From time to time in the beer blogosphere, the argument crops up that, as cask beer is a high-quality craft product, it should be able to command a price premium over mass-market kegs and lagers. That has a lot to commend it – and indeed in the premium bottled beer sector it is already the case. But, in terms of draught beer in the pub, there is a big problem – as cask beer is a natural product, and dependent on care in the pub cellar, it is inevitably subject to variations in quality.
Our local branch of CAMRA organises monthly Friday evening pub crawls – known as “Staggers” – around various parts of the area. Last month we covered the Stockport Market Place area – and I had my arm twisted to do the write-up for the local magazine Opening Times. We went in eight different pubs – oh, I know, a disgusting binge, even if you only drank a half in each one. Of these, in three the beer was very good, and fully up to the standard you would expect from pubs in the Good Beer Guide. In three more, it was pretty decent, and you wouldn’t have minded being stranded in there all night. But in two pubs, the beer was distinctly lacklustre and disappointing, warm and/or tired. That included the local Wetherspoon’s.
It was an enjoyable evening, and on such an occasion you expect to take the rough with the smooth. It all adds to the interest of life. Had I specifically been going out for a drink, I would probably have made a beeline for one of the three “good” pubs where I would have felt confident in getting a top-class pint. But if my only drink of the evening had been in one of the two pubs where the beer was indifferent, I really wouldn’t have been happy with paying a price premium. Unless you can reliably deliver top-notch quality, you can’t get away with charging over the odds.
Interestingly, only one of the three “good” pubs – the superlative Arden Arms – is in the current Good Beer Guide, although I think recent licensee changes debar the other two. And one of the “poor” pubs is in the Guide too. The other two “good” pubs – as they deserve the accolade – were the Boar’s Head (Sam Smiths) and the Bull’s Head (Robinsons).
I suspect if you spent the evening drinking your way along the pumps in a multi-beer pub, you would have a similar experience.