Monday, 22 October 2012

A growing divide

Following the, er, lively debate generated by my post about the exclusiveness of the “craft beer” movement, I set up a poll on people’s attitudes towards some of the most popular cask beers. I also included our local stalwart, Robinson’s Unicorn. The results are shown on the right.

Only three beers – Taylor’s Landlord, Fullers London Pride and (maybe surprisingly) Thwaites Wainwright got an overall positive score. All the rest got more votes for “dull” than “good”. Yet these are beers that are amongst the biggest-selling real ales in the country and also, in many cases, are top-selling premium bottled ales too.

It’s well-nigh unknown to see most of these promoted on beer blogs, or in the editorial of CAMRA publications. Is this not indicative of a growing divide between the views of the cognoscenti, and what the ordinary, but moderately discerning, punter, chooses to buy? By simply deciding to go for cask in the pub, or a PBA in Tesco, the customer is already making a statement that he wishes to distinguish himself from the herd drinking Carling or John Smith’s Extra Smooth.

And the PBA sector is not directly championed at all by CAMRA (except in the sense that most of the beers have cask equivalents) and also, except in its more esoteric manifestations, rarely features on beer blogs either. Yet this is one of the fastest-growing segments of the beer market. Where do customers get the information as to what to buy, and what to avoid? Certainly not from any self-declared beer enthusiasts. I’ve more than once heard PBAs referred to as “real ales”, which indicates there is a widespread perception that they are the take-home equivalent of cask beers in the pub.

There are also a growing number of successful cask micro-breweries that have achieved wide distribution without any significant championing from the enthusiast community, Otter being a good example. Good branding and sales practices must be important factors, but isn’t another brewing an accessible range of ales in the classic British tradition that are never going to steal the show, but equally reliably deliver what they promise?


  1. The two sub-40 scores are interesting; for me at least, they provoke directly opposite reactions. The thought of Spitfire turns me into Craft Man - I don't care who makes it or how they make it, it's dishwater, and the fewer people who drink it the better. Doom Bar, OTOH - I like that one! It's a nice beer! What are you lot on about?

  2. This might (at least in my case) have a bit to do with regional bias.

    Taylors, Thwaites and Everards and Black sheep (although not on the list) would be my beer of choice.

    As for "London pride", if that's the pride of London, they can keep it!!

    Tried Bombardier, not on draught unfortunately, but it was alright, nothing to right home about.

  3. You cannot distinguish yourself from any herd, only pick the herd you wish to run with.

    The mainstream herd, the CAMRA herd or the beer enthusiast herd.

    Craft beer annoys CAMRA stalwarts for one reason. For 40 years they have viewed themselves as above the common herd. Now a set of bright young things with no interest in the rules they have spent 40 years dreaming up have decided they are ones above the common herd. How annoying. How further annoying the rules of the game are so blurred.

    Meanwhile the rest of the world gets on with life. Working jobs, getting married, having kids, buying houses, reclaiming PPI and occasionally having a drink. Picking drink by no other criteria than what they happen to like and can afford in the main not thinking it says anything really about themselves, their discernment or social class.

  4. Hmm. I think there are plenty of bloggers who write about supermarket beers, cornershop lagers and standard bitters. We've certainly done our fair share of that but... how much is there to say? Once you've reviewed London Pride once, and then perhaps commented on the difference between the canned/bottled version and the cask, it's done. You might, if you're a particularly boring bastard, write a description of a bad pint you've had somewhere.

  5. "Where do customers get the information as to what to buy, and what to avoid?"

    You've given us the nudge to finish something we've had half done for months, based on the number of hits we get for people searching TESCO BOHEME 1795...

  6. Actually, I would say that in promotional terms the cask and PBA sectors reinforce each other - people will buy bottles of what they've seen in the pub, and buy beers in the pub they've had in bottle.

    Shelf appeal is obviously important for new products, but an attractive bottle will only sell a bad beer once.

    In-store displays, especially the end-of-aisle features, have a big part to play. For example, on my most recent visit, my local Morrison's had a large display for Adnams Ghost Ship, a beer I had never actually sampled before.

    There isn't a lot of PBA advertising in mainstream media, though.

  7. "Where do customers get the information as to what to buy, and what to avoid?"

    if not from the blogosphere, FOR GOOD GOD WHERE?


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