Saturday, 2 July 2011

Trial of strength

In response to reports of various beers having their strength reduced, I thought I would ask blog readers “What is your preferred strength for draught beer in the pub?” There were exactly 100 responses, broken down as follows:

3.5% or below: 2
3.6 – 4.0%: 26
4.1 – 4.5%: 31
4.6 – 5.0%: 26
5.1 – 5.5%: 6
5.6% or above: 9

Obviously those numbers translate exactly to percentages. So a strong clustering of responses around the usual strength range, with the biggest number in the 4.1 – 4.5% range which is where beers tend to be concentrating. Quite a number favoured the stronger beers, but there were very few of the archetypal “mild drinkers”.

A point I made in the comments was that possibly the clustering of beer strengths in pubs may have something to do with the breakdown of the tied house system. If you’re competing with other brewers on the bar, you don’t want to have your beer ruled out because it's too strong or too weak. On the other hand, in tied houses, you can afford to present a wider strength range to punters because they only have a choice of strengths, not of brewery. For example, in a tied house Fullers can offer Chiswick Bitter at 3.5%, Discovery at 3.9%, London Pride at 4.1% and ESB at 5.5%, but in the free trade or pub company outlets you’re far more likely to see London Pride than any of the other beers.

The poll, together with associated comments, can be viewed here, but I won’t be logging any further votes.


  1. I voted for 4.6%-5% but ideally I'd like a variety of strengths to be available - i.e. a 3.4% mild, a 3.8% bitter, another 4.3% bitter and finally a strong hoppy ale or a porter at around the 5.4% mark.

    It would help if pubs could also stock proper craft bottled beers too, you know, the sort of beers that wouldn't be drunk in quantity but would be appreciated all the same.

  2. It's usually the case that the likelihood of finding interesting bottled beers is directly proportional to the likelihood of finding interesting cask beers.

  3. No lout on your new poll? Poor show.

  4. I appreciate that this is possibly a heathen thing to ask but as a very recent convert to tasty ales does anyone know of any worthwhile ale that comes in a can?
    I've noticed tanglefoot comes in cans but then nearly all the rest seem to be lagers. Sorry to offend the puritans of quaffing.

  5. Quite a few of the beers listed, such as Abbot, Pedigree and Bombardier, are also available in cans. Try a few and see how much you like them. The one I felt was a reasonable approximation to the bottled version was Directors.

  6. @Cookie - no lout? Yes, that's deliberate. Premium Bottled Ales are a clearly-defined off-sales category that don't to any significant extent compete with lagers, at least not in Tesco.

  7. If anything, I've found that no producer of quality beer in the UK puts their beer in cans. It's an unthinkable concept. A few microbreweries in Denmark do this though.

  8. Sure about that Mudge?

    I think the older drinker may define themselves as "ale men", I know my father does though many would describe his liking of £1.60 smooth bitter at his working mens club as "undiscerning". I prefer the £1.70 Harp lager when I join him.

    I suspect drinkers in their 20's & 30's would see themselves as either premium or standard drinkers. A chap buying London Pride would be more likely to pick up some Budvar than the guy buying the Foster's

    I suspect many drinkers alter their choices with the seasons prefering an ale in colder weather and a lager when it's warm.

  9. Clearly all beers to some extent compete with each other, but I would say PBAs in the supermarket scarcely compete at all with standard lagers, and only to a limited extent with the likes of Budvar and Bitburger. Their main competition, in terms of "do I buy this or that?", is Premium Canned Ales ;-)

    Incidentally, I have heard more than one person refer to PBAs as "real ales".

  10. When you're on about premium bottled ales, are you talking about those beers from regional breweries that are bottled, say, like something like Theakston's Old Peculier or perhaps your own favourite, Lakeland Gold?

    Incidentally, upon your recommendation I bought the bottled version of that and wasn't disappointed. Still would like hoppier choices than that though but we don't really have a prominent 'craft' market in this country as other countries do so I might imagine that carving a niche out of this is quite difficult, as most people I know prefer their beers to be quite safe.

    And, yes, I'm terrible for calling some PBAs real ales when they are not. Usually, though, I am referring to beers from the smaller brewhouses.

  11. How dare drinkers adopt their own meaning of "real" rather than accept the established orthodoxy of the beer cult. Can this be stopped?


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