Sunday, 17 April 2016

Quality must always trump choice

I’ve written before about how a simple statistical analysis demonstrates that pubs really aren’t turning over their cask beers quickly enough, with the inevitable impact on quality.

This view has now been backed up by an in-depth survey carried out by Vianet and Cask Marque which has revealed that:

  • 87% of handpumps dispense fewer than 144 pints per week

  • 30% of handpumps dispense fewer than 20 pints per week

  • 80% of keg taps dispense fewer than 144 pints per week

  • The majority of beer in most pubs is sold through 20% of the pumps/taps

  • The average pub cellar is too warm on 4 days in each month
I shudder to think what the cask beer is like dispensed from the handpumps doing less than 20 pints per week!*

The report concludes that most pubs have far too many draught pumps and taps, and that, to ensure better and more consistent beer quality, the number should be reduced, on average, to eleven.

I suspect most regular pubgoers know this in their hearts anyway, but it’s all too easy to be seduced by the lure of more choice. However, as Tandleman has said in the past, both choice and quality are desirable, but quality must always trump choice.

This applies to keg beers just as much as to cask. Keg isn’t a fit-and-forget option, and quality will suffer if it doesn’t turn over quickly enough. The failure of BrewDog’s This.Is.Lager in Wetherspoon’s was a prime example of this and, over the years, I’ve certainly had a few pints of keg lager and Guinness that tasted distinctly stale.

The biggest problem is not in the dedicated multi-beer alehouses, which tend to attract a mainly beer-drinking clientele who ensure that all the pumps do reasonable business, but in more mainstream pubs that put on five or six beers to provide an impression of choice, but really can’t sell enough to justify more than a couple.

It should also be remembered that a large majority of beer drinkers tend to stick to one favoured beer in the pub. Remind me of the last time you saw a lager drinker “go along the pumps”.

* For grammar pedants, I reckon this is an instance where less, rather than fewer, is appropriate. A pub might offer fewer than ten different beers, but sell less than 10 pints a day

33 comments:

  1. Completely agree that higher numbers of taps can lead to an array of flat beers - especially midweek (though, obviously some pubs are an exception to this like The Harp nr Covent Garden). I've come to frequent the pubs that have around 4 or 5 that turn over quickly even though the bar top isn't as photogenic.
    As for the lager, I have seen people "go along the pumps" in very beery districts like Bermondsey. It's the exception rather than the rule but I think we'll see more and more native breweries brew lager and put their own keg offering on the bar.

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  2. Time to post that maxim of Grandpa's (a publican of note) again: "the Publican who thinks his business is selling beer, deserves to go tits up!". One look at those figures tells anyone with even a 'one for baby, one for mommy, one for the King' grounding in economics that an awful lot of publicans are forgetting or ignoring some basic home truths.

    On a Friday after finishing the week's plastering my neighbour gets plastered or rather he comes back from the local 'Express' with a slab of something of something yellow and fizzy (I always know when he is expecting female company cos he will up his game and get a slab of wife-beater).

    Think about your own non-beardy friends and neighbours. Not the Beer-Twonks but those people for whom coming HOME (stress that 'home') from work unwind with a glass of beer. Those friends and family who have beer in the fridge.

    How many varieties of beer do they USUALLY have at home? One ? Two? Chances are it won't be more than that EXCEPT on special occasions like the mates coming round to watch porn or the once a year when it stops raining long enough in this fucking country to have a barbie.

    PEOPLE LIKE WHAT THEY LIKE...ALREADY.
    Sure a bit of choice is a good thing but only a bit.
    Pubs need to stock whatever beer (s) it is that their regulars drink and stock it at optimal quality. Be it keg, cask, bottled.

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    1. I suppose I'm a beer geek, but I currently have in my "beer cupboard" eight bottles, all different beers from different breweries. Two imports, one from a "new" (albeit rather successful) brewery, five from family brewers. All 500ml, none bottle-conditioned, strengths range between 4.1% and 6.0%.

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    2. Almost by definition, anyone reading this blog is a bit of a beard, a bru-geek. But wet led pubs can not live by sales of 15 different sort of Old Semen Socks Ale and Golden Enema- alone on the off chance some tankard wearer will stumble through their doors (clambering over the mounds of dead bar staff killed off prior to 2007). Pubs live from their 'just going to take the dog for a walk, dear' week night regulars. They live from 'Mickey one thumb what drinks IPA'...and that bottle of IPA better have been stored properly and not next to the radiator pipe.

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    3. Pubs haven't been able to live off the takings from piss-head regulars for about 15 years now. All the old piss-heads have died and haven't been replaced.

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    4. Again there is some truth in what you say, the 'age demographic' for pubs is scary. Quite simply put, the non-smoking virginal lunged youth of today are also being trimmed for a life of 100% liver function. The 'beer after work' is being 'denormalized' almost as quickly as the idea of a 'fag break'.

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    5. The pub needs to evolve to welcome young people by providing a safe alcohol free environment to enjoy ourselves in. Don't need smoke or drunk people to ruin it.

