The Beer Whisperer
Behind the scenes, as our pubs re-open, you may well see a young person helping out with cellar duties. Take a closer look at them they might just grow up to be a ‘beer whisperer’. It’s a bit tongue in cheek but that’s how many in the trade refer to Avani Solutions co-founder and Head of Technical Services, Michael Harper, whose journey to becoming an expert in all thing’s beer dispense quality began with a part-time pub job as a teenager.
“I was taught how to clean beer lines and learned first-hand how to do it wrong,” He says. Several jobs in pubs later his passion for beer quality was ignited – although it would be some years before he got the chance to start his own company dedicated to raising the bar on beer quality.
“I found there was a need to do things differently. Amanda (Thomson, co-founder and managing director) and I were keen to challenge the status quo of ‘it’s always been done like this’ – and so Avani Solutions was born with the ambition that one day every pint poured will be perfect.”
Imagine the pub cellar as the equivalent of ‘behind the scenes’ of a movie. Then think of all those mysterious-sounding job titles that roll past on the credits at the end of a film. Have you got any idea what they all do? Neither do most people! But if those roles weren’t filled, and the jobs not done correctly, you’d end up with a pretty shoddy looking film. To extend the analogy, it could also be a good reason to draft in a team of dedicated experts to maintain your cellar and dispense hygiene. The results could be like the difference between a big-budget blockbuster, and something shot with wobbly hands on a smartphone.
So how does Michael perform his beer whispering to make sure all Avani’s clients have great beer? “It’s centred around understanding and communication – really understanding how quality beer is meant to be served – and driven by passion. When I say I love what I do, I mean it. We’re also blessed to have a team that is as equally passionate about quality as me. You’d expect me to say that, but it’s true!
“The other thing is we’re not put off by a challenge. We have a wonderful knack for fixing some typically ‘unfixable’ taints and off flavour related issues where others wouldn’t succeed.”
As an example, Michael goes on to recount one of the hardest – and weirdest – dispense issues he’s been asked to solve. “We had an SOS call from a pub that said customers were complaining of a fishy smell and taste to the beer. I’ve come across many – and most – taints, but this was a new one for me!
“After investigating the dispensing system, I found a small blue piece of plastic inside the pipework that had a really strong odour. We had our culprit. By using a combination of Avani techniques we managed to solve the issue and get the line back to top quality.”
But how likely are licensees to end up with fishy beer? “I’ve never come across that issue since, but tainted lines, along with fobbing and flat beer are all examples of common dispense issues,” says Michael going on to outline how things get overlooked and can lead to bigger problems.
“Ignoring pouring issues as ‘it always does this’ is a simple but often made – and costly – mistake. Ignoring that glasswashers need regular maintenance and cleaning just like lines do. Both these are up there when it comes to causes of spoiled beer.
“Consistency is key, it isn’t hard to serve consistently great beer, but it isn’t hard to mess it up either. I’ve seen things done in so many different ways, even in the same venue. If everyone’s doing something slightly different, it’s no wonder no two pints taste the same.”
Then there’s nozzles.
“Don’t get me started on nozzles!” he says. “Ok do. Our best advice is to wash them, air dry them and only then put them back in place. You’d turn your nose up at a glass of water from a grubby tap spout, so why would you serve beer from one?”
There is so much that affects beer quality and plenty of myths and misunderstandings. He goes on to emphasise the importance of periodically auditing the bar to make sure standards aren’t allowed to slip and include training your team as part of this.
“The best advice I can give you is to train your team and train them well. It’s such an important subject and our sector hasn’t fully embraced this yet. This might be unpopular, but I truly believe that bar managers need to be trained in the basics, otherwise we will continue to see bad practice being perpetrated.”
Outdoor is the new indoor
Coping with the pandemic: Pubs and bars with outdoor space were counting down to 12th April, but how easy is it to attract customers when you can’t invite them in?
Haverhill-based hotel, restaurant and cocktail bar Nine Jars – owned by Dan and James Pilley rose to the challenge of keeping business going when normal trade stopped overnight back in March 2020.
They began with an online shop then introduced takeaways and a lockdown off-licence, as well as sourcing goods for vulnerable people when the shops ran out. The latter is an example of how they’ve built a reputation as a successful family business and also a lifeline for the local community.
Following Government advice that for hospitality, outdoors is safer than indoors, Dan and James decided to renovate their outside space – keeping in mind it could be a long-term attraction, not just a pandemic measure. Making the space beautiful, waterproof and windproof were their priorities – as well as ensuring enough space to make solely outdoor trade profitable.
Their new heated terrace seats around 150. Among the more expensive renovations are VIP fire pit tables (real fire in appearance, but powered by propane gas) and an outside grill, but they also offer hot water bottles and blankets to keep guests warm. The new terrace enabled them to host a fantastic Christmas period and the outside space is likely to remain a permanent fixture in their business model.
The Avani View:
Adapting your outdoor space with comfortable seating areas that can be used in all weather conditions is probably a better option than installing an outside bar. What Nine Jars have done is a great example of this. If you don’t have the budget for heaters and table fire pits, installing an awning or gazebo along with hot water bottles and blankets could still boost business – just be sure to let your customers know you’ve introduced measures to keep them toasty. We’re a hardy bunch but we still want the creature comforts.