Holts have recently introduced a very good new beer called Holts IPA, which sells alongside their standard bitter in a number of their pubs. But it’s effectively a different form of “bitter” – slightly less strong, paler and hoppier – and it will have the result of dividing “bitter” sales in two. Much of my discretionary pubgoing takes place at weekend lunchtimes, which for many pubs are nowadays a fairly slack time. At lunchtime today I went in my local Holts pub and had a couple of pints of IPA. It wasn’t bad, but it was a bit warm and a bit dull. I suspect the first was the first to be drawn through the pump that session, and the second one had been lingering in the pipe for half an hour.
We seem to be in a paradoxical situation where the number of cask beers on bars is steadily expanding, but overall sales are at best flat, so slow turnover becomes more and more of a problem. When going into a multi-beer pub, often my choice of which beer to drink is influenced by what I have seen someone else just buying a pint of. If a pump is not dispensing beer at least every quarter of an hour, you’re likely to end up with a lacklustre pint. It’s no good saying the beer is fine when it’s busy, if it isn’t when it’s quiet.
It may be a controversial opinion, but I firmly believe that nowadays most mainstream pubs only have sufficient turnover to keep one cask beer well, which to maximise sales and throughput should be a well-known “premium bitter” in the 4.0-4.5% range of the likes of Jennings Cumberland Ale, Taylors Landlord, Marstons Pedigree and Wadworths 6X. You can see this in some “dining” pubs which sensibly only have one cask beer on the bar.