ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!
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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

We need to talk about beer temperature

As you probably know from my myriad PotY assessments over the years, or indeed if you've ever been on the same table as me on a tasting panel, I have pretty strong opinions when it comes to beer temperature. Opinions that perhaps get stronger on a boiling hot day.

Specifically, I think that certain beers are best served at certain temperatures - and whether they come from a cask or a keg or a hog's bladder should be far less of a factor than the style of the beer itself. Is that really so unreasonable?


In the past week, I've attended two beer festivals, both in South London. One at my 2016-17 Pub of the Year, the Hope, and the other at Beckenham Rugby Club, the home of Bromley CAMRA's annual festival - both boasting lengthy lists of pale, hoppy beers. Last week, of course, was pretty fucking hot. The hottest day of the hottest year since records began, or something. I believe on Friday, the second circle of Hell was actually a couple of degrees cooler than Beckenham.

Anyway, the beer...



Tragedy or Travesty?


Being fairly well insulated from the heat, the cask ale at the Hope was in decent nick, though perhaps not as cold as I'd have liked. I enjoyed Tiny Rebel's Cherry Bomb sour in particular.

The beer at Beckenham was, well, 'unfortunate'.


On a kiln-hot day, I like my beer cold. I need it to catch that 'refreshment point' at the back of my throat. Drinking lukewarm liquid just doesn't get there. I don't about everyone else, but for me it's eminently frustrating to swallow, swallow and swallow again, without hitting that sensation of satiety. It's chasing a hidden dragon.

But it wasn't just about the beer not being cold enough. It was heat-struck, tired, flabby and generally unappealing. A couple of them had overtones of diacetyl. Not good.


There is an obvious response to all this that I'm hearing in my head...  'if you want colder beer, just drink keg and stop whinging about it you pussy!'.

Yes, this is true. And of course, if I only drank canned or bottled beer at home, I'd have complete control over the refrigeration. I could put beer ice cubes in it and drink it from a frosted glass, straight from the freezer.

But that's not the point, and it's fairly academic when you've just arrived at a beer festival with loads of appealing beers (at least on paper) lined up for you in cask form. Why should cask beer suffer and why should drinkers be made to suffer really poor quality cask beer just because it's the Summer?

I likes me a big cold beer on a hot day, so I does
The cooling systems in use on stillaged casks typically take the form of a bunch of cooling jackets, networked together, through which water is pumped, passing through a fan at one or both ends.

It's very similar to the cooling loops used to cool down the CPUs in powerful computers. In fact, unless someone with superior knowledge tells me otherwise, I believe the principle, if not the scale, is pretty much identical.

But, there is a difference. The Corsair H110i inside my computer set pumps coolant around to stop the processor overheating. CPUs run very, very hot. It's a good to stop them getting too toasty.

But making them run a bit less hot (keeping them under about 50 Celsius) is not the same as cooling down beer to a temperature at which it retains its condition and is a pleasurable drinking experience - about 10-12 Celsius or, ideally on a Summers day, a bit cooler than that.

The hotter the weather, the colder you want your pint. But it doesn't work like that with cask beer, especially when its on outdoor stillage. The hotter the weather, the warmer and flabbier your beer will be. Within hours it'll turn to vinegar. Ugh.

Even when the ambient temperature cools down a bit (it was pouring with rain at Beckenham) and even if the beer temperature drops, the damage has already been done.

The rain was refreshing, but the beer had been sat on stillage in an East-facing outdoor tent for a few days. As a 'cellar' such conditions are woefully inadequate.

CAMRA really ought to know better - but there are many in the organisation I know whose palates are blind to off-flavours and who actually have a preference, John Major-style for unchilled beer.

And that's why we really do need to talk about it. Stop making an exception 'because it's cask'. It does nobody any favours.

It's GBBF next week, and if unsatisfying, lukewarm, poor quality cask becomes an issue on a far bigger scale, it will do CAMRA and real ale in general a lot of damage.

2 comments:

  1. Agreed, CAMRA really should know better. External cooling, of the type you describe, sounds woefully inadequate.

    I'm pretty sure that internal cooling systems, consisting of a "wand-like" return, stainless-steel tube are available. These tubes are immersed in the cask, via the shive hole on the top, and coolant is then pumped through them.

    What would also help, is a coolant which is more efficient at transferring heat. (These might not be such a good idea with an immersion system though, in-case the coolant leaks out, and contaminates the beer).

    ReplyDelete
  2. so drink keg or craft ect ect?

    ReplyDelete

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