To paraphrase Admiral Lord Nelson – but, in most pubs, he wouldn’t even if he put his telescope to his good eye. Over the past few weeks, the better weather and the fact I’ve had a bit more time on my hands have given me the opportunity to get out and about visiting a few new pubs and reacquainting myself with old favourites. But it’s very noticeable how, in the vast majority, there’s scarcely a sign of the much-vaunted craft beer revolution.
As I wrote here, craft beer is as much an attitude of mind as a list of specific products, and a single craft keg tap does not make a pub a craft beer venue. But, if you look at the characteristic signs – the presence on the bar of cask ales from “cutting edge” breweries, the craft keg fonts and the fridge full of weird stuff from the UK and America – they’re in general conspicuous by their absence. I’m not including, by the way, Blue Moon, “world lagers” such as Estrella Damm or keg ciders from independent producers such as Aspall, Thatcher’s and Weston’s.
A fair number follow the well-trodden “multi beer alehouse” path, but even here the main concession to changing times seems to be a higher proportion of golden ales. Obviously, over the years the product mix changes, and certainly some of the more successful micro-breweries are now getting their beers on the bars of plenty of non-specialist pubs, including those run by the major pub companies. But that’s nothing that wouldn’t come within the general orbit of “real ale” as understood twenty years ago.
In many towns there’s now a kind of dedicated craft beer outlet - Shrewsbury, for example, has the Salopian Bar. But in most of the rest of the pubs there will just be a selection of real ales, some micro, some nationally-distributed, and the usual range of kegs and lagers. I asked a couple of years back whether we would see a craft keg tap becoming a standard feature in Spoons but so far, as far as I can see, it hasn’t, despite their ill-judged dabbling with US craft cans.
I suggested here that the full-on craft beer experience is something that is unlikely to make a decisive breakout from niche to mainstream. It hasn’t shown much sign of doing so in the past few years and, frankly, I suspect it never will beyond perhaps the assimilation of a handful of high-profile products. Maybe that’s the entire point of it.