Wednesday 28 April 2010

Wooden wombs

Over the years, I’ve come across people who have an intense interest in hi-fi, but are totally cloth-eared when it comes to music, and others fascinated by cars but who aren’t at all bothered about driving. And when I read about all these extreme beers, mega-strong beers, oak-aged beers, beers brewed with unconventional ingredients and all the rest, it does make me wonder whether some beer enthusiasts aren’t rather missing the point.

Don’t get me wrong, life would be very dull if all beer was the same, and it’s good that a wide range of beers are available and new ones are introduced, some to succeed, some to fall flat on their face. But you can only drink one at a time, and 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.

Visiting a pub for a beer or two or six should be about celebration, or convivial socialising, or relaxing, or even just a brief respite from the stresses of life, not solely to sample a particular brew.

At heart I have to conclude I’m more fascinated by pubs than beer – by the variation in layout and architecture, the fittings from many different eras, the ebb and flow of trade, the little rituals and quirks of pub life, the mix of customers, their interaction with the bar staff and each other, the way their clientele and atmosphere reflect the varied strands of society. Every pub is different and has its own character and its own story to tell.

This is one of the reasons why I like visiting Sam Smith’s pubs as, although they only offer the one unchanging cask beer (and not always even that), they are without exception proper pubs with their own individual character and their own distinctive cast of customers. And, on the other side of the coin, why I always find the experience of visiting one of Wetherspoon’s soulless food and drink emporiums so oddly unsatisfying.


  1. That is the great comedy of beer blogging, Mudge.

    All the people that get excited because brewdog has made an undrinkable bottle of overpriced pong that would make any regular person gag.

    Without it, there would be less to amuse. We'd have to content ourselves with laughing at those fighting the war against chemical fizz.

    Anyone that adds gaiety to the nation ought to be applauded and there tankards and over sized wine glasses revered.

  2. My pubgoing usually has a purpose other than sampling beer: meeting friends mostly, but also playing at music sessions, watching a band, occasionally doing the quiz (I once won £110), and so on. Some of these venues serve only one real ale, and one has none at all (I go for the band and usually end up doing a few numbers myself). I do have my likes and dislikes concerning beer but feel that samplers and tickers can miss the point somewhat. But if that makes them happy ~ each to their own.

  3. Tipple while you can ,comrades,
    the nurses union and Doctors are
    calling for ZERO limit with
    drink -driving. I hope all the health conscious non smoking drinkers will give their total
    support to their initiative.Can we
    assume CAMRA will be giving their
    undivided attention to this campaign bearing in mind their past concern for our health and wellbeing.

    Ugly Duckling

  4. "Every pub is different and has its own character and its own story to tell."

    Absolutely. Isn't it the nature of the world, though, that Spoons who offer so much for the dedicated pub-goer, also disappoint at the same time?

  5. Martin, Cambridge2 May 2010 at 08:46

    My sentiments exactly, PC - it's the pub and it's characters (less so post smoking-ban), rather than the range of beer, that makes pub-visting worthwhile. Pubs which cater to one sort of customer quickly become dull.

    Sam Smiths still offer, to my mind, the best drinking experiences in the country, whether in their many food-led pubs in South Yorks or the drinking houses in Salford.

    Your view on Wetherspoons does change if you have children though - few better places for a quick family meal with consistent beer. It has it's place.

  6. This one is exactly spot on for me. The styles history and type of pub and clienele are my key driver when visiting a town, with chasing particular beers no consideration- so long as there is a choice.The users of the pub and poshness or otherwise of it also do not matter, to the extent where I feel hard done to if I've not made the poshest and most basic pub in town on the same night.That said I do get weary if I see the beer' Doom at the bar 'in too many pubs on the one night consecutively with no other options, as can be the case on occasion!

    1. Drinking a lot of Elgood's in Wisbech or Palmer's in Bridport adds to the charm of the place, but I agree that if most of the pubs just offer the same national brand it becomes rather tedious.

  7. That's true, but won't the new venues also end up having their own characters and stories to tell when they're given time to age?

    1. Nothing in the post disagrees with that - a new pub or bar *can* feel lived in and develop its own cast of characters very quickly. Some do; others don't.


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