Most of the time our casks come back in good condition, even closed nicely (sometimes) and we're very appreciative of the time spent, and care taken, by cellar people and publicans in presenting our beer in the best possible condition, as well as their responsible handling of these returnable assets. To you, thanks.
But (and of course there's a "but") ...
I picked up a bunch of empties the other day (from a wholesaler) and was surprised to find a wooden keystone in one of them. We don't use wooden keystones. We use a nice tight-fitting rubbery one. (The keystone is the small bung through which the tap is hammered.) Clearly then, someone has removed our keystone for some reason (did they get their tap stuck?) and bunged in another one.
Now, there's a bit of a knack to getting a keystone out at the best of times. What we don't do is belt a gnarly old screwdriver down the side with a big old hammer and pry the sucker out. If the tap's stuck (I had occasion to deal with this in the cellar of a good customer just the other day) the trick is to carefully but firmly lever the tap back and forth a little, twisting it a quarter turn or so from time to time, until it gets loose enough to pull out in the normal way.
The plastic casks that we use have a number of advantages: They're light, easy to handle, quiet (no terrible clanging as you clear out the cellar) and cheap. They're not so cheap that they're disposable, and they belong to us - we lend them to you - and we're happy to do so. In the olden days you might have been bringing your casks to the brewery to be filled. We don't make you do that now.
Plastic casks do have some drawbacks. They're somewhat susceptible to damage from the indiscriminate use of metal tools. And sure enough, in removing the keystone a number (why?) of small, rough, screwdriver holes have been punched through the keystone seat. This cask is now impossible to clean properly and has been retired. That's about 30 quid gone, just like that.
We have had a few casks returned damaged in similar ways. I can't imagine any reason why you'd need to remove either the keystone or the shive (we've had a few of those also). If you do need to get them out - please try to figure out a way of doing it without knackering our assets. Our phone number is on every cask - give us a call and we'd be happy to talk to you about it.
And while you're at it, I'm always pleased to see that people are marking the casks with received dates, vented dates, whatever. But why do it in permanent marker? People, the clue's in the name. What you want is either a sticker (on which you can write with anything - this is what Weatherspoons do for goodness sake) or use a grease pencil (wax pencil / china marker/ chinagraph pencil).
Seriously folk, if I promise not to come into your pub and f*ck up your glasses, will you please look after my casks?
Heads in the sand: Most of us would prefer not to know whether bad things are going to happen - Many of us would rather not know about the future because we fear we'll regret hearing what's to come. By Alex Fradera
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