Sunday, 27 November 2016

Am I bovvered?

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.

13 comments:

  1. It is desperately sad so few care about what bitter is flogged in tatty pubs they don't want to in. Imposing your pongy bitter on those that don't want it and prefer a silkier smooth drink is what it's all about !

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  2. Its just nice to see pubs still open, I drink cask or keg depends on what's on, you can get some treats on keg like Greenall's Mild brewed under license still to be seen in Ball O' Ditton, Widnes, Lancs and until a couple of years ago when the Punch and Judy behind Lime Street, Liverpool, Lancs got burned down for student flats they sold Toby Light which was a nice drop.

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  3. Yes, to each his/her own is the name of the game. Preferring a cascade of flavors, I travel 4000 miles to seek those pongy bitters in those wonderful tatty pubs. When standing at the bar, I do not feel that all the non bitters/non cask are being imposed on me. I like the choice and choose not to go with what I do not want. I wish more cask ales would be "imposed" on me here in the states. Most servers at bars have never heard of cask. Oh, to be able to walk down the street to a pub with cask would be a dream come true.

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  4. We are blessed to live in a country that does decent real ales,i can see a pub from my house that has three real ales on and a five minute walk will get me to a Wetherspoons and another pub that has 12 real ales on of differing styles and this is in a pretty run down town within the Nottingham conurbation.

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    1. Alan, it is obvious that you do not take your real ales and pubs for granted.

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  5. I get into this kind of pub very occasionally and I notice that everyone is drinking lager or cans of Natch. There's usually a handpump on the bar but either it's not working or what comes out of it is swill because nobody's drinking the real ale. Mind you, they're not drinking smooth either. Horses for courses at the end of the day, you can't force people to consume something they don't want to. If "real ale deserts" exist it's down to market forces

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  6. Other markets experience similar trends: as an example, try convincing the punters in the downmarket boozer to eat decent bread instead of the cheapest Chorleywood white. I don't hear anyone complaining that corner Nisa stores don't sell artisan sourdough.

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    1. But the point is that the working classes once ate artisan sourdough, but have for whatever reason turned their backs on it and decided it's a bread for ponces.

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    2. Exactly my point - just as they turned their backs on artisan bitter and mild and decided it's a beer for ponces. With beards.

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    3. And an important point is that price has little or nothing to do with it.

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    4. Back in the day, everyone ate artisan bread (not sure about sourdough) because it was what you got, from the local baker. Then some inhabitant of Hades came up with the Chorleywood process and we got Sunblest and Mother's Pride and other abominations. These things are still cheaper and this, presumably, is why people still buy them, unless they've got so used to them they don't know or want to know the difference. Proper bread is still available at a reasonable price from the few proper bakers who remain. Not many of them on council estates though.
      Sorry if this is a bit off topic but there are parallels between proper bread and proper beer.

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    5. The bread analogy only goes so far. It is a foodstuff, not a recreational product, and doesn't have anything like the same cultural significance.

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  7. For sure. The current market trends indicate that rather than replace the £2 silky lovely smooth with some other tasteless pish like "Wizard" albeit an approved pish, they would be better off moving away from the 10am mobility scooter market and instead flogging thirds of 12% Imperial Barrel Aged Triple Black I.P.A for £12. That's where the kids are at and that's where the quid is.

    A successful relevant beery campaign would abandon tasteless muck like sub 4% bitter and go balls deep for craft.

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