‘PullShit’: An Effort to Understand Wellington’s Cask Conditioned Credentials.
“So that’s like an English beer, they’re really flat and are served warm, but that’s what they’re supposed to be like. Could I have two nice, cold, hoppy, pale ales please?”
We can’t go on like this. Those who somewhat understand cask ale - and are vocal when it’s not up to scratch - are often seen as rude and pontificating pains in the rear end. The beer engine is steadily becoming a piece of prerequisite bar furniture in Wellington. It’s become cool…*
Yet what’s poured from it, why it differs from the other taps and how to maintain the beer’s temperature and condition, is seemingly left for the staff to work out for themselves.
Is the handpull any longer a flag standard for what lies beneath? Was it ever? I read this blog recently and was utterly discombobulated (new long word thanks to @beerkel;) seemingly it’s not only the odd punter, the seasoned drinker, or the uninitiated that is confused about cask.
I’m not prepared to pull a fellow bloggers work apart, but I’d hope if you’d call your blog Real Ale NZ, you’d understand the definition, from the group that coined it. Most of the outlets across the country that are listed on this website are selling decarbonated ‘bright’ beer. What’s more, this blog’s main irk seems to be with ‘barrels’ under the bar. I don’t see that as a problem whatsoever. Many a real ale festival, Including this last weekends sublime Marchfest, serve casks ‘naked’ and straight up on top of the bar. As long as a good temperature is preserved then why does it matter where it sits? With the lack of any cellars in Wellington’s choice joints, I look forward to seeing many a cask jacket in the future.
It’s unacceptable to me that the likes of Townshend, Twisted Hop and Galbraiths can fly the flag for cask and work tirelessly to promote real beer, yet the likes of Stoke, Moa, Tuatara & Emersons can put a decarbonated keg of beer through a handpull and it’s sold as (heavily promoted in some cases) the same thing. This is not a million miles away from selling a green bottle that’s made in Auckland under the guise of a Dutch Premium Lager.
There is seemingly a lack of breweries wishing to go the whole hog with cask conditioned ale in this country. Is there an inherent fear amongst the brewing community - particularly those that aren’t already cask conditioning beers - that on the whole bar staff don’t have the gumption to treat their beers properly? Or the bars themselves don’t have a sufficient room (cellar) that can be maintained at a sensible temperature? I’d assume so, though Bladders (poly pins whatever you want to call them) are surely a cleaner/cheaper option for breweries, particularily if most of your operation is bright keg beer. Whats more, in the craft beer capital’s increasingly competitive environment, no one can blame a particular brewery for not wanting to risk having their beers sold poorly-maintained.
From a hospo point of view, I’m sure that on the whole Wellington’s mostly observant and well-trained beer bar staff are able to knock a little piece of wood into a cask and make sure it’s not shaken around for a couple of days. Fine, it’s not always as simple as that, but there’s no reason a system can’t be put in place is all I’m saying. The decision to barista train staff and the protocols of cleaning and maintaining a coffee machine are seemingly a much more expensive and laborious pain in the arse than putting the odd cask on.
I suppose the last thing to approach is whether there is a continued demand for proper cask beer. Would I be able to pick out Cask vs. Bright Bag vs. Decarbonated keg in a blind tasting? I’d love to have a go. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed flat Tuatara Porter at a number of bars. However, let’s thrash out the point here: Is the modern New Zealand beer lover happy that what they are generally being sold isn’t the real deal? Refreshingly, Hashigo recently went to lengths to clarify the subject and their position. (See paragraph entitled Trip Advisor) Or read it all- it’s very good.
Call me a moaning pom defending things that are old country and old hat, a wanton beardy CAMRAite. The point is; I’d love to walk out the door NOW and be guaranteed a pint of cask ale somewhere in Wellington and I’m 100% sure I can’t. This is a disgrace for a city with the ability to pour beer from a total of 12** handpulls. I sincerely hope there is a wind of change. Otherwise I’m moving to Nelson!
*Not wanting to start a riot, for those eagle eyed beer geeks, I don’t think any Dark Star beers are available in NZ, I may be wrong. My far cooler colleagues are all listening to these guys, they are very talented, and have gone up in my estimations for having a photo shoot in a pub. I hope they had a half.
**Correct me if I’m wrong with that number that was just beer mat maths, the total is still well into double figures anyway. 7 on CBC (Taphaus seemingly not included on that site) 2x Hashigo 2x Meow 1x Rogue & Vagabond.