View Full Version : The Pub Curmudgeon - A breath of controversy

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19-10-2013, 16:38
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My recent post (http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/families-not-welcome.html) about the under-representation of family brewers in the Good Beer Guide made the point that some of them had been effectively excluded because they had a declared policy of using cask breathers in their pubs. So I thought I would ask blog readers whether this was an issue that concerned them.
As you can see, for the vast majority either it would make no difference to whether they visited a pub, or they simply couldn’t care less. And a rather larger handful said it would make them more likely to use a pub than those who said less likely.
For those not familiar with the device, a cask breather is a demand valve that is attached to the spile hole of a cask and, when beer is drawn off, replaces it with the same volume of CO2 at atmospheric pressure. The image to the right shows how it works. Properly set up, it should not result in the beer becoming over-carbonated and will prolong its shelf-life by preventing air getting to the beer. CAMRA’s guide to cellarmanship suggests it may be used as a way of serving cask beer in outlets with low or erratic turnover where otherwise the only alternative would be keg.

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-K-VgdZhAAVY/UmKhM_wpJHI/AAAAAAAADAA/AzpsoYPzCI8/s320/cask+breather.jpg (http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-K-VgdZhAAVY/UmKhM_wpJHI/AAAAAAAADAA/AzpsoYPzCI8/s1600/cask+breather.jpg)
Despite repeated calls for a change in policy, CAMRA has always set its face against any official acceptance of cask breathers on the grounds that it could be the thin end of the wedge – once allowed for marginal outlets, it would soon become the norm across whole estates. Indeed, this seems to be what has happened with some of the “excluded” breweries. Many Sam Smith’s pubs will empty a cask of Old Brewery Bitter – their sole cask beer – in less than a day, and therefore using a cask breather would appear pointless.
However, extensive taste tests have failed to establish that even experienced and knowledgeable drinkers can tell the difference between beer kept under a cask breather and without one. Plus, in an age when we have the strange combination of declining beer sales and increasing numbers of beers on the bar, stopping beer going off has become an issue for very many pubs, not just a few low-volume ones. I’ve certainly had plenty of flat, tired pints in recent years that might well have benefited from the use of a cask breather. As the poll shows, few beer drinkers seem to be remotely bothered.
There are some interesting comments on Pete Brown’s blog here (http://petebrown.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/real-ale-preference-or-dogma.html?showComment=1381825972666#c415860581144 3314358) from Jeff Rosenmeier (who admittedly has an axe to grind as the boss of keg-only brewery Lovibonds) who says “The ONLY way you would KNOW if a pub was using a cask breather would be that you no longer get rancid pints.”
Is this perhaps a case of “the best being the enemy of the good” and, faced with a choice of either drinkable cask beer kept under a cask breather, cask beer that has gone off, or keg beer, isn’t the first realistically the best option? It’s another example where some flexibility might be desirable rather than adopting a strict black and white approach.

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