Beer should be served at the correct temperature. For cask beer this is generally considered as being around 12 degrees centigrade1. Too cold and flavours can be masked as well as inevitable problems with chill haze. Much worse is the crime of serving beer too warm; the drinking experience is not enjoyable and an otherwise well brewed beer can be ruined as a result.
There is unfortunately a pattern; tied pub estates often have significant care given to the quality of installed equipment. OK, the beer range may not be particularly varied or imaginative, but you can be more certain that the beer is better looked after. There is very good reason for this.
With a tied house the beer sold is entirely supplied through one route to market. It might be a single regional brewer or it may be a PubCo but there is at least a central purchasing route and maximising sales is crucial to the profitability of the owning business. Cellar support is inevitably very good with great care given to maximising the quality of the beer.
By contrast many free houses have poorer investment in cellar equipment and dispense technology. A very noticeable but in my view completely unacceptable omission is, as I think Tandleman put it, "python2 cooling to the point of dispense". This should include jacketed handpulls and carefully regulated circulating cooling water from a dedicated cooler, i.e. NOT from the keg cooling circuit.
Moreover, some of my very favourite beer outlets do suffer from beer serve temperature problems. This results in public naming and shaming of the very places I love. So, perhaps these places could help to prevent Tandleman and I from falling out by thinking about investing a little in dispense equipment?
On Beer, Birra, Bier there is an interesting reflective post on my most recent twitter discussion with Tandleman.
Expensive but very good handpulls can be bought here. Pythons and other such wonderful things can be bought here. Personally I find the technicalities of putting these things together very straightforward, but if your practical skills aren't up to it a good cellar technician shouldn't cost too much.
If any cellar technician tries to tell you that it's OK, it's "trad beer" and doesn't need python cooling, look for someone else.
1personally I think there is an argument for some very light and hoppy beers being served a little cooler and things like strong stouts and barley wines a little warmer. 12 degrees is a good compromise however and I totally reject the excuse some dinosaur cellar-men use to say cask beer should be warm. Cask Marque is one organisation that has set some parameters and this cannot be a bad thing.
2A python is a thermally lagged bundle of pipes that includes a flow and return cooling circuit. It's really good at keeping beer at the right temperature from the cellar right to your glass. Generally, if beer is too warm, it is highly likely that this technology is not in use, or it's broken.