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Can cask ale quality be improved with a new star rating?

Beer quality assessor Cask Marque has introduced a pub cellar star rating to help improve the standard of cask ale served in Britain’s pubs.


Cask Marque plaque

The move, which the quality accreditation business has named as “the biggest driver of beer quality since the formation of Cask Marque some 25 years ago” will see Cask Marque assess and star-rate 8,000 cellars by the end of the year.

Speaking about the new rating system, Cask Marque founder and executive director Paul Nunny said that beer is classified as a food and insisted that the nation needs to ensure we have the same hygiene standards in the cellar as we have in the pub kitchen.

He explained that “pubs that achieve a 4*/5* rating will be allowed to display the window sticker and all star ratings will appear on the CaskFinder app which is used 60,000 times a month to find Cask Marque pubs”.

One of the first pubs groups to endorse the scheme and act on the findings has been named as the budget pub chain Wetherspoons, owned by Tim Martin, which now owns 95% of its pubs with a 4*/5* ratings.

Wetherspoons personal and retail audit director James Ullman said: “Real ale quality has always been extremely important for JD Wetherspoon and the ‘Beer and Cellar Hygiene Audit’ has provided us with an excellent framework to improve in this area. This independent assessment has helped ensure we continue to serve excellent real ales and provide assurance to our customers that we are operating our cellars to the highest standards.”

Okells Brewery, on the Isle of Man, has also revealed its pride at having achieved 100% of 4*/5* ratings in its 30-strong pub estate, while Greene King has also admitted it has been using the star rating system in its retail estate for the last 18 months in a bid to drive up standards of beer quality.

According to Cask Marque, the cellar audit consists of an 11 point checklist which includes assessing cellar temperature, stock rotation, safe use of gas cylinders, clean beer lines and clean glassware plus an inspection of the hygiene surrounding the glass washing and ice machines.

Nunny said: “The industry has really embraced the idea of cellar inspections as a method of improving and communicating quality standards. The visit by one of our expert assessors is equivalent to a training session on best practice in the cellar. Great cellar
management improves yields and quality and thus pub profitability. Consumer research shows that 76% of cask ale drinkers would choose a pub based on its star rating. People are accustomed to seeing food hygiene ratings and will relate to the cellar star rating sticker as a sign of excellence in the handling and dispensing of beers in the outlet.”

He added: “All pubs that serve food have a star rating and it should be the industry’s aim to have every pub in Britain with a cellar hygiene rating.”

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