Saturday, 9 July 2011

A touch of class

Sit in any pub, watch a group of blokes come in, shaven heads, footie shirts, bit of jewellery. And you know what’s coming. “Wot lagers you got on, mate?” “OK, two Stellas and three Carlings then.”

On a similar note, last week I was in a market town pub in the Welsh Marches at lunchtime. There was a good group of male regulars in, aged between maybe about 40 and 75, with some lively banter. The kind of classic pub atmosphere that seems to be rapidly disappearing. But, although the pub sold cask beer, every single one of them was drinking either Carling or Stowford Press cider.

It seems to have become a fact of life nowadays that the working classes drink keg beer. Even if they drink ale, it’s John Smith’s Extra Smooth. Cask is now a middle-class affectation. Around here, there is still a strong residual customer base of older drinkers for the cask products of the four local family brewers and Samuel Smith’s, but in general across the country the cask=middle class link very much holds true. Sometimes you can almost feel the locals thinking “wanker” when you walk into a strange pub, peer along the bar past the forest of T-bar taps and order a pint of cask by name.

How did that happen, when real ale used to be the working man’s pint, and keg beer was promoted as an aspirational drink?

8 comments:

  1. I agree that beer was working class. The middle classes did however enjoy "A pint of best in a handle glass."
    Early camapigning ridiculed keg beer. The big brewers cleverly switched their mass advertising to persuade the masses to slake their thirsts on tank beer and lager. CAMRA increasingly became a middle class vehicle for whom cask ale wasn't about a 3.4% mild and 3.7% bitter drunk in large quantities in the public bar.
    Now the emphasis is on a premium product brewed from quality ingredients akin to the organic, slow food and similar worthy campaigns.

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  2. Cask beer remains, however, almost invariably cheaper than keg ales, let alone lager and keg cider.

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  3. I broke the habits of a lifetime last night and made the mistake of entering my nearest pub, the only one in the area with no cask beer (it was at the invite of friends, to see a band-that's my excuse!). Having established (as suspected) that there was no cask beer, I asked for Guinness, only to be iinformed that they only had the ice cold variety (what's that all about?).

    The point of all this being that I felt like an outsider living in a parallel universe where everyone drinks flavourless fizz of various sorts and seems to like it, whilst down the road (literally) is a thriving pub with 6 cask ales including excellent Brimstage beers. Like you I just don't understand why these people have such narrow perception and low expectation of what they drink-it's the exact opposite of "personal choice" before anyone makes that point, more a case of availability, advertising and peer pressure. I sat there wondering why so many people just don't care about what they're drinking, given how good the alternatives are/can be, and as stated, that the good stuff is often/usually cheaper!. As one of my friends stated probably quite profoundly "these lager drinkers are keeping the pubs open"-sadly probably true, although in the case of this one, no great loss where it to shut tomorrow.

    My one and only visit ended after one pint........

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  4. Oi!
    I'm working class and have ALWAYS supped cask ale.
    Lacking minds of their own the so called 'middle class' only drink what The Mail and Telegraph tell them to.

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  5. Birkonian: CAMRA increasingly became a middle class vehicle for whom cask ale wasn't about a 3.4% mild and 3.7% bitter drunk in large quantities in the public bar.

    The thing is, mild has totally disappeared from many parts of the country and even in Lancashire, one of its heartlands, a good pint of mild isn't easy to come by.

    And, I suppose the other thing is that with bitter the taste has become increasingly bland - i.e. there are a lot of times I've had a pint in a proper real ale pub and looked at the others on the bar and have left because I know that none of the beers there have a 'bite' to them.

    Perhaps even most real ale consumers prefer a subtle - some would say somewhat bland - experience over a hoppy one. Hoppy beers don't need to be strong and out of the range of the average pubgoer, but it seems they prefer the boring, malty, brown ales you see mostly - but people seemingly want to drink the likes of Jennings Cumberland in the middle of summer and in winter too. That's my point, in that the real ale market seems to have become ossified, with not just the same styles but the same kinds of beer within those styles dominating. It becomes dispiriting after a while.

    Perhaps I'm just a middle-class snob.

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  6. I'm not criticising people - it has to be recognised that different people have different priorities.

    See this post from 2009: Don't call me stupid

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  7. Lout, working class?

    Lout is the everymans pint. The pint of affluence and aspiration for the modern 21st century metro sexual male.

    Pongy ale is for fat old blokes.

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  8. I've seen the flip side of this phenomena - the reaction in some real ale pubs when some poor guy comes in and ssks if they have Carling or Stella. Some have a "craft" lager or one of the foreign lagers, and some just go.

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