Saturday 21 April 2012

A worthwhile gain?

Last night the local branch of CAMRA had their monthly “Stagger” – in this case a wander round one of the less affluent, but still well-pubbed, parts of Stockport. Two of the pubs visited were ones that, after a long time selling only keg beers, had fairly recently restored cask beer. Both, perhaps surprisingly, had Black Sheep Bitter: one also had Greene King IPA and the other Marston’s Pedigree.

In the first, the Black Sheep was OK-ish, the IPA very tired and just on the cusp of becoming vinegary. In the second, however, the Pedigree was well beyond that stage and fully qualified as Sarson’s Best. The Black Sheep wasn’t much better. The Pedigrees were returned, and the bar staff accepted that they needed changing. After some humming and ha-ing, they eventually put on a new cask of Black Sheep, which was acceptable, but the whole experience was a somewhat uncomfortable one.

Sadly this will have reinforced the stereotype of CAMRA members as people who visit a pub once every two years, order a round of halves and then moan about the beer, and there was a bit of barracking from some of the lager-drinking regulars.

But it does raise the question of whether marginal outlets should put cask beer on if they don’t have the turnover to keep it in good condition.

By the way, the beer and atmosphere in the other five pubs visited were fine. I had rather hoped Cooking Lager would join us, but in the end he didn’t turn up.

And, if you are thinking “dull selection”, what beer of around 4% ABV would you suggest a “community” pub putting cask beer on for the first time in years should go for?


  1. Martin, Cambridge21 April 2012 at 17:19

    That's disappointing. One of Stockport's strengths has been the number of proper locals that serve a decent pint, whether of Robbies or Holts. The CAMRA campaign to applaud the introduction of cask beer into Wellington Road North was a particular success.

    Black Sheep and Pedigree may be dull to some in CAMRA, but remain excellent beers as long as demand holds up (e.g. many locals in Yorkshire and Derbyshire). Even IPA tastes good in Essex.

    Bad cask is much worse than any lager.

  2. Well, the last time we did this Stagger the two pubs concerned had no cask beer anyway, and last night I would say four of the seven were places I would have happily stayed all night. I don't want to name names, but you might get a clue here.

    The key is to have on cask the beer that your regulars drink.

  3. As it happens, I went to a "community" pub tonight. We had planned to pop it for a quick pint before going on to the pub at the road, a CAMRA favourite. We ended up having four pints there because the beer (Ringwood 49er; they also had Old Thumper) was so good.

    While it was clearly not a typical CAMRA pub - a lot of the regulars were drinking lager, and the night we went was karaoke night - they obviously were able to sell enough real ale that the 49er was probably the best 49er I've ever had.

    To be honest I've never been a fan of Ringwood beers, I've always seen them as just another boring mass market beer, and 49er in particular is too strong for me, but they seem to be the right choice for that pub: the minority of the regulars that do drink real ale like it.

  4. All of those are fine, I guess, for pubs which don't specialise in real ale, and if they're in top notch condition; having said that, I'm not 100 per cent convinced by the argument that, if there doesn't seem to be a local market for real ale, boring brown bitters will stimulate one. Summer Lightning, though hardly a firecracker of a beer by modern standards, has a bit of 'zing', and is eyecatching on the bar. What's the northern equivalent?

  5. You would never sell the likes of Summer Lightning in that kind of pub because it is too strong - you need something "sessionable".

    In fact, very often Holts Bitter seems to be the favoured choice of pub company pubs putting on a single cask beer. There's another pub on the same crawl that has been selling it for years now. It was conspicuously the busiest and liveliest pub of all those visited and the beer was in good nick.

  6. Martin, Cambridge22 April 2012 at 20:59

    Rather Holts as the default real ale than the Doom Bar/Youngs option that is now common (accompanying London Pride) in many outler London pubs, such as those on the Surrey/Berks borders.

    Doom Bar in particular has always tasted of nothing to me, before and after the Coors takeover, while Youngs is a pale imtation of it's old self.

    On your other theme, some of the best pubs I've been in have been keg (e.g. the Boot near Kings Cross).

  7. Bailey: re What's the northern equivalent?

    Its a tad difficult to say since East and West "North" have quite different tastes, and both sides change again the more northerly north you are.

    Here in Easternish mid North the equivalent starter beer is Bradfield Farmers Blonde, or Acorn Barnsley Bitter. Which aint bad. Although, still far too much Doom Bar and Black Sheep abounds.

    I think Holts is a good North West suggestion, but Cumbria and the Tyne are strangers to me so ouldn't say.

  8. One needs to discover which, if any, cask ales will tempt the locals away from their lager. Not an easy task I admit, but a committed cask ale landlord could try by holding a tasting evening or, what about a "meet the brewer" evening. The latter have proved very popular in a couple of our JDW outlets, and they're a good way of "persuading" un-committed drinkers to try a drop of the real stuff!

  9. I do apologise. I did not realise I was invited nor that it was occurring to be honest, what with being an internet troll.

    Since ceasing beer blogging and becoming a beer geek I have been busy getting through my Spoons tokens, and not managed to do owt else. I shall at some point make an effort to attend summat beery.

    I was thinking of volunteering for beer festivals and stuff 'cos Tand told me there was free beer. I was going to be a steward as I reckon you can stand around getting pissed and not have to do anything but look weird.

    If owt is occuring involving free ale, be sure to let us all know. If it's a piss up that involves paying good money for vinegary piss with a bit of a walk around in the rain, then no offence but can I not come? It sounds nice but between that and a glass of Shiraz and an early night with the treacle, the latter has more appeal. Sorry if that makes me sound like a girl.


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