Two exciting things this morning:
Firstly, The Independent, the official media partner of Cask Ale Week, has published a cask ale supplement. I've written the intro and a piece on the history of beer, and there are also pieces by Protzy on the rise of microbreweries, Tim Hampson and Tom Stainer at the Kelham Island Tavern, none other than Al Murray rhapsodising about cask ale and British tradition, and Neil Morrissey on his life in beer. Follow the links by all means, but please do try and buy the paper as well - they need all the sales they can get!
Secondly, Cask Marque and Cyclops today launch Caskfinder, an iPhone app. Now I'll be honest: when you see Cask Marque's somewhat dated, cramped website, I didn't have the highest of hopes for this. But having just downloaded it I'm absolutely blown away by it. I can see it's going to be indispensable.
First, there's an encyclopedia of every beer rated using the Cyclops tasting notes - currently just over 1000 - searchable by beer name or brewer, with tasting notes and the opportunity for you to record your own rating of it.
Second, there's a directory of every one of Cask Marque's 6000-odd pubs. Let your iPhone know where you are and it flags up the nearest pubs to you - you can also download this onto your car Satnav. Googlemaps gives you the address of the pub, a link to their website if they've got one, and details of any beers on tap that have been tested by Cask Marque's assessors.
Then there's a directory of brewers - don't know how many bit I'd guess a couple of hundred. You can see all their beers, back search from here to find the pubs that serve them, link to the brewers' websites, and find the brewery in a map.
There's a directory of upcoming beer festivals with full details, locations, maps etc, a featured beer of a week, and and, er, an RSS feed to this blog! Looks like I'd better tone down the profanities from now on.
And it's absolutely free.
I know there are some people who are sneery about Cask Marque, and critical of Cyclops. Some breweries claim their own quality standards are higher, and people don't like the format of the Cyclops tasting notes. But in each case, while they may not be perfect, they are rapidly becoming national standards. This app shows the confidence and vision that cask ale as a beer style now has. For pubs and breweries that have not yet signed up, or feel they don't need it, I'd say it's worth signing up just be be on this app. The more pubs and beers it includes, the more indispensable it will be.