If you're new to running a real ale pub, you might only just be discovering how important it is to keep your real ale properly. Keg beers are easy to store and serve, but real ale is another matter entirely--so what can you do to ensure that the ale you serve is always in perfect condition?
Put some effort into creating the perfect storage area.
When a new barrel of real ale arrives at your door, it's not yet ready to serve--it needs to complete its fermentation process in situ before you can offer it to your customers. Most pubs have a cellar for this purpose, and it's important that you keep that cellar at the right temperature; 12-14°C is perfect, and if you keep the casks in a room warmer than that you'll find that the beer's taste is seriously compromised. There is such a thing as too cold, however! If you cellar is below 10-11°C you beers will start to lose much of the complexity of their flavour, so keep a close eye on the temperature of your cask storage area.
As a note, while a cellar is the traditional place to complete this process it's not your only option. Some pubs now have cask storage areas up behind the bar, and they can work just as well if you don't have a large number of real ales to store. If you take this option, however, be sure to install a cooling system to make sure you're keeping everything at just the right temperature.
Make sure you let the casks sit for the right amount of time.
How long your ale needs to sit before you can serve it varies by beer. The brewer will have a recommendation for each beer they sell, and they're usually right; follow their guidelines and make sure you keep track of which beers are ready to serve when.
Most ales can be served as soon as they're clear in the barrel and don't look cloudy once you've poured them into a glass. This is less likely to be true of an ale that clears very quickly, though--if your beer is running clear after 24 hours or less, double check the recommended sit time before you offer it out to your punters.
Install the right kind of pump to serve your beer it its best.
There are plenty of different ways of getting real ale out of the cask and into as glass--but they're not all created equal.
A beer engine is the most common method, and usually the best. These are simple suction pumps that draw the beer down into the glass as you pull back in a single smooth movement.
Electric pumps are similar, but use electricity to help the beer along. They look a lot like the taps used for keg beer, and as such don't have the classic look beloved by many fans of real ale pubs.
The gravity dispense method simply means bringing your cask to the bar and serving the beer directly from it. This is a good way to get started and see if real ale will sell well in your pub, but quickly becomes impractical if you have more than two or three ales on at once.
A tall fount uses air pressure to drive beer up to the bar. This aerates the beer more than other methods, and can damage the taste of beers that aren't designed to be pumped this way. Scottish-style beers often do well with pumps like these, but others are best served from other taps.
Some pubs dispense cask-conditioned ales via a gas pump. This isn't recommended, however, as it can make the beer unpleasantly fizzy.
Real ale makes a fantastic addition to any pub, but it's important to put a little effort into keeping and serving it properly if you want to attract a clientele who care about what you're doing.