fuller’s historic Griffin brewery on the banks of the River Thames in Chiswick, followed by plenty of ale to sample as we were put through our paces in trying to pour the perfect pint.

Quite a lot of time was spent discussing the importance of the super-cold refrigeration for keg lager and the risks involved in handling gas cylinders to maintain its carbonation. From the micropub point of view of ‘keep it small and keep it simple’, it demonstrated to me that too much time, effort and money is spent in most pubs in getting beer from the cellar to the glass.

For pubs with a cellar either downstairs or in a separate room where casks are kept, plastic tubing called lines are required to bring the beer to the bar. These lines should be cleaned every week with chemicals to flush out any blockages or yeast that can taint the beer. Before cleaning the lines they need emptied of any beer inside, which is poured down the drain. It was recommended that when opening for the evening to pull off the beer that has been sitting in the lines overnight. That also goes straight down the drain.

With so much beer wasted and on hearing how easily it can become tainted in the process, it convinced me that micropubs are right to serve customers straight from the cask. Ideally, we want people to walk into our micropub, see casks lined up against the wall and watch as we serve pints right from the tap. We want it to be set up like a beer festival, albeit one with proper refrigeration (because the one drawback to the festival over the summer is that the beer was warm).

Options for keeping cask ale cool will be discussed in a future post. If you have ideas for other topics, be sure to leave a comment below. Cheers!

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5 Responses to On-the-job training

  1. David says:

    Hi there,

    I’m in the planning stages of opening a micro-pub and I’m finding this blog a very useful resource!

    I am also interested in serving straight from the cask but I am worried about how you would effectively keep the ale cool. Did you find a solution you were satisfied with?

    Thanks,
    David

    • Thanks for getting in touch David and good luck with your plans! With regards to cooling the most common approaches we have seen is to either a) install a chiller cabinet or b) wrap each cask in a cooling jacket. There is however a third way we are going to try which are cooling probes which involves a small refrigeration unit circulating cold water through a probe bunged into the shive hole. This means the cask can be left on its side in the stillage the whole time.

  2. Kieran says:

    Hello
    I’m putting together a business plan myself for a micropub. Great blog and I look forward to following your progress.

    Re: refrigeration.
    I currently run a pub that uses the caskwidge system in the cellar. It’s a vertical tapping system with a float that sits on top of the beer. It means less wastage and easier storage because the firkin is upright. If you were to store firkins under the bar and use it you could dispense from a hand pump, which would essentially be straight from cask (less than a foot of pipe).

    The idea would be to somehow refrigerate the space under the bar, which i’m still working on. Sliding doors will be involved i’m sure. I’m going to pay this guy a visit, looks like he has a great set up :http://www.morningadvertiser.co.uk/General-News/Pub-installs-cask-ale-cellar-at-the-bar

    The advantages are: handpumps can be fitted with sparklers and display pump clips, you don’t need auto tilters which are a pain to clean and maintain, it leaves the back bar free, less space needed, and you can have as many beers as you can fit settling and conditioning at once (a new firkin would be ready to put on as soon as one is finished).

    All the best
    Kieran

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