Friday, 5 April 2013

A question of balance

If I ran a pub, I’d make sure that the range of cask beers included sufficient variety that as few customers as possible would be disappointed. If I had four pumps, I’d have a classic ordinary bitter, a golden ale, a stronger premium bitter and a dark beer, either a mild or a porter. I suggested here that Bateman's Dark Mild, Whim Hartington Best Bitter and Taylor's Landlord would make an ideal core range. As the number of pumps grew, I might add one or two stronger and/or more exotic beers, but I’d still retain roughly the same proportions. And I’d always remember that, although there’s much to be said for offering more unusual brews, the majority of customers, even in specialist pubs, will be looking for beers in the gold-amber-copper colour range with a strength roughly between 3.5% and 4.5% ABV.

So it’s disappointing when pubs which you think really should know better fail to adhere to the basic principle of offering a balanced beer range. One of my local Wetherspoon’s, which I maybe visit twice a month, often seems to fall short on this front. For example, on one occasion, apart from the usual Ruddles and Abbot, there was nothing on the bar below 5%, which isn’t ideal if you want to keep a clear head at lunchtime. Another time all the guests were dark beers of some description with the exception of one cloudy Belgian-style witbier which I imagine many casual punters would have sent straight back. It really isn’t good if you’re confronted with eight handpumps but can’t find anything you want to drink, or if in Spoons you find Ruddles the least worst option.

I also recently called in a well-regarded free house, not in this area, which to be honest I reckon has one of the most congenial pub atmospheres around. It had eight beers on, one of which was a chocolate porter, and the remaining seven all golden ales. Now, I’ve nothing against golden ales, and many of them are excellent beers, but it would have been nice to see a bit more variety and one or two milds and classic bitters. Wye Valley HPA is a fine brew, but on this occasion their Bitter or Butty Bach might have provided a broader choice.

It’s not difficult, licensees – as far as you can, within the number of beers you can turn over, make sure you offer as wide a variety of strengths and styles as practicable, and don’t neglect beers of sessionable strength in the amber and copper colour range.


  1. "A range of cask beers available
    At least one rotating guest beer
    Beer range not weighted towards high gravity beers
    Mild always available
    Just as a suggestion: Bateman's Dark Mild, Whim Hartington Best Bitter and Taylor's Landlord as regular beers, and two guests, one sub 4%, one premium strength
    No nitrokeg or keg ales of any description (I'd tolerate Dublin-brewed Draught Guinness)
    All lagers are genuine high-quality imports
    A good choice of British and imported bottled beers
    Traditional cider available
    Nothing whatsoever on sale produced by Bass, Scottish Courage, Whitbread or Carlsberg-Tetley "

    Would you make any changes to that on the basis of recent developments over the past few years?

  2. I was actually just thinking about that question.

    I'd probably now look at having British brewed "craft keg" lagers such as Moravka.

    And, while my ideal pub is aimed at allcomers, not just beer geeks, I might think about having a guest craft keg ale, to allow the serving of stronger or more unusually flavoured beers that would not have sufficient turnover for cask.

    I'd have keg Thatchers Gold or Stowford Press cider as well.

  3. All good ideas. A good range of strengths, flavours and serving temperatures is essential.

    Beerwise I'd probably have 3 regular handpumps from local breweries (a mild, a bitter and golden ale), and 3 rotating guest beers from further afield, and then 4 keg fonts doing a lager, a modern IPA, a wheatbeer or saison, and something dark. All British of course.

  4. "If I ran a pub" Well, what's stopping you? Stop moaning, get off your arse and put your money where your mouth is fella.

    Create the dumpiest family unfriendly bench seated craphole with no pork pies in the ploughman lunch you can imagine, fill it with boring brown bitter and old codgers, make a fortune and show that Tim Martin where to get off!

  5. Stop pissing it all away in pubs and you'd have some matey ;)

    Try necking nowt but Aldi Taurus Cider (<£2 per 2 litre) for a year and you'll be rolling in it.

  6. To be honest, I've often thought if I had a £10 million lottery win, I would spend some of it buying a pub and running it according to my principles.

    It might not make a profit - especially if I decided to adopt the basic, wet-only rural pub model - but it would be fun ;-)

  7. Wetherspoons are, generally, poorer than most in balancing the pumps. I've had similar experiences to your own and the explination seems to lie with either the lack of a dedicated cellar man and/or a sufficiently competent manager.

  8. Went to Spoons last week. Apart from horrible Ruddles Best, nothing under 5%. Left. Went to proper pub.

  9. Balancing the range and being aware of what your customers want is key to pub success (among many other things of course).

    Most pubs are astonishingly bad at it. I agree with Tyson about JDW in this respect.

  10. Another common problem is the pub company outlet that will offer a choice of, say, London Pride, Cumberland Ale, Doom Bar and Bombardier. Regardless of their individual merits, four beers of broadly the same style and strength.

  11. Which one pub would you buy if you had the money Curmudgeon ?

  12. "Which one pub would you buy if you had the money Curmudgeon?"

    Depends which became available, really. I think the aim would be return somewhere from a heavily food-led model to something more like a proper multi-purpose pub. I accept it might not be highly profitable, but that isn't the point.


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