Monday, 23 October 2017

Love pubs, hate beer?

Beer writer Des de Moor has recently written a deliberately provocative article entitled Love beer hate pubs, in which he looks at the apparent contradiction between the unprecedented number of breweries and types of beer in the UK, and the seemingly inexorable contraction and retrenchment of the pub trade.

He is quite right to criticise the tendency in some quarters to make a shibboleth of pub drinking and treat at as in some way morally superior, and also to point out that the vision of pubs of the past as inclusive community spaces where everyone was welcome is often a case of seeing things through rose-tinted spectacles.

He has also invoked the ire of the fanatical anti-pubco campaigners by pointing out that social change has rendered many pubs unviable, and to try and keep every pub open is a pointless exercise in flogging dead horses.

As an aside, he says “evidence of the impact of the smoking ban either way is inconclusive”, which is an example of the denialism that still flourishes in some quarters when it’s obvious to anyone who knows much about pubs that the ban has absolutely ripped the guts out of the lower end of the pub trade.

However, the main reason for me mentioning it is that it goes against what I said in this blogpost that “At heart I have to conclude I’m more fascinated by pubs than beer.” That doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in beer, but it’s essentially a component of enjoying drinking in pubs. Yes, there may be all these oddly-flavoured and mega-strong beers around, but I’m not constantly haring after them to try them. I also like driving, but that doesn’t mean I’m slavering over the specifications of the latest Porsches and Ferraris.

I don’t regard every drinking occasion as a voyage of discovery and, while not averse to trying new beers, feel a touch dismayed if I walk into a pub and see nothing on the bar I recognise. As I said, “I don’t feel short-changed if I spend all evening drinking the same beer, or regularly go into pubs that offer nothing I haven’t had before.” It’s the pub that matters more than the beer. While I don’t want to drink bad beer, in the sense of being in poor condition, I’d be much happier with a pint of Doom Bar or keg OBB in a pub where I feel at home than the finest beer in the world in an atmosphere that I find uncongenial. I do drink to some extent at home, typically when settling down in front of the telly to watch Endeavour or a documentary about the First World War, but I’m no more seeking out the rare, weird stuff there than I am in the pub.

Basically, take away pubs, and you take away much of my interest in beer. And, to my eye, brewery taps, specialist craft bars and micropubs are a very poor substitute for proper pubs.

He’s also wrong to disparage the widespread affection for pubs and pub culture, even amongst people who don’t visit them very much. They are a unique and defining aspect of British, or perhaps rather specifically English, identity, and Hilaire Belloc wasn’t entirely wrong when he said:

When you have lost your inns, drown your empty selves,
For you will have lost the last of England.
There may not be all that much you can do in terms of public policy to slow the decline (although there certainly isn’t nothing), but that doesn’t mean it’s not a matter of regret.

And it can’t be denied that some so-called “beer enthusiasts” give the impression of finding the rumbustious, politically incorrect reality of pubs, especially working-class pubs, a touch uncomfortable, and that they would much prefer to be sipping their barrel-aged DIPA in the comfort and safety of their own home.

21 comments:

  1. I am the opposite of you Peter. i regard pubs - with their surly landlords, inattentive staff, erratic opening hours, crowded bars, insalubrious decor -- as a necessary evil consequence of my liking for draft beer. Any other drink I can get more cheaply, better quality and from a wider range at a good off-shop. But draft beer can only be found in pubs and bars

    I am quite content with a small selection of good beer and I appreciate the architecture of a good historic pub but that is as far as it goes.

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    1. Yes, a good pint of cask is better than a bottle, but if you dislike pubs so much, is it really *that much* better?

      And, to my mind, the experience of being in the pub and maybe chatting to others is just as much a part of the enjoyment.

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    2. Cask is so much better than bottled that I am prepared to stand at an untenanted bar for ten minutes to get a pint. Which is just as well since that is the respect customers are shown in lots of pubs.

      And, I will admit that there are pubs which are such architectural and historic gems that it is worth the discomfort to see them

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    3. Where do you live, David ? I visit 500 odd pubs a year around the country, and I just don't recognise that description of service in pubs. On our crawl round Leicester this week the beer was a bit average, but I don't recall any pubs I waited more than a minute or two to be served, and all pubs had pleasant aspects to them. OK, they're not all as cosy as a good Sam Smiths, but variety is one of the joys of the English pub. Martin

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    4. I'm with Martin. We visited over 35 pubs last week and were met with great service, warm atmosphere and kind conversation in almost all of them. As a foreigner who travels to a lot of beer locations I think the English really underestimate their pubs. They are likely the friendliest in Europe and North America.

