Something I’ve noticed a few times recently is pubs aiming to establish their credentials for selling and promoting real ale trying a bit too hard by offering an ever-changing roster of often distinctly obscure and seasonal guest beers. These are not the specialist multi-beer alehouses, but pubs of a more general appeal, with food trade and footy-watching regulars, that want to make a mark for themselves.
There’s nothing wrong with rotating guest beers, but you can have too much of a good thing. In the widely-mentioned Peter Jackson article about CAMRA’s image with the young, he says that the reported factors putting people off drinking it include “too much variety” and “confronted with unfamiliar brands, which makes the decision difficult”.
I’m probably vastly more knowledgeable about the beer market than most punters, but even so I recently went in a pub where I was confronted with four totally unfamiliar beers and struggled to establish which I’d actually want to drink. I’m not suggesting an unremitting diet of familiar brands, but surely it would make sense, especially in a pub with a lot of casual customers, to have at least one beer on the bar such as, say, Brains SA, Black Sheep Bitter or Draught Bass that they might at least recognise. In a pub with a stronger regular trade, perhaps you should have one or two regular beers from a well-respected local micro on the bar alongside the more unusual brews. A well-chosen permanent beer can be a pivot around which the guest beers revolve.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that, even now, most real ale is probably consumed by drinkers as their “regular brew” in just the same way as Carling, Guinness and Strongbow. It certainly is round here in the average Robinson’s, Holts and Sam Smith’s pub.
Another problem is that this approach can easily lead to a lack of balance in their beer range, and four rather samey beers occupying the pumps. Ideally, if you have four pumps, it would make sense to offer a choice of a dark mild or stout, an ordinary bitter, a stronger special bitter and a golden ale. Christmas brings a slew of seasonal specials which are typically not too dark, not too strong and not too hoppy, and four of those can be distinctly underwhelming.