Have you ever had to change a tap on a full cask of beer at a festival?
If you haven’t, and can’t even imagine the scenario, then you likely won’t be interested in owning a copy of Cellarmanship. On the other hand, based on the growing number of e-mails I receive asking for just this sort of advice, I’m guessing that there are enough of you out there who are. And as one who has confronted this very issue on many occasions, I can’t recommend this book too highly. Real ale has been a hot item in America for over 10 years, but for it to really take root here, a generation of cellarmen (note: both this and the book’s title are genderless terms) must be trained. Cellarmanship should be the required textbook for that next generation.
This is a fully revised and updated edition of a CAMRA work that premiered in 1981 as little more than a glorified pamphlet. The second edition, published in 1992, was scarcely larger—just over 40 bound pages. But what this series always lacked in length was more than made up for with clear illustrations and concise information. That precedent was continued even as Ivor Clissold expanded Patrick O’Neill’s original work by a hundred pages in 1997 and has been followed once again in its current form.
Taking over from his late colleague, O’Neill once again shares his experience and passion for real ale in a work that you will refer to over and over. Cellarmanship requires plenty of on-the-job experience, but if you start by following the advice in this book, you’ll be off to a great start. From setting a stillage, spiling and tapping, to sanitation, cooling, and dispense issues, all is explained and de-mystified. New auto-tilt and vertical extraction systems are profiled. Need to order equipment? A handy appendix provides the contact information for the major suppliers. Perhaps the most handy feature is a “quick practical fault finder” that directs you to the causes and solutions for the most common problems encountered with cask ale.
No book is perfect, of course. Once again, O’Neill has devoted a section to the discredited practice of recycling beer back to the cask. Although the author goes to great lengths to discourage this (“This is bad practice at any time and cannot be recommended.”), he goes on to explain exactly how this is done and what tools to use. I know it’s important to understand what unscrupulous methods are employed, but I think there’s a limit to what needs to be presented in such a concise book. It’s sort of like providing instructions for building a bomb but including the caveat: “bombs are illegal weapons in private hands and we don’t recommend that you build one.”
A properly-served pint of cask conditioned ale can be one of the greatest pleasures in the beer world. Cool, softly carbonated, tantalizingly fragrant and complex, it is the celebration of a unique and uncompromising collaboration between brewer, cellarman and server. All too often, however, it remains an elusive, almost quixotic, goal. If more cellarmen owned and used this book, that goal would be much more attainable.