Sunday, May 01, 2011


Photo shamelessly stolen from Jeff Pickthall.

Ahh, the pub beer festival. Don't you love them? Lots of beer - warm, flat and no sign of a sparkler. Seriously, if we don't take any special steps for proper cooling the beer is going to end up at least as warm as the mean air temperature. Sure, people put up a tent or awning to keep the sun off the casks, but the 24 hour average temperature in London (which is where this snap was taken) was probably at least 14°C. Worse than that, there's bound to be a certain amount of temperature cycling - a little warmer in the day, cooler at night. So your beer's probably going to be at the right temperature at about 10 in the morning on day 1, but it'll be flat after being vented too warm the day before. By the evening, and for sure on day 2, it'll be too warm and flat. Yum.

Of course, if you know what you're doing and time everything just right, and you're lucky with the weather, you're probably able to get at least one session where the beer is in good nick without spending money on special cooling.

While we're on the subject - I've never done the experiments, but I'm not convinced of the effectiveness of the old damp bar towel trick, particularly on plastic (or wooden) casks. It looks more like a magical operation to me.

What do you think - is cooling important at all in the BF setting? Or is it just the kind of minor detail that only a saddo like me would care about?

I should say: I'm not commenting on the arrangements at any particular boozer here - the photo is illustrative of what a lot of places do if they're putting on one of these events, and I'm certainly not trying to blame the outlets for any short-comings in the product.


HardKnott Dave said...

The damp bar towel does actually lower the temperature by means of latent heat of phase transition whether it is enough is a moot point.

Barm said...

Cooling is vital. Beer is supposed to be cold. Far too many festivals serve beer too warm and too flat. But a lot of beers seem to be delivered with too little condition in the first place. I saw one cask recently delivered, rolled across the floor and put on the stillage. It was then immediately hard pegged and yet gave only a mild hiss.

StringersBeer said...

Barm: We try hard, but getting cask-conditioning right is quite difficult, esp. when turnover is hard to predict.

StringersBeer said...

Dave: You're right of course, the bar towel is cooled, but can't (can it?) go lower than Wet Bulb Temperature, which might be 10°C, depending on ambient temperature and humidity. My problem is that I can't see how significant heat is transferred to the cooled upper surface except via (a) convection in the headspace or (b) conduction in wall of cask (which can't be a lot for plastic). And as this happens, the cask is picking up heat on the rest of the surface.

I'll have a go at an experiment, when I can make time. It looks exactly like the kind of thing I'm going to be wrong about - "Who knew?", I'll say. "We did", says everyone else.

Ed said...

Yes, magic aside you're not going to get lower than the wet bulb temperature.

I had a few of those beers and they weren't at their best - most were hazy and some were flat.

Birkonian said...

I went to the Wheatsheaf in Wirral yesterday during their 400th anniversary celebrations. They had a marquee for the food and entertainment. My friend had the un-cooled 400 Not Out ( from the marquee handpump. I had the same beer from the main pub bar. They were unrecognisable as the same beer.

Jeff Pickthall said...

For such a renowned beer venue, the setup was very disappointing. On my first visit on Friday the towels were dry, and for the four casks that benefitted from ribcage cooling elements, the chiller wasn't even turned on. Saturday and Sunday were slightly improved - the towels were regularly dampened and the chiller was on, but still, some casks were entirely neglected r.e. cooling. I bent Glynn's ear about it when I bumped into him yesterday but I don't think my complaint really registered.

StringersBeer said...

Jeff, I'm glad to hear that some proper cooling was on hand - if not actually on. But I really wasn't commenting on this particular outlet.

In other news, I'm still can't persuade my father that it's possible to get any good beer in London. He's firmly of the opinion that the Chilterns and the North Downs bound an area inside which all beer is rubbish.

Gavin said...

I've tried to suspend disbelief when attending many beer festivals, I've tried to accept them for what they are, attaching a kind of cultural quirky Englishness to the watering-can drip-towel warm, flat beer experience but the reality is that they are a poor advert for good beer. The Huddersfield beer festival has always served the beer in good, cool condition in my experience.