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    5. Dave. If you went in 35 pubs and never found one with no one behind the bar to greet you you were very lucky. In my experience about one visit in three finds me in a pub where the landlord has "gone out the back for a bit". Maybe it is because I tend to go at quieter times whenthe landlord doesn't think the sale of one pint is worth putting his fag out for.

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    6. Hmm, I'd say it's more like 1 in 20, and I'm mostly a slack times drinker too. And I can't say it significantly detracts from my experience of pubs, although I have suggested in the past that many pubs could do with bringing back the old-fashioned service bell.

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    7. I am using 35 as my most recent selection. I have visited hundreds of English pubs and typically find them welcoming. They certainly don't stand out as bad globally. When we visit we are in them all day and have a pretty representative overview of different times of day. I don't think I am just lucky.

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  2. What's the betting that Des de Moor's a Remain voter?

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  3. Well, some people seem to feel uncomfortable about pubs being offputtingly Brexity.

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  4. As a lager drinker, I feel compelled to make my observations - I am most definitely a fan of pubs in all their diversity and variable quality. I'd happily crawl from pub-to-pub drinking a pint of Carling in each and enjoying the different ambience within. Sure, there are some pubs as described above by David C Brown (and I never go back to them - well at least until the management has changed!), but the majority ase not like that.

    I always find it a little sad when a pub closes, but it is most often because it wasn't viable through many factors (smoking ban, poor landlord/management, changing demographics, excessive rents, etc), but in the midst of this decline I hope that it will bottom out soon and stabilise at a level that keeps us all happy.

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  5. I totally agree with what you have said in this post,Peter,probably a first.
    I am a pub man and love them and beer does always come second to the pub.
    If i am in a lively pub i am happy to drink Doom Bar all night,as we are having a good time in said pub.
    I dislike pubs that have loads of beers on i have never heard of and are full of beer geeks talking about it.

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  6. Michael Henchard23 October 2017 at 18:05

    Possibly sir, one of your best posts ever ! The (proper) pub, is the last bastion of the white working-class Englishman. Long may they thrive....

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  7. I find myself betwixt and between, I love a good pub but it is always better for me if it has a good range of what I consider interesting beer and are disappointed to find a lovely traditional boozer only offering up Doom Bar or worse. So its a bit of both for me, that said I rarely drink at home so the pub must be ahead by half a length.

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  8. Get yourself down to your local Wetherspoons,Citra,loads of choice down there and some decent real ales to boot.
    Cheers Alan

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    1. Alan, there is no way that's likely to happen, I like good beer and pubs m but not so JDW.
      Cheers Mick aka Citra, Moby Duck, and apparently Unknown above.

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    2. Can't edit the above , been down the pub too long but I think you know what I mean.

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    3. I knew that,Mick,that is why i said it.
      I still read the Pubs Galore forum even if i am banned from it and know about your dislike of Wetherspoons.
      You took the bait.

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  9. It's a little late in the evening for me to post anything remotely sensible, but for the record I largely agree with the sentiments expressed in Des's rather lengthy article.

    And also for the record, I too am a remain voter Phlegmmy, so get over it!

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  10. In my early drinking years, pub opening hours were limited, and the off trade was more strictly regulated than nowadays. As a result of this, my habits developed such that drinking was mainly something done in a pub, and there was usually something of an occasion about it. Nowadays, although pubs are fewer in number, overall availability is higher (through extended opening hours and the growth of drinking barns in towns and cities), and of course I can always get a "slab of lout" or even some nice bottle conditioned beers in supermarkets for a large chunk of the day. I wonder if this change to general ease of access to booze has partly led to society valuing pubs less? For me, however, the pub visit remains the attraction slightly more than the beer. I am enjoying the diversity of choice that micropubs and brewery bars add, although I accept that many people do not have access to such a wide range of choice.

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  11. I've been in many pubs this year with poor service and walked out of few after waiting much longer than I should have done taking into account the level of trade or lack of it in the pubs.
    Addressing the main point you are missing the fact that many people under 30 don't like pubs. They drink in bars and clubs but mostly at home or parties.

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