Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Hobson’s Choice

In my last post, I mentioned the complaints there had been in some quarters over my local CAMRA branch making Sam Smith’s Boar’s Head in Stockport its Pub of the Year, because it only serves a single cask beer. I suspect in the 21st century this is probably a unique occurrence, but I am rather proud that my fellow members have on this occasion put pub quality over number of beers.

There are still a few one-beer pubs in the Good Beer Guide, but most are either Sam’s pubs or unspoilt rural gems such as the Anchor at High Offley. However, going back a generation, they were very common.

Leafing through the 1979 Guide, most pubs in Greater Manchester still have Mild and Bitter, but we have, for example, the Priory Arms in Salford with just Boddingtons Bitter [E] and, even more unusually, the Rockferry in Ince-in-Makerfield, with just Youngers Scotch Bitter [E]. Several pubs in Gloucestershire only offered the very weak and bland Whitbread West Country Pale Ale, such as the Coopers Arms in Cheltenham and the Butchers Arms at Sheepscombe.

The presence of the one-beer pub in the GBG is now much diminished, although in the country at large there are still plenty of them, some of which do a huge trade with that one beer. There are also plenty of pubs listed in tourist areas with a beer range of, say, “Hancock’s HB; guest beer” where during the winter months it would only be the HB.

So I thought I would do a poll on which beers people would consider acceptable in a one-beer pub. I want to restrict it to beers you are likely to encounter in the North-West, so sadly no Bathams or Harveys. Obviously I will include the familiar bitters from the local family brewers, and Sam’s OBB. Plus well-known, nationally distributed beers such as Draught Bass and Wainwright. Not Doom Bar, as nobody on the internet seems to rate that, although I have encountered it as the sole cask beer in a quite pleasant Cornish pub.

But any suggestions as to micro-brewery beers would be welcome. They need to be fairly widely distributed in the North-West, and be gold/amber/copper beers in a strength range from about 3.6% to 4.5% ABV. Marble Manchester Bitter is an obvious one that springs to mind. It needs to be something that would stand up as a sole beer, not just your personal favourite. So please fire away. I’ll be aiming to keep the poll to around 15 beers in total.

(The Hobsons beer pictured would be one I’d be happy to see, but seldom seen around here)

23 comments:

  1. The All Nations in Madely, Shropshire used to brew its own beer, All Nations IPA and that was all you could get there. One hand pump in the middle of the bar and that was that; no lager, no cider, no nothing else. Still going but a bit more choice now. I rather liked it the way it was.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Fosters. The only beer required in any gaff.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Here in Wirral, Trapper's Hat from Brimstage brewery is a 'must have' beer for any serious cask beer pub. 3.8% pale and citrusy (not grapefruit).

    ReplyDelete
  4. There is a lot to be said for a pub with a low turnover of beer stocking only a single cak ale. Far better to serve one beer that may be fresh than to have 4 handpumps, all of which are well past their best.

    I guess if you are only serving 1 beer, it has to be fairly middle of the road, so no hop-monsters, stouts or milds. These would all fit the bill, and are all very quaffable.

    Weetwood Eastgate
    Hawkshead Bitter
    Brew Foundation Hops & Dreams
    Ossett Silver King
    Wincle Sir Philip

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for your input, folks. I've now created the poll with hopefully a decent mix of family brewers, national brands and micro beers.

    Agreed on Trapper's Hat - as you say, it's one of those beers that seems to become a must-have in its locality. Also often spotted at the Cocked Hat in Stockport.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Maybe too southern but St. Austell Tribute is the perfect one-beer-pub beer and the alternative to the aforementioned sole Doom Bar in Cornish pubs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Tribute would have an ideal candidate, along with Wadworths 6X and London Pride, but rarely seen in pubs around here.

      Delete
    2. I used to drink 6X regularly when I lived down near Swindon. Had a pint recently and it was terrible, though that may say more for the pub than the beer.