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  3. Excellent post. Interesting point that lagers drinkers stick to what they know, as do majority of ale drinkers (even in Cambridge I suspect).

    Can quote you a dozen examples from CAMRA newsletters picked up over the last month where individuals/groups walk into pub and bemoan beer choices that they's have lauded 15 or fewer years ago e.g. Milton/Landlord/Pride.

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  4. You should not use the word "trump" carelessly in your article titles. Some left-wing American might come across this article and be offended and scared that the name of Trump has been mentioned at all. They may find it frightening and oppressive, as they do in the US where there have been college uprisings and demonstrations against the use of said noun. Seriously, these sorts of things have been happening as the name Trump is not even allowed to be mentioned in public these days, on college campuses and elsewhere.

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    1. Oh dear, that connection never occurred to me at all...

      Anyway, I've had a few pints, and chilli for tea, so I might just, er, TRUMP...

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  5. But as I have explained to you 100 times, quality and choice are correlated, because more choice attracts more customers, which means you get through your beer quicker meaning its less likely to go off.

    There are two types of viable pubs: food pubs and beer pubs. If you don't want to be a food pub, you need to be a beer pub and that means 6-8 different pumps to attract in the punters.

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    1. "because more choice attracts more customers"

      They'll be in addition to all them non-smoking customers who will be a coming over them hills anyday now? As with so many aspects of the Pub trade, or any other retail, giving customers a choice is a tricky beast. There is a definite 'laffer curve' to it. A little bit of choice is a good thing but too much and the customer will simply decide to 'sod this for a game of soldiers'-"Mine's a pint of my usual".

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  6. Many pub drinkers will definitely stick to just the one type/brand of beer, and I’ve noticed mainstream lager drinkers to be particularly fastidious about this. You mention the failure of BrewDog’s This Is Lager, in Spoons Mudge, and I must admit I never saw anyone ordering it, during the time it was on sale.

    This illustrates my point, and it does appear that the lager market is a particularly difficult market to crack. Your average Fosters/Stella/Carling/Kronenbourg drinker seems totally unable to step outside his/her comfort zone, and instead stick purely with what they know.

    I was in a pub a few weeks ago which had Whitstable Brewery Lager on tap. I was tempted to try a pint, but during the time I was there, I didn’t see a single drop being poured (I had a good view of the bar from where I was sitting). Now here was a pub prepared to be a little different, but the lager drinkers to a man/woman all ignored the local offering and instead plumped for the big, international brand they felt safe with. What a sorry state of affairs, people too scared to push the boat out, just ever so slightly, in order to try something different for once in their sad, staid, boring and totally predictable lives.

    Why didn’t I go for the local lager? Because that tap had, in all probability dispensed less than the 20 pints a week; as highlighted in your post Mudge. I didn’t want to be that person who is served a beer which had been sitting in the lines for several days!

    I suspect the next time the Whitstable Brewery rep calls up, the pub will say the beer didn’t sell. No fault of the pub; although if it was my pub I would have gone out of my way to promote the local brew. I would also consider making a stand and removing ALL the big name stuff, but it’s easy to make such sweeping statements whilst sitting here in front of a computer screen, rather than counting the weekend’s takings and wondering why they’re so low!

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    1. Loving the long standing CAMRA member perspective.

      Anyone ordering brands they know and trust rather than take a gamble has a "sad, staid, boring and totally predictable live"

      Is this how CAMRA types see others? There is plenty of good reason why a drinker may not trust the local pish. One being, they once drank it.

      "I would also consider making a stand and removing ALL the big name stuff" If people don't make the right choices, remove the choice!

      Thank Christ CAMRA is a minority of odd balls.

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    2. “There is plenty of good reason why a drinker may not trust the local pish. One being, they once drank it.” Yes, and they discovered it actually tasted of something, rather than the bland, non-descript, international industrial lager TV ads and peer pressure tells them to drink.

      My comments are nothing to do with CAMRA, Cookie. If it was my pub, I could, and would, sell beers I wanted to sell. Nothing odd ball there. By not stocking big brand, mass-produced swill, I would keep the riff-raff out of my pub. No beery, foul-mouthed, football shirt wearing oiks in my gaff.

      It’s not a case of removing the choice, but removing the wrong sort of people!

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    3. I'll let you in on a secret. Plenty of people lead full and fulfilling lives without caring about beer. They look at the likes of you with more disdain than you look at them.

      And when your snobbish bar shuts because there's not enough snobs and people like you bleat about "community value" and "supporting community assets" they and we laugh. Then we all go for a burger down Spoons.

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    4. Two sides of the same coin there, Cookie.

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    5. eye, there's no such thing as community pub, there's beard pubs and normal pubs. The beard ones need burning down.

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    6. Who said anything about “community value” and "supporting community assets". Those are your words Cookie, not mine! My argument was purely hypothetical, as I’ve no intention of running a pub; but I do know licensees who have done what I proposed, and removed all the big brand industrial lagers. They have done this to attract a certain clientele, and contrary to your cynical dismissal of such establishments, they are all thriving.

