Chris Linden of the Vine Inn Barossa Community Hotel describes himself as “a beer tragic. So it’s no surprise that he oversaw the construction of a purpose built keg room at the hotel four years ago. However, as every publican knows, it takes more than good equipment to deliver the best draught beer to customers; or as Chris describes it, “how the product hits the glass and retains its true taste, sparkle and marbling.

Article courtesy of the Hotel SA Oct/Nov 2018 edition.

Hotel SA spoke to the hotel’s Chief Executive Officer to gain an insight into the secrets of success. The Vine Inn offers 10 choices of beer on tap, plus a cider and CC. The biggest sellers are Coopers Pale and Hahn Super Dry. “We are passionate about our product. Every beer is scrutinised and staff are well aware of the need to pour every beer to present these as best they can” said Chris.“Like all publicans, I hate waste but if a beer is not properly presented, I would rather pour it down the drain than put up an inferior product in front of a customer. All equipment from glass type to how the glass is prepared for use, cleaning techniques, fridge temperatures, machine cleanliness, the presentation of our keg room (spotless), regularity of servicing of lines, glycol tank efficiencies, gas pressures and types used, and regular servicing of all equipment to ensure high quality and prevent breakdowns.

Asked if country pubs have to approach draught beer any differently, due to transportation or other factors, the answer was an emphatic “No”. “There are no excuses for poor quality no matter where you live and work. I scrutinise all areas of the system, front to back on a daily basis.It is our responsibility to give our team the right product to work with. How can we ask them to produce a quality product if we don’t provide the correct mechanisms, back of house? Without the right back end, you can’t produce the right front end. I designed the keg room layout, selected the right chillers and compressors and worked closely with Craig Hinter of Lancer to make sure that the system was exactly what we needed to deliver the right product. While we already had a keg room in existence, we purpose built a new one when we did our refurbishment nearly four years ago.

When anyone sees the keg room for the first time they comment that it looks as good as new. All walls are cleaned on at least a monthly basis, temperatures are checked daily and Lancer performs a full maintenance program every three weeks. I also spend time in the bar, pouring beers with my team and they know that I will “direct” them to do the job properly in those times when they may become a little lax. It is imperative that staff are trained and encouraged to always present the best product that they can. They all understand my obsession with correct glass cleanliness, temperate and use of correct techniques to pour.

“After use, every glass is hand washed with a brush and a cleaning solution. Correct detergents are used in the machine, which is cleaned daily. Our glass fridges run at <3 degrees and we only use Headmaster glasses. The Vine Inn is a well-run operation that deserves its mantle as having the best draught beer in regional SA.”

“We had a beer audit subsequent to the AHA|SA inspections and Russell Hosking gave us his first 100% rating that he could remember giving in over seven years of inspections.”

“I am a beer tragic and love the product (which is how I stay so svelte) so I have tried to encourage my team to become beer tragics as well. They were extremely proud when we won the State Award Regional and are enthusiastic about how we present our product.

“We don’t have too many problems as we are constantly scrutinising personal and product,” said Chris.”One small issue that can happen is that staff can forget to reset the cellar boy, which will mean that the system will not shut off when a keg runs out and waste will encountered pushing the new product through the lines for service. I check this daily and always look at the cellar boys to make they are in the reset position if I am changing a keg myself.Things have drastically changed since the old days of keg spears or direct pull systems. Technology has made it easy to pour a consistent, quality product provided you use the technology effectively.

Q&A With Chris Linden and AHA|SA

How important is good draught beer in a hotel?
Vital. I have been in the industry for over 40 years and have seen some major changes to the industry over that time. But no matter what happens within the industry, survivors need to be flexible to change to market needs and a good beer is still the cornerstone of any pub in my opinion.People are drinking less and the demand for quality is greater than ever before. How has that affected your approach to draught beer? I must admit, I am a bit of a beer tragic. I have always seen the need to put the best product you can in the glass despite what happens with customer’s tastes and choices. When times are good, people will drink. When times are tough, people will drink. Providing the best product you can gives you an edge over your opposition. In all honesty, while beer is a cornerstone product, we are of the realisation that all parts of business have to work effectively so as to compliment each other.

Should bar staff know the characteristics of the beer they are serving?
Not unless they are working in a specialist beer house. Generally, products go across all states and unless there is something new that we put on tap, people know most beer types and tastes.”

Do you conduct staff training and if so, why?
Absolutely. When a person starts with us I always look at how they actually pour a beer. If it is well done we encourage them to maintain that standard and if it not we train them in how we want our product to be presented. Also, as previously mentioned, my team know that I constantly scrutinise presentation when items hit the bar. If it’s not right, I will go and fix it myself so as to guide staff in how we expect our beer to present.

What is the future of draught beer?
It’s still bright. While the old days of the six o’clock swill are gone, people still love the product.

What is your favourite draught beer?
I like them all, which is a bit of a problem from a dietary perspective but I guess my current favourite on tap is Super Dry.