I have no doubt in my own mind that the acquisition of pubs from the big pub companies by the family brewers is overall a good thing. It enhances choice and competition in the beer market by consolidating the strength and market power of the “second tier” below the international and national brewers. Even if there are hundreds of beers available, there isn’t much real competition or diversity if the top three players have 98% of the market.
However, at times this can lead to a reduction of choice on a local basis, as pubs offering a range of guest beers are turned into independent brewery tied houes. This complaint is reflected in this posting on the CAMRA forum about the Ring O’Bells in Frodsham, Cheshire, which has been taken over by J. W. Lees. Inevitably, as the pub companies are selling off their better pubs in a desperate attempt to raise money, those offering guest beers are more likely to go than the keg-only crapholes.
But I often feel that pub company outlets offering guest beers are just following the latest fad anyway. Very often the guest beers are expensive and poorly-kept, and confined to higher-strength brews, while the pub’s “cooking bitter” remains keg Tetley’s or John Smith’s. I am not saying this is the case with the Ring O’Bells, but there are relatively few pub company outlets around here that have much to be said for them on the beer front.
Change is an inescapable feature of life, and it’s always going to inconvenience some people in the short-term, but there’s still plenty of choice of beer in Frodsham, and I’m convinced that this is, taking a wider view, a change for the better. In the long term, a pub will have a much more certain future selling high-quality cask beer in the hands of an independent family brewer than a pub company following every short-term gimmick.
Incidentally, I did a lot of drinking in the Ring O’Bells in my youth, when it was a Greenalls tied house offering just Mild and Bitter, but haven’t been in for years.