In essence an app that boils down to its beery essence the information found on respected beer website Casque Mark, CaskFinder is unlikely to win any awards for design. On a 10in tablet, especially, its simple interface just crosses the border between utilitarian and ugly, although it is much more palatable in its natural home of a smartphone. But no matter, this is a free app for Android and iOS and the proof of the pudding is in the drinking, so to speak.
Those who, like your author, have been known to imbibe a drop or two will know that the 'Cask Marque' itself is a sign that appears outside pubs guaranteeing that inside you will get a great pint of well-kept cask ale. The website - and now the CaskFinder app - takes this a stage further, allowing you to research beers, and find pubs and festivals, as you go.
The simple home page offers several options: Beers, Cask Marque Pubs, Brewers, Festivals, Beer of the Week, Beer Blog and Beer Scan.
Beers takes you to an alphabetical list of ales, with a search bar in order that you can quickly find a specific tipple. Once you click on a beer, you get basic information about brewery and alcohol content, a guide to the taste, and a crowd-sourced rating. You're also given the option to rate the beer yourself, thus adding to the quality of the information for everyone else.
Popular beers with good distribution tend to have hundreds of ratings, but more obscure ales may have only a handful. The list is pretty extensive, and we didn't find any beers with no rating at all. (We did find a few misses, however, and were particularly disapointed that Shere Drop from the Surrey Hills brewery was missing. For the record: it's lovely.)
The Brewers option offers a similar service, only for the parents of the lovely ales you will be enjoying: in both cases, the mystery is taken out of selecting a guest ale at your local, or choosing a pint in a new place. And you can always join in by adding your own rating. And if you have access to a mystery beer's barcode, take a snap of the barcode of a beer, and Beer Scan will take you to its page.
The Cask Marque Pub option shows you a map of the nearest affiliated real-ale pubs, either by your current location, or by address. It's a very useful feature, that works well when it works, but we found it buggy, and it caused the app to crash a few times.
And then there are a few less useful features. Festivals is an interesting feature that could use a little work. It shows a list of beer festivals, but only by name of pub. Clicking on most offers scant information beyond a street address: are we to assume that there is a beer festival at this pub today? Some give details of the beers on offer. Beer of the week offers details of a single beer that is currently scoring well, and the Beer Blog is a regularly updated and breezy report from the world of lovely, lovely beer.
All well and good, but the principle reason to use CaskFinder is to find out about ales at the crucial moment between the landlord saying 'what will it be', and starting to poor. And at this, CaskFinder is pretty darned good.