Readers sometimes confuse a tone of nostalgic regret for one of anger on this blog, and I think that may have been the case with my recent post about how real ale and downmarket pubs had parted company. Now, I find it distinctly sad that real ale has disappeared from large swathes of working-class Britain where once it was commonplace, but I understand the reasons why this has happened, and accept that trying to reverse the trend is largely an exercise in flogging a dead horse.
I decided I would put the question to the readership in a poll, and the results indicate that, while there is a spread of opinion, the majority aren’t too concerned that real ale has lost its mass appeal. While this may be no more than a reflection of reality, it has to be recognised that it represents a major shift from the position in the early days of CAMRA where it was seen as reasonable to expect the vast majority of pubs to stock it. And the reasons behind this are mainly cultural, not a matter of price.
But, if you take it as read that it simply isn’t realistic for many pubs to sell real ale, you need to stop keeping a score of real ale “gains” and “losses”, and stop badgering pubs to put real ale on and criticising them when they don’t. If it’s not for everybody, then it doesn’t belong in all pubs. Just let it go.
The trend could be reversed, of course, and virtually all pub-owning breweries still have real ale in the majority of their tied houses, including ones in working-class areas. The only exception I can think of nowadays is Felinfoel. It’s not exactly difficult – simply position your best-selling ordinary bitter as the default beer in your pubs, and if you offer a keg alternative at all, price it significantly higher. But if you’re just a pub company, you have no interest in your pub estate being a showcase for your products, and so you put on the bar what sells, and make no attempt to influence customer tastes.