You have to be brave and take the plunge with cask beer, says Phil Mellows
As I write, Cask Ale Week 2023 is getting up to speed. Events around the country are highlighting this special type of beer, rarely found outside Britain and increasingly endangered within it.
By the time you read this, the week will have long come to an end. But that shouldn’t stop you seeking out a good pint. In Newham, as in the rest of London in particular, a lot of pubs have dropped a product that requires a little more care, and that has a limited shelf life. If there aren’t enough people drinking it, quality suffers and even fewer people want to drink it. Eventually, it disappears.
If you’re new to cask beer you will undoubtedly be put off by a bad pint. You might even be put off before you’ve tasted one, thanks to the myth that it’s warm and flat.
Cask should be served at cellar temperature which, as beer writer Pete Brown once pointed out, is about the same as the English Channel in summer. That’s not warm.
It shouldn’t be flat, either. If it’s conditioned right – that is, if the pub has carried out the correct procedures in the cellar – natural CO2 will make it lightly sparkling. You should feel a definite spritziness on your tongue.
Sadly, sometimes a pint is warm and flat. And sometimes it’s cloudy when it shouldn’t be – there are modern cask beers that are deliberately hazy, though.
You have to develop the confidence to take back a bad pint. A good pub should change it without hesitation. Look out for the Cask Marque plaque by the door (pictured). That will give you some reassurance that its beers have been regularly quality-checked by an expert. See it as an adventure. Not without its challenges but rewarding. Brewers themselves regard cask ale as the pinnacle of their craft.
To start you on your way, with the help of the What Pub website, which is compiled and kept reasonably up to date by members of the Campaign for Real Ale, here’s a selection of local pubs where you can still drink cask beer:
• Stratford: Tap East, The Cow, Goldengrove, King Edward VII, Olde Black Bull
• Forest Gate: Forest Tavern, The Holly Tree, Golden Fleece, Fox & Hounds
• Plaistow: The Black Lion
• East Ham: Boleyn Tavern, Denmark Arms
• Docklands: The Fox Connaught, Windjammer