Saturday, 16 October 2010

Smooth operator

Well, my survey on “do you drink ‘smooth’ bitters?” has closed, with fairly predictable results:

Yes, and I never touch cask: 3 (3%)
Usually, but I occasionally drink cask: 0 (0%)
Sometimes, but I prefer cask: 11 (10%)
No, not if I can help it: 81 (77%)
I prefer other draught products to ales: 5 (5%)
I never drink any draught beer or cider: 5 (5%)

But if cask is so strongly preferred, why is it that “smooth” commands a substantial price premium? In Wetherspoons the other day, Ruddles Best Bitter was £1.55 a pint, John Smith’s Extra Smooth, a beer of similar strength, £1.95. Robinsons, Holts and Hydes all price smooth higher than cask bitter. In the real world, Pete Brown’s cask beer price premium is a long way off. Real drinkers will pay a premium for consistent but bland smooth beer.

Personally, I can’t stand the stuff, and in extremis would prefer cooking lager.

8 comments:

  1. Brains' pubs are everywhere here in south wales, i dont have a problem with that per se, but its their insistence on 'smoothing' every cask beer they do. In a club the other day, the choice was woeful, the usual trio of john smiths, fosters and guiness and four Brains pumps - all were smooth and one of those was 'extra cold'. Why make an IPA, and then smooth it?

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  2. You've done your own analysis, mate. You know why.

    Cask beer is quite nice, but it's a gamble. You may be a CAMRA drinker with your good beer guide and your local knowledge and your love of necking a beer you've not heard of from a micro brewery in bogs end, but the rest of the world wants a pint of something they know they will like.

    An actual campaign for real ale would champion national brands, consistency and a good pint of bitter, but you're all too busy campaigning against cheap lout.

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  3. I agree, mate - see this post from nine years ago:

    "Some would say CAMRA itself has not helped matters by presenting real ale as something complex and obscure, that may appeal to connoisseurs but is just too difficult for the ordinary drinker. So perhaps the way to restore real ale to the keg wastelands is to promote not a bewildering range of names, styles and flavours, but a more limited choice of recognisable beers that are strong enough to stand as premium products, but not so strong that you can't drink them all night; that provide a distinctive yet reliable pint and that, having tried once, you stand a reasonable chance of finding in other pubs you go in. In other words, beers that can take on Caffrey's and Guinness head on. Pint of Landlord, anyone? "

    I hope you liked my comment about preferring cooking lager to nitro-swill ;-)

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  4. Martin, Cambridge16 October 2010 at 21:57

    In Brain's defence, they provided the beers at the Ryder Cup, and I though the keg Black was superb, and notably better than the cask SA I had in Newport.

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  5. Yeah, it's weird innit. They're sticking with the price premium even as smooth sales are declining (as is keg in general) while cask is holding steady. And micro/craft brews are on the up (from a smaller base I admit). Looks a mad sort of economics to me.

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  6. Arn - I am intrigued. Last time I was in Cardiff, many years ago, Brains produced light, dark and SA. A few pubs had SA on the barrel which you had to drink with your teeth closed as a makeshift sieve.

    Light was piss-weak lunchtime beer, dark was a black, reasonable beer for general drinking and SA was known as 'skull attack' with good reason.

    Incidentally, it caused problems when I was transferring between Cardiff and Scotland. In Scotland, 'light' is the dark beer and 'heavy' is the bitter.

    So dark was light and light was heavy and working that out when you've had a few could be hard.

    Anyway, what's in that fourth pump?

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  7. Leg-iron - Brains currently produce Brains (bitter), SA, SA gold, Dark, Rev. James and an IPA (plus usual seasonals).
    Then they have the smooth line - Brains smooth, brains smooth extra cold (!), SA smooth, dark smooth, IPA smooth.

    Martin - Interestingly when Black launched they pointedly targeted the irish stout dominance and how they wanted that market, yet they still charge more for it, strange tactic. My prediction is in 6 months you'll see a Black extra cold btw.

    It puts me off going into Brains pubs to be honest.

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