Saturday 23 July 2011

Off-grid drinking

Nowadays, if you’re armed with the Good Beer Guide and various internet listings, you should have little problem in finding a decent pint of cask beer in virtually all parts of Great Britain. However, it has to be said that I am interested in plenty of things apart from beer, and I also take the view that going in a characterful pub is likely to be a more memorable experience than drinking a nice pint. (Obviously, the two often coincide)

And so, from time to time, you find yourself “off the grid”, maybe looking for lunchtime food in a town where there are no GBG entries, or wanting a bit of variety in the evening in a town where the only entry is Wetherspoon’s. Sometimes you encounter unexpected gems, and I’ve always said that serendipity is one of the best things about pubgoing. But, on the other hand, sometimes you wonder why you bothered. For example, in the past month, I have encountered the following, all in outwardly appealing pubs:

  • A pint of a mainstream beer brewed 200 miles away from the pub in question, crystal clear and with a bit of condition, but served around 5°C too warm

  • A flat, warm, slightly hazy and just about “on the turn” pint of a well-regarded local micro beer. This was probably returnable, but given that I would never be going back there again I couldn’t be arsed

  • A pint of an award-winning family brewer’s beer where a handle glass was placed on the drip tray and the barman simply pulled on the sparkler-free pump to fill it. This in a shabby former GBG-listed pub in a picturesque city-centre location where there were no other customers at 9.30 pm. (Actually, the beer was OK, and much better than the other two)
The best can be very good indeed, but there remain far too many pubs that can’t even get the basics right. Of course, lack of custom exposes many sins that can be hidden in a busy pub.


  1. Lack of training can be a problem. For example, in one pub where an inexperienced barmaid was on her own, I had to show her how to pull a pint of cask beer. Also, if more people took unsatisfactory beer back, pubs would improve their act rather than see their profits being poured down the sink.

  2. I will - and do - return obviously cloudy or vinegary beer, but to be honest if I've just gone out for a quiet drink I don't want to argue the toss about marginal beer. Even if you get a result it spoils the occasion. Especially if it's somewhere I'm not going to be visiting again, leaving it (or struggling through it) is the easiest option.

  3. I last tried a cask beer decades ago. It was warm foul tasting liquid.
    Undeterred I had one earlier this week thinking a gap of many years things must have changed. It was warm foul tasting liquid.
    Thank God for bottled beer and a decent Guinness.
    On a different note I went for a few pints last night and found a price difference of 85p per pint of Guinness in two pubs opposite each other. The most expensive pub was heaving with no room to sit. The cheapy pub was empty, with quick service and a decent pint, couldn't work out why, unless crowds attract crowds.

  4. Without the smoking ban these pubs might have had more custom and better turnover.

  5. "The cheapy pub was empty, with quick service and a decent pint, couldn't work out why, unless crowds attract crowds."

    Often the case - the more popular pubs feel more confident in charging higher prices.


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