By Charles Whitting
While cellar managers might not get the same level of appreciation from customers as a chef who prepares a great meal, if you aren’t treating the beer that arrives at your venues with the same love and care that you treat the meat and veg delivered to your kitchens, then your customers are going to have a problem.
“The cellar is the most important part, it’s the engine room, it’s where you can make massive losses or massive gains,” says James Thorpe, co-owner of The Local Taphouse, Sydney. “And that’s before you talk about quality.”
Fresh is best
Temperature control is the first thing to be considered. Beer is meant to be served cold, but it is also meant to be stored cold as well. It is critical to get your kegs into a cold room and to ensure that the correct temperatures are maintained throughout the year.
“First it needs to be refrigerated from the word go,” says Luke Saturno, owner of The Gilbert Street Hotel, Adelaide. “The brewers can only do so much, but there’s no point doing that if it’s going to sit out in the heat. We make sure all the hopped beers are refrigerated. We know it affects them worse than wine. That can be drunk in six days – IPA needs to be drunk as fresh as can be.”
Freshness is another critical factor for your beer and the way that you run your cellar will determine how fresh the beers coming out of your taps and fridges are. It’s easy to get carried away with the craft beer craze and put a host of interesting and wonderful beers on your bar, but if they’re not going to sell fast enough, then you run the risk of serving an out-of-date pint or pouring half the keg down the drain.
Stock rotation is absolutely critical if you are to avoid wasting product by letting it sit. Some beers – bottle-aged beers for example – actually benefit from spending some time in the fridge, but others needs to be tapped and served as soon as possible. Talking to your suppliers about this and keeping a well-ordered cellar should ensure that no customer gets anything other than a fresh beer.
“From both a venue and personally as a craft beer punter, freshness is the most important thing,” says Alex Hogan, bar manager at The Woolly Mammoth in Brisbane. “With the sheer volume of incredible brews released both locally and interstate every week we strive to get stock in, on tap and in your hand as fast as possible to showcase the product as the brewer intended.”
Keep it clean
However, even if you are keeping your beer in tip-top condition below the ground, there is still many a slip between keg and lip. The pipes through which the beer flows, the taps that pour them into glasses, and the glasses from which your customers drink are all potential avenues for contamination, which can ruin any beer and potentially make people sick. You wouldn’t serve food on dirty plates, so you shouldn’t pour beer from dirty lines into dirty glasses. Cleaning beer lines can seem expensive on the face of it, but the long term benefits – a reputation for serving good beer, resulting in more sales and fewer beers being returned – will soon outweigh them.
“You should be cleaning your lines weekly,” argues Chris Deale, publican of the Dove and Olive in Sydney. “In previous pubs, we’ve had customers who were so keen on one brand of beer – Tooheys or Carlton – and they could tell you when the lines were last cleaned. They were that obsessed and they would go to another venue to find a venue with clean lines. They knew it down to that level. We need to clean it just to make sure the taste is true.”
Like a fridge in a kitchen, you can’t turn off your cellar – it is always working. With that in mind, you need people on the ground able to keep things moving forward, to fix things if they go wrong and to keep the temperature correct and the stock properly rotated. For this, you need training. However, training in the cellar is more important for other reasons. Heavy equipment, poisonous gases and cramped spaces can make a cellar a dangerous place for a new recruit. This is a part of your venue that demands the utmost respect.
“From a staff safety perspective, you need people to be trained properly,” advises Thorpe.
“A cellar cool room is one of the most dangerous places we work with in our industry. People die from CO2, or from heavy stainless steel kegs. It’s important to get staff training in. Everyone is trained in-house by us and our beverage manger. But we also have outside training. The government are really supportive and offer incentives, so it’s worth looking at that. There are things that will cost your business pretty much nothing. It’s definitely a good thing to look at.”