      It may sound snobbish to you, but there are certain types of people and certain types of pub I prefer to avoid. I’m sure these people feel the same about me, as you so eruditely point out. That doesn’t’ bother me in the slightest, as I much prefer a quiet pint and some interesting conversations with a few friends, to getting a pool cue shoved in my face, whilst being sworn at – that’s if I can even hear what’s being said above the 90 decibel sound system blasting out gangsta rap.

      Horses for courses, old chap!

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  7. If 30% of handpumps sell less than 20 pints then the publican must be throwing the other 50+ pints away.Seems hard to believe as this would not cover the cost of the beer.Why sell cask beer?

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    1. Some pubs will keep the same cask on for several weeks.

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    2. because CAMRA bully them into it for ideological reasons, even though it means piss-poor quality and most likely several punters being put off real ale for life.

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  8. Jeremy Corbyns Left Nut18 April 2016 at 08:18

    When Jeremy is PM you will have both. Out nationalised pubs can have quality and choice because they are not left to market forces which turn them into shops.

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    1. But the beer will cost £10 a pint

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    2. ..and be limited to 2% and only be sold to 25+ year olds with a letter from their mum.

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    3. Jeremy Corbyns Left Nut19 April 2016 at 12:48

      Money will not matter as we will print enough to make it a tool of the people, not fat cats.
      As the economic means of production becomes public we will all be brewdog shareholders.
      Yes the producers will need to pay the social costs of the harm they create. Whether the pollution is environmental or harms the coherence of our society. We will make sure everyone is happy.

      It will be a beer and choice Utopia. The choice of National beer and the utopia of universal happiness and wellbeing for all.

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  9. Yeah, but actually (unless I've misread the actual report - which can be found here) they're definitely talking about "taps". It's not that boozers are "over-ranging" on "15 different sort of Old Semen Socks Ale". It's across the board (they say) Premium lagers, ciders even.

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    1. Yes, I recognise that, but not all the commenters have.

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    2. Incidentally, the research "Includes taps on the bar that are available for use but have no dispense". Which is another thing altogether.

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  10. Just focusing on cask beer, 3 is enough to cover most drinkers preferences: a hoppy pale ale, a best bitter, and a porter (or maybe dark mild). 6 is enough for a really good range. It's tricky to pull this off as conditioning etc times vary; but i'd like to see more pubs flex up and down with demand. For example, 3 beers midweek, 6 at the weekend, putting quality first and generally just being smarter about what they sell and when.

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  11. but I note the report is only based on pubs involved in the Cask Marque scheme, now they have alot of pubs in the scheme so the stats arent faulty on volume terms alone, but those pubs are very often pubco operated tied pubs Enterprise, Punch,Taylor Walkor,Greene King etc, where its not unfair to say beer quality or even beer choice arent top of the list of things they are worrying about.

    and Vianet well they are the ones behind the system that pubcos install in pubs so that firstly pubs can only sell the beer the pubco gives them because it all is locked in with the till system, but also measures the yield of the cask through flow metering, and most pubcos operate on a targetted near 97% yield from a cask,thats basically just 2 pints they can lose in spillage/tasters & spoilage.

    and the tenant pays for every pint under the yield, so how many free tasters do you think that kind of pub hands out to encourage people to drink something different, how often do you think a pub like that even checks the taste of the beer themselves, how often do they pull something thats clearly gone.

    review those same stats with that in mind and the picture might be less cloudy than a London murky & actually had one of those in Wetherspoons near Stratford recently, and it was cask marque'd too.

    to be fair Cask Marque are trying to educate pubcos and tenants and their staff on how to look after and sell beer, but to be honest thats the real point of that report, "look how much beer you could sell if you only focussed on it properly to begin with", but its a market sector which measures success in how many frozen microwaved dinners you can sell not how many beer quality accolades you get

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  12. One of my favourite watering holes has a sign just inside the door which is an arrow labelled Fosters pointing back out of the door. The lack of big name lager tends to keep the Lout swiggers away. Instead we have Sam Smiths Organic and Taddy, Camden Hells Lager, and Kaltenberg (the real one). Then three changing cask beers, and a few keg beers including a couple of what could be conceived as craft, and Shipyard that claims to be craft but is anything but. Turnover is good in this bar and quality is always equally good because the choice brings people in who want something different and don't want to travel 8 miles into the city to get it.

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  13. Professor Pie-Tin21 April 2016 at 19:40

    www.madpub.us
    Just spent a week with this place as my local.
    Gazillions of keg beers on tap and smoking is welcome - they own a cigar rolling shop next door and there's nothing like puffing on a hand-rolled stogie while working my way through some of the selection of beers.
    There's a lot wrong with the US drinking scene including the ridiculous 21 year old legal drinking age and the bizarre acceptability of morbid obesity as normal while treating smokers as pariahs.
    But when they get it right - and Florida has plenty of really good dive bars - their pubs are brilliant.

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