Cambridge Beer Festivals – all the beers…

If you want to know more about the condition of our sample beers at the Cambridge Beer Festival, we have all the data you could want. So what’s the story?

Firstly, you might want to know what the ambient temperatures are in the tent:

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 16.13.21

And how that relates to all the beers:

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 16.11.40

Good to see a signficant difference between ambient and the beers!

We’ll put the views for each beer into separate posts, for technical reasons your author doesn’t entirely understand, but relate to inadvertent triggering of The End of Times, apparently.

Beer Festivals: too hot to handle?

Here at Purrmetrix we’ve been getting very interested in beer recently. And not just for the obvious reasons.

Fact is, beer, especially real ale, is a living thing, and sensitive to temperature. Good pubs put effort into making sure their cellars maintain the 11-13°c that is the optimum for keeping cask ales at their best. Organisations like CAMRA and Cask Marque offer training and accreditation, with an annual survey of pubs testing for temperature, taste and aroma.

Is British beer too warm?

Despite this, the old legend that British beer is served warm refuses to die, and in fact might be grounded in some truth. One of the earliest Cask Marque surveys reported more than 2000 pubs serving beer warmer that 13°, with a number consistently producing pints in excess of 20° and in one case even 35°C. Yuck.

Beer this warm not only spoils more quickly but also tends to ‘fob’ or froth, meaning a lot more is wasted. The British Beer and Pub Association estimates that for a 10 tap bar warm cellars can reduce yield and waste up to £14,000 of revenue each year. We’re guessing no landlord wants this to happen and warm beer is more often the result of a hidden problem – hotspots in the cellar, or brewlines run past a fridge outlet. Which is why we’re getting very interested, because one thing we love at Purrmetrix is finding hidden problems, bringing them out into the light, and giving them a good kicking.

Delivering quality at Beer Festivals

Meanwhile, whatever the difficulties in guaranteeing a decent pint in a pub, a different challenge faces the organisers of beer festivals. Beer festivals are enjoying a rennaissance, clocking up audiences of thousands. Imagine the problems a landlord for a large town centre pub with 8 ales on tap faces. Now multiply that by 10, and add in much more limited ability to control the climate and a clientele that really, really cares about quality. Once the sun comes out and your marquee warms up, how are you going to deliver?

Next week we’re going to have a look at this question at the Cambridge Beer Festival, one of the oldest and largest beer festivals in the UK. 200 beers, 60 ciders and Perries. Foreign beers, English wine and even Mead. And also: 50 kittens, sitting on the more popular casks and monitoring their temperature. We’re hoping to break some new ground here – we are measuring the surface temperature of the casks, not their contents, with the aim of gathering enough data to determine the relationship between the two. Other things that interest us: can we alert you, the Beer Festival customer, to ‘low beer’ status on each cask and let you get that critical last pint before it runs out?

So if you’re planning on going to the Beer Festival and want to do a bit of public science, check our data here for a sample of stock and see if you can determine the point at which the beer is getting low. There’s a live feed across the whole site and you can follow us on Twitter for more updates.

It pays to pay more attention to temperature

Last week I had a great conversation with Roger Whitlock at Hoare Lea consulting engineers which raised an important question.

What’s the most important problem with poorly performing HVAC? Nobody likes wasting energy, but with energy bills at less than 5% of most companies’ revenue, it’s not that big a deal, right?

Wrong.

Because it turns out that a poor environment, particularly poorly controlled temperature, has a direct impact on productivity. And thus on the bottom line.

Getting office temperature right

This is not new news. Studies since the 1970s have consistently demonstrated a link between performance and temperature.

Some highlights:

Study 1 – A 2004 study in a call centre showing that temperatures above 25.4°C had the largest impact on productivity, beyond ventilation, CO2 levels and even staffing and shift length1

Study 2 – A 2009 laboratory study used a range of neurobehavioural tests to try and dig into the effects of temperature on more complex cognitive skills. The study found that motivated participants can maintain productivity for short periods (30 minutes) over temperature ranges between 19° – 32° c, and that moderate warmth can affect mental performance in some tasks, while cold temperatures can affect physical performance in other tasks.2

Study 3 – A 2004 office study showed a steady increase in keying (typing) rates from 20° – 25° and a decrease in errors.3

One temperature to rule them all? 

A 2011 meta analysis of these papers and others shows a steady and pretty consistent relationship between workplace temperatures and loss of productivity, with a broadly neutral effect between 20 and 23°c and a loss of about 1% of productivity for every degree either side of 20 – 25%

Effect of temperature on productivity

Temperature’s impacts on productivity come in a range of effects – from routine tasks taking longer with more mistakes, all the way to increased rates of absenteeism.

So if you put all of these studies together do they give the final word on what is the best temperature for workplace productivity?

Nearly – it seems there is a pretty narrow band where optimisation is likely to happen. They certainly make a strong case for taking temperature very seriously in any workplace, along with other factors in comfort like lighting, airflow and humidity. An important point here is that the subjects in most of these studies were properly randomised – different genders, wearing a range of clothing – meaning the results should carry over into a normal working population.

There’s a couple of points that aren’t clear yet. First the effect of acclimatisation. Does the external weather tend to increase peoples’ tolerance for higher or lower temperatures? With results from Helsinki to Florida, there does seem to be a small effect.

Secondly does this effect apply to all tasks? Many of the studies looked at administrative tasks where it’s possible to define how long something should take and what a mistake looks like. It’s obviously difficult to design similar tests for more creative or analytical work in realistic environments. But one big anecdotal clue here – there are very few offices where individual workers have complete control over their environments. The few that there are are in places where these workers produce extremely high value output and a mistake can be very expensive indeed – trading desks for example.

Getting temperature right in the real world

How does this fit with running conditioning systems in a truly efficient manner?

In a system where heating and cooling are split, the recommendation is to run a ‘dead band’ between the heating and the cooling to avoid them fighting. The heating is turned off at 20° and the cooling comes on at 24° for example. It’s clear from the research that the tighter you can keep the dead band, the more time your colleagues will spend in the productivity sweet spot.

And a tight dead band relies on tight control to avoid clashes between heating and cooling. If sensors are drifting over time, or the thermal load is higher than the original design, then buildings can be locked into a cycle of rapid heating/cooling that gives the worst of all worlds.

Reframing the temperature conversation

Nobody sets out to make an uncomfortable workplace. However maintaining the systems that keep our work comfortable is often treated as a low priority, because 1) there seems little quantifiable payback and 2) it is sometimes difficult to measure improvements. The result is that apathy takes hold and it becomes difficult to justify investment, especially where budgets are tight.

Perhaps it is time to reframe the conversations facilities managers have with the board. By producing evidence of better productivity (or raising awareness of the dangers of lost productivity) you can start to build a serious ROI for investing in better control.

For more ideas about how to measure productivity and temperature in your building without needing a scientific research grant, head over to our LinkedIn discussion on the Corporate Real Estate group.