For centuries, men and women in many cultures have been preserving quality alcoholic beverages—vintners carefully oversee the harvesting of fine grapes to produce the best wines, and distillers painstakingly observe aging bourbon to ensure each sip abides by the lore that birthed it. Good beer is no different.
With cask-conditioned ale, cellarmans are tasked with promoting the beauty in each cask of beer sold—whether they’re developing a range of aromas and flavours, or nurturing the brew by serving it in a manner and temperature that complements its profile. What’s enjoyed in the pint glass is a laborious process involving dedication to a fine craft.
Like much of the history that follows cask ale, the UK has led a storied tradition of cellarmanship for years. As technology and culture has evolved, the role of the cellarman has also had to adapt.
“Cellarmanship is something many of us take for granted,” says Edward Lofthouse, co-founder of The Harbour Brewing Company in North Cornwall, UK. “With the pressures of modern business, cellarmanship skills are being tested further. Some brewers are trying to shortcut on traditional methods to make and sell more by producing ‘bright’ cask ales, which don’t meet ‘real ale’ requirements.”
North America’s take on cask-ale brought about gentle changes to the British tradition.
“Cellarmanship in North America is very different from what pubs in the UK have been doing for years”, explains Ralph Morana, owner of Toronto’s Bar Volo and co-founder of Cask Days. “In the UK, the pub owners were responsible to condition and mature the casks by adding finings and priming sugars. The beers needed to settle and were served bright. In North America, most breweries do not add finings and or priming sugars.”
These changes have allowed a traditional brew making process to flourish. The UK set the standard and history for good cask-ale, but it’s North America that has inspired new recipes and styles of the beverage.
“I am hugely influenced by the North American brew scene and its expression and passion to take on all styles,” shares Logan Plant, co-founder of London based Beavertown Brewery. “Cask-ale culture goes all the way back to King Arthur…but brewers are paying attention to North American recipes.”
While steady sales are a priority for many pubs to sustain their presence, cellarman adhere to strong core beliefs—safety and hygiene are vital to the health and strength of a good brewery. A well-conditioned, cool room guarantees a safe habitat for brewing and allows for a clean environment where cellarman can conduct their craft. An understanding of proper conditioning will help reduce the level of carbon dioxide and each style of beer may need different temperature levels.
Serving is also a key component of the process that requires attention to detail—whether it’s tapping the cask to enable an optimal flow of beer when pouring, or securing the barrel on a stillage—a rack to hold the cask—in an upright position for hand-pumping.
Ultimately it’s the customer who helps propel excellent product. Younger crowds seeking out quality beer have been championing good cellarmanship, and the breweries they love.
“Many cask-ales were very traditional and not very inspiring for younger drinkers,” says Lofthouse. “Younger drinkers are turning their backs on mass produced bland beers, and want flavour and variety. It’s an amazing time for the UK market, and US inspired Pale ales are certainly leading this resurgence.”
“I think many of the new growth market customers in beer are the 20-35 years olds,” says Plant in agreement. “I also believe that the emergence and huge popularity of the UK craft beer scene is pushing people back into appreciating and drinking cask-ale—which is a good thing for communities and pubs alike.”
A good cellarman will always ensure that fresh beer is served. “We don’t rush,” adds Lofthouse. “Great beer needs time and attention to make sure it is served in the best possible condition. Just give it time and you will be rewarded.”
Photo’s by: Connie Tsang