Sunday, 14 August 2011

The indifferent stuff

Well, here are the results of the survey question “Name up to three cask beers that you regard as poor or lacklustre examples of the genre.” As you can see, there’s an even more decisive winner in the shape of Greene King IPA, with Wells Bombardier second and Sharps Doom Bar third.

There are quite a few beers that appear in both lists, such as both Bombardier and Doom Bar, Deuchars IPA, Butcombe Bitter, Holts Bitter and Wadworths 6X. I’m disappointed to see Harveys Sussex Best on this list as to my mind it is one of the finest ordinary bitters in the country.

It is noticeable that this list includes many of the most widely-distributed cask beers in Britain. This raises some interesting questions. Are these intrinsically lacklustre beers, brewed to a lowest common denominator for a mass market? Or is it a case of “familiarity breeds contempt”? Or could it be that, the more widely available a beer is, the more likely it is to end up in outlets that can’t look after cask beer properly, thus damaging its reputation?

For example, Wells Bombardier is a beer that I “think” I don’t much care for. However, I have to say on the past three occasions when I’ve drunk it, generally when there wasn’t much else to choose from, I have found it in good condition and a perfectly pleasant pint.

And does it do the overall cause of cask beer any good when “beer enthusiasts” dismiss many of the cask beers the average drinker is likely to encounter as disappointingly bland?

29 votes:
Greene King IPA

Ten votes:
Wells Bombardier

Eight votes:
Sharps Doom Bar

Six votes:
Marstons Pedigree

Five votes:
Deuchars IPA

Four votes:
Ruddles Best Bitter
Wychwood Hobgoblin

Three votes:
Courage Directors
Greene King Abbot Ale
Hydes Bitter
Shepherd Neame Spitfire
Tetley Bitter
Youngs Bitter

Two votes:
Draught Bass
Fullers London Pride
John Smiths Cask
Marstons EPA
Morland Old Speckled Hen
Ringwood Best Bitter
Robinsons Unicorn
Sam Smiths OBB
Theakstons Best Bitter
Thwaites Bitter
Wadworths 6X
Wells Eagle IPA

One vote:
Ansells Bitter
Any golden ale
Anything by Arkells
Anything by Coach House
Anything by Enville
Anything by Greene King
Anything by Marstons
Anything by Hydes
Anything by Salamander
Arkells 3B
Badger Best Bitter
Banks’s Best (not sure if this means Mild or Bitter)
Bath Ales Gem
Black Sheep Bitter
Boddingtons Bitter
Brains SA
BrewDog Paradox
BrewDog Punk IPA
Butcombe Bitter
Caledonian Golden Promise
Courage Best Bitter
Davenports Bitter
Dorset Piddle Cocky Hop
Everards Sunchaser
Fullers Discovery
Harveys Sussex Best Bitter
Holts Bitter
Holts IPA
Jennings Cumberland Ale
Leeds Brewery Best
Lees Mild
Ramsbury Bitter
Sambrooks Wandle
Shepherd Neame Master Brew
Storm Brewing Storm Damage
Woodfordes Wherry


  1. One of the problems for GKIPA, Bombardier, Deuchers and the like is that as well as being brewed for the mass market, they are also sold into many pubs as the sole cask offering in what are effectively "keg" pubs that don't have the experience or interest of good cellarmanship.

    And many dedicated cask ale drinkers will only try these beers when it's the only thing on offer...

    Ever decreasing circles.

  2. Yes, I'm sure that's what did for the reputation of Pedigree when they signed a deal to sell it in a lot of Whitbread pubs with little or no experience of looking after cask beer. Especially when Pedigree was known to require more looking after in the cellar than many other cask beers.

  3. I definately think it is the case the more mass widely available the beer becomes, the more likely it ends up in a pub with limited cask handling experience, and then the beer suffers badly as a result.

    and then as geordiemanc says you get ever decreasing circles,it gets a reputation as a "poor" beer and then cask drinkers start actively to avoid drinking it, so cask ale pubs that could handle it just stop getting the stuff in, as they start to struggle to shift it because none of their customers will touch it, which only increases the proportion of pubs with less cask experience handling it, and increases the likelihood of the next time you come across it, finding its "poor", and off we go round the loop again...

    I maintain GKIPA is a very harshly underrated beer, when its served optimally its as good as anything of its style on the market today, its just 9/10 times the places its served in, arent optimal for it at all, some are most definately sub-optimal.

    what would have been an interesting follow up question to ask in the survey was when was the last time you tried the beer youve named as the poorest and where was it?

  4. i think its familiarity breeds content.if you try a new beer you take note of how good it is but with the beers everyone reckons are good you are lulled into a false sense.the next time you drink butcome -bombadier-harveys close your eyes ignore your friends and have a good swallow then say this is great beer.i dont think you will. cheers

  5. Woodfordes Wherry got one vote.

    On BOTH lists.

    I'm sure that's very frustrating for the boffins over in Norfolk to make head or tail of.

    Coming top of both lists might make some sense, suggesting a drink was at least being drunk on a huge scale. Public votes often award 'best' and 'worst' to the very same candidate when it/he/she happens to be ubiquitous at the time.

    But coming bottom of both is a real head scratcher.

    I think I'd prefer no votes on either to a solitary vote on both.

  6. Considering that GKIPA won Champion Beer of Britain not that long ago, I just cannot see how it is underrated.
    I'm not sure that it even has a style unless you call totally without character or individuality some kind of style.
    A million pints of Doombar are made each week, and the priority is to ensure that each of these tastes the same as each other one. You cannot take anywhere near as much care over these quantities as you can when you are personally producing five or six thousand pints a week.

  7. I'm not surprised by the score for Greene King IPA, but I suspect that some of these votes are for beers the voter didn't like, as opposed to beers that are lacklustre or indifferent. The two are not necessarily the same thing.

  8. There are three (big production) beers in this list that when well kept, I think are excellent. That's Courage Directors, Fullers London Pride and Wadworths 6X.

    If not looked after properly, it doesn't really matter what beer it is; it'll taste like shit.


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