      Delete
  7. The two examples that spring to mind from experience are London Pride in the Faltering Fullback at Finsbury Park, and Taylor's Golden Best (now Boltmaker) in the Falcon at Arncliffe.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The one and only time I visited the Falcon at Arncliffe was when its sole beer was Younger's Scotch Bitter - in those days very widely available in the Yorkshire Dales.

      Delete
  8. The Falcon has sadly modernised, and now has two hand pumps! The Boltmaker (Best Bitter, not Golden Best) is still available from the Jug, but they also had Ram Tam on my last visit served via a CaskWidge and hand pump.

    Personally my one-beer pub would have Landlord. And it would be cellared much longer than in most pubs these days!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really like Ram Tam, not that you see it often down south, I was quite taken aback to learn it's actually doctored Landlord.

      Delete
  9. A third of people wouldn't drink in a one pump pub (very sensible as a single beer is more likely to be vinegar). So if you had a party of two, or three, or four, the chances that anyone would go in this pub at all start to become slim.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Still denying the basic principles of mathematics by insisting that slower turnover leads to higher quality, I see ;-)

      Delete
    2. On the contrary Mudgie, the point is that the fact that a pub has only one desultory token cask ale is telling you something crucial: that no-one there drinks the stuff.

      4 cask ale in a busy pub that sells 80% cask ale are going to turn over quicker than 1 cask ale in a quiet pub that sells 90% lager.

      You gotta read the signs...

      Delete
    3. As I've said before, you can't generalise like that: the single cask beer in an otherwise keg-only pub may indeed be slow-selling vinegar, or it could (as in the Boars Head mentioned above) be perfectly-kept. Sam Smith's has a policy of only supplying its cask Old Brewery Bitter to pubs with a decent turnover.

      Delete
    4. Of course you can generalise. If a pub has a big "drug dealers will be prosecuted" sign, it means it has a problem with drug dealing. If it has chairs that are screwed to the floor, it means it has problems with people throwing chairs. If it has 15 lager pumps and 1 ale pumps, it means that the customers exclusively drink lager and it only has the ale pump there to keep the brewery happy/CAMRA onside.

      These are the kind of clues you quickly pick up when regularly visiting a wide range of pubs: you can generally tell what the beer is going to be like before walking in the door.

      I've also been in pubs with 10 ales on and one lager, and guess what, the lager was poorly kept because no-one drank it. As Cookie has said before, the intelligent pub goer copies the other drinkers in the pub, and a single beer tap is a massive red flag telling you to stick to the lager.

      Delete
    5. The Boar's Head gets through three 36s of OBB each week so I hardly think there's a turnover problem there.

      I agree that one Doom Bar pump on a bar otherwise festooned with mainstream kegs doesn't bode well.

      Delete
    6. Sam Smiths pubs are something of a rule until themselves. Very strange offering. One dreadful but almost unrealistically cheap bitter, a wide range of equally cheap but sadly generally un-exciting kegs (unless they've introduced an IPA?), and a fridge full of really fantastic but actually relatively expensive bottles.

      Something for every taste.

      Delete
    7. Sam's have recently introduced a keg IPA - see this post from Stonch.

      As I mentioned earlier in the week, I spotted it at the newly-refurbished Swan in Holmes Chapel, but didn't try it.

      Delete
    8. A proper beer blogger would have tried it.

      Delete
    9. I didn't spot it until I was leaving :p

      Delete
  10. We all pick up the visual clues the minute we walk in a pub. We note the social class of patrons and any USP the pub has.

    Sams may have one cask beer but in any I go in a good number of the patrons are necking it. That is a visual clue that it's worth a gamble.

    In another pub with one pump and all the punters necking lager, that is a clue to have a lager or if with the beards, hang back and let Mudge buy a half then ask for his money back before joining the others in the traipse to the next gaff.

    ReplyDelete

Comments, especially on older posts, may be subject to prior approval. Bear with me – I may be in the pub.

Please be polite and remember to play the ball, not the man.

Any offensive or blatantly off-topic comments will be deleted.

See this post for some thoughts on my approach to blog comments.