Saturday, 26 August 2017

Many unhappy returns

Following my post last week about the pitfalls of returning beer to the bar, I thought I would run a poll on how often people actually did it.

The answer, clearly, was “not very much”, with 78% only needing to return 1 in 50 pints, or less, and 95% only returning 1 in 20. The four people who said “More than 1 in 10” must either be unusually fastidious, or unlucky in their choice of pub. It would be interesting to know what reception they got when they did it.

My experience is, if you take a bit of care as to which pubs you visit, it’s something that is only rarely necessary, and in general, when it does happen, pubs are apologetic and replace the beer without demur.

The last time I did it was in the Coach & Horses, the “other” Hook Norton pub in Banbury. As I wrote, it looks traditional from outside, but inside has received a stark, modernistic makeover. As soon as I crossed the threshold, I thought to myself “Well, I’ll be lucky to get a decent pint here.” There were two seasonal beers on the bar but, oddly, neither Hooky Bitter nor Old Hooky. I chose the weaker of the two, but it was distinctly cloudy. There was no problem in getting it changed for the other one, but that, while not returnable as such, wasn’t very brilliant either. It was a classic case of having a pint and thinking that you don’t really fancy drinking it all.

Since then, I was in a Sam Smith’s pub one day where the bitter was sufficiently hazy as to be in my view borderline returnable. In another pub, where there was an alternative on offer, I might have taken it back, but in this case, as it didn’t taste too bad, I didn’t bother, as the alternatives would either have been a pint of stout or lager, or getting a refund, which obviously would have brought my visit to an abrupt end. This underlines my point about needing to be clear as to what your objective is when taking beer back, and looking at the whole experience, not the beer in isolation.


  1. I answered 'less than 1 in 50', but only because finishing poor quality pints of new beers in order to count them is just part of the lot of being a ticker.

    If the question were 'What proportion of pints of cask beer THAT YOU HAVE HAD BEFORE do you return to the bar as sub standard?' (which effectively is to me what the original question is to non-ticking 'normals') then it would be the middle option, or possibly even more than 1 in 20.

    Where I'm drinking a beer for beers sake, because I expect to know it and like it, I'm far, far pickier.

    1. And in what proportion of those 1 in 20 is your beer willingly exchanged or refunded?

      Not being much cop is not the same as being returnable.

  2. This is only anecdotal and based on the various groups of people I know and knock about with but most people would put the pint down unfinished, walk out & right that pub off never to return.

    The only people I know that make a point of returning poor beer are CAMRA groups in campaigning mode. More so when they are all in a group where peer pressure kind of enforces a conformity on behaviour.

    It's a strange how de do. As punter I don't want to be the quality control, nor do I particularly want to gamble.

    I think if you seperate the behaviour of regular punters from those campaigning you get very different behaviour.

    1. "The only people I know that make a point of returning poor beer are CAMRA groups in campaigning mode."

      Don't agree - I'd say from personal observation that regular cask drinkers will routinely return sub-standard beer in their local or other familiar pubs.

      And I will do the same even when on my own and not remotely in campaigning mode. It certainly isn't just a "CAMRA activist" thing.

    2. Agreed ..I take my back if it's in the turn or gone and most if not all happily replace it

    3. Most people are tight and will finish a drink they've paid for even if they don't like it. They certainly can't be arsed getting in an argument with the bar staff. What if the replacement pint is just as shit?

      The only pint I've ever abandoned was a Sam Smiths OBB. So sugary it actually made me gag.

    4. Not liking it is not the same as it being obviously off. If you try different beers, you will sometimes come across beers in good condition that really aren't to your taste.

  3. I generally only drink cask in pubs where it's never going to get a chance to go off and where the staff have a fit if a cloudy pint makes it over the bar, hence my sending beer back is a very unusual occurrence.

  4. I've had bad pints - vinegary - a couple of times, but in each case, I've just grinned and cursed myself for not spotting the warning signs - only 2 lines, selling national brands - which is a token gesture and a massive red flag. I've never had a bad pint in a beer-focused pub, of which there are plenty around no matter what part of the country you are in. Beers that I wasn't a fan of, sure, but never an actively bad pint.

    1. Ironic though, that those national brands are generally far easier to keep - little sediment and bugger all in the way of secondary fermentation - yet often so badly kept.


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