ALTHOUGH there’s a wide range of factors that can influence customers’ decisions on which draught product to buy when they’re at the bar, from point of sale to staff recommendations, it’s important licensees don’t forget about the quality of the liquid coming out of the taps.
Beer quality stems from the engine room of the operation – the cellar – and if the equipment there is not regularly maintained there can be a very real impact on the quality of an outlet’s pints, say cellar management firms.
“Behind every pint, there’s a great cellar maintenance routine,” said Steve Lakin of drinks dispense firm Innserve.
Lakin stressed the negative impact poorly-maintained lines can have on a customer’s experience in a venue.
“For a customer, there’s nothing more disappointing than agonising over which beer to try, plumping for one that sounds irresistible, then watching the bar staff pour something that’s cloudy, has no head and tastes like it’s been sitting in the barrel for six months,” said Lakin.
The quality of draught beer is dependant on the quality of cellar management.
This was reinforced by Curtis Paxman, managing director of Brewfitt, who said: “Generally speaking the brewers and brand owners will deliver very high quality product to the pub but unfortunately if cellar management and hygiene is not a key focus for an outlet this quality can be reduced in an instant by connecting a dirty keg coupler to the system, which inevitably affects the consumer experience.”
And the burden of responsibility has shifted squarely to the licensee, said Carl Goode of BOC Sureserve.
“In recent years quality has moved from being just an issue for the brewer to one that concerns all landlords,” he said.
And while the pressure to keep costs down is always present, cellar management is an area operators can’t afford to overlook, according to Lakin, who said that “cutting corners simply isn’t an option”.
The “vital ingredients” in keeping a pub cellar in stellar condition come down to three main areas: line cleaning, effective cooling, and energy management, according to Lakin.
He said the live nature of beer, and cask ales in particular, causes a build-up of bacteria in beer lines.
Therefore, a regular, thorough cleansing using special line cleaning fluid is essential in order to avoid poor quality pints.
Lakin said that as it’s a very precise procedure, which should be carried out when the bar is closed as the process can be both time-consuming and expensive.
But thanks to developments in technology, larger intervals between cleaning can be achieved.
Maintaining the correct temperature was also stressed by Lakin, who advised that cellars should be kept between 11 and 13 degrees Celsius to ensure beers, lagers and soft drinks are kept in optimum condition.
Finally, keeping a watchful eye on energy management can result in significant savings; Lakin claimed if a cellar is over-cooled by just one degree Celsius, it can push energy costs up by 10%.
Regular, thorough cleaning of lines is required to keep drinks in tip-top condition.
He reckons operators looking to keep a handle on costs would find it useful to consider installing a thermometer in the cellar; this can be checked daily to ensure that the cellar cooling system is working properly.
Other, simpler steps operators can take to conserve energy include switching off transformers under the bar when not in use, as this can save around 20% on an outlet’s energy bill.
Equipment isn’t everything, however.
Goode, of BOC Sureserve, told SLTN that a cornerstone of effective cellar management is staff training.
“It is important to ensure that any staff members who change gas cylinders are trained in their safe storage and handling; which gas should be connected to which beverage, being able to spot the tell-tale signs of a gas leakage – such as condensation build-up on a cylinder or loss of pressure on the regulators when the cylinder is turned off,” said Goode.
And when it comes to storing gas cylinders, Goode stressed not to overstock.
“Too many cylinders will compromise space in the cellar and if not properly secured, can be a tripping hazard,” he advised.
“Keep only the amount of cylinders suitable for your business needs.”
It’s important to work with a reputable supplier of CO2 gas.
According to Carl Goode, of BOC Sureserve, any gas canisters from a quality supplier should have the following:
Correct valve outlets – to ensure that high pressure mixed gas is not put onto a low pressure CO2 regulator.
Correct colour – generally black or brown for CO2, grey with green or black shoulders for mixed gas.
Correct labelling – the cylinder should carry all necessary information, including: size, quality standard, nominal weight, nominal pressure, safety advice, dangerous goods information and supplier contact details; these are required by law.