Friday 19 July 2013

Keeping your cool

They'll be in that pub for
a cool pint afterwards!
Many years ago, John Major waxed lyrical in a speech aimed squarely at American perceptions of England about cricket, wayside inns and warm beer. It transpired that his idea of a wayside inn was a Little Chef, which - until revelations about Edwina Currie emerged - was about as exciting as you can imagine his life could get. However, it was the phrase "warm beer" that irritated me. Temperature is important for food and drink: a plate of cold egg and chips washed down with a cold cup of tea would not have you salivating with anticipation. Alcoholic drinks have their optimum temperature too: white wine should be chilled, and in these weather conditions, it makes sense to put your red wine in the fridge for half an hour or so, as rooms are currently a lot warmer than room temperature. Red wine should actually be served at cellar temperature, but most of us don't have cellars. Another drink that should be at cellar temperature is real ale, which is best served at 12 to 14 C (54 to 57 F). Lagers and smooth have to be served cold to prevent you tasting them, but the correct word to describe the right temperature for real ale is "cool". 

If real ale is too warm, it loses its natural conditioning and is flat and tasteless; some people describe that state as "flabby". If it's too cold, you won't get the subtle flavours; the taste is merely an unsophisticated approximation of what it should be. If I had to choose, I'd prefer too cold because the beer will in time warm up in the glass to the correct temperature. In such situations, I've occasionally bought my next pint well before I've finished the first in the hope that it will be just right by the time I get round to it.

What I don't like is beer that is too warm. It feels wrong in the mouth, in the way a cold cup of coffee would, and its taste is out of balance with astringent flavours more to the fore. In short, it's not particularly nice. With modern cooling techniques, there really isn't any excuse for beer that is too warm, so how come we still sometimes get served it? I suppose the obvious reason is the failure of pub owners to invest in equipment. Pubcos are the worst because they have a ludicrous business that is based on enormous debt, and they begrudge spending a penny more than they absolutely have to. In extreme cases, they'd prefer to let a pub decline than invest in it, and then get a bonanza when they sell it for redevelopment.

I regard £3 a pint as dear, the result of greed by both pubcos and Chancellor, but it's either pay that or not drink real ale in a pub. Drinking beer at home has little attraction for me, because going to the pub is not a shopping trip - it's part of my social life. If I am to pay pub prices, I am less tolerant of imperfections, such as the wrong temperature, short measures, the beer being out of condition or, in extreme cases, actually off. I am surprised when I read on beer blogs stories in which an imperfect pint is left on the bar and the writer quietly walks out. Not much use whingeing about it afterwards on the internet, chaps.

The current heat wave is showing up those pubs that don't have satisfactory cellars or decent cooling equipment. Most real ale drinkers will have a fallback drink, such as lager, Guinness, cider or wine, but for me, all of these are unsatisfactory substitutes. If a pub can't serve decent pint, then I'd prefer not to spend my cash there. In this weather, I don't think you can beat a nice, cool, dry pint of real ale: it shouldn't be a lottery as to whether you get it.


  1. I entirely agree that, especially in this day and age, warm cask beer is completely unacceptable. But there are occasions where discretion is the better part of valour when it comes to making a complaint - see this post and the subsequent comments. As Tandleman says, "Having said that, I still wimp out sometimes. Who goes to the pub for a confrontation? Not me funnily enough."

  2. It's a matter of personal taste and judgement at which point a pint has to be returned, and I have put up with pints that are close to that tipping point when I'd take it back. I never leave beer, so just abandoning a pint isn't an option for me.

    I don't go to the pub for confrontation either, but it's a long time since I've met any when returning a pint. Perhaps the attitude of the drinker may be relevant: someone who takes a pint back and says, "I asked for beer, not Sarsons", can rightly expect a hostile reaction.


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