Sunday, 13 October 2013

It all blurs into one

On the recent CAMRA pub crawl of Didsbury which I mentioned here, it was noticeable that there was a certain saminess to the beer range in all of the pub company pubs, and even to some extent in the Greene King tied house. While there might have been one or two other beers, the core of the range in all seemed to be a choice of four or five from a list of familiar favourities such as Taylor’s Landlord, Thwaites Wainwright, Fuller’s London Pride, Everard’s Tiger, Sharp’s Doom Bar, Wells Bombardier, Jennings Cumberland Ale, Black Sheep Best Bitter, Adnams Southwold Bitter, Morland Old Speckled Hen and Wadworth’s 6X.

Most of these beers are well worth drinking when in good condition, although I can rarely find much character in Doom Bar, but it’s got to the point where there’s little to distinguish one pub from another, and there’s no sense of local distinctiveness whatsoever. Didsbury was never a stronghold of the Greater Manchester independent family brewers, but twenty-five years ago, while there was undoubtedly less choice overall, there would have been a clear contrast between the beer offerings in the various pubs.

Would it not be an idea for some of these pubs to seek to develop a unique selling proposition on the beer front that would set them apart from their competitors and give people a specific reason to visit them beyond “this pub sells a range of beers”? For example, they could offer a core range of beers from one of the well-regarded local micro breweries such as Marble or Phoenix – a whole category that was conspicuous by its absence. And I can’t help feeling that the way to get the best out of any real ale is to stock it regularly so you learn how it matures in the cask and when to tap and serve it.

Ironically, on this particular occasion, by some way both the most interesting beer range and the best-kept beer were in the Wetherspoon’s pub, the Gateway.


  1. Maybe a 99p pint of lout would be a good idea for some.

  2. Isn't that the core problem with the pubcos-the very restricted range? They seem happy to peddle the same range as the competition, no matter what their customers may want. Wetherspoons were, as usual, quick to pick up on the possible sales potential of stocking local ales.

  3. My impression is that even pubco tenants and managers do have access to a wider range of beers, but someone is advising them that a selection of familiar favourites is the best way to go.

  4. It's the same down here: Harvey's, Wells Bombardier, Fullers LOndon Pride, Taylor's Landlord, Adnams Bitter, Morlands Old Speckled Hen and, of course, the dreaded Doom Bar!

    Punch and Enterprise do offer their tenants a much more comprehensive list, but as you say Curmudgeon, most of them stick with familiar favourites.

    I think this is largely down to ignorance, or perhaps lack of experience, on the part of many new entrants to the trade. There is a mistaken belief that these well-known brands are what the majority of real ale drinkers will go for, )there may well be more than a grain of truth in this). Also, I suspect few of the newer breed of licensee actually drink cask beer, let alone like it, so again they tend to play safe and not push the envelope.

    Many free houses are also distinctly unadventurous in what they stock, and tend to stick with the above well-known "safe" brands. Very few are prepared to stick their necks out and offer something a bit different. Leaving aside one of the many bitters produced by the growing number of excellent local breweries we now have in this part of Kent and East Sussex, the sight of a pump offering Old Ale, Porter or Stout on a free house bar is very rare indeed, (unless you know where to look, of course!).

  5. "someone is advising them that a selection of familiar favourites is the best way to go."

    We're you advising this very thing only a year ago Mudgie? It was definitely one of you Tandleman or RedNev.

  6. Ah pyo, you have spotted the logical flaw in Mudgies world view. It changes with the wind in addition to wishing pubs appealed only to old codgers AND wishing they were popular enough to proper. Go figure.

  7. You may be thinking of this post, py0. But that's arguing against having a beer range entirely composed of weird shit nobody's ever heard of, which is just as bad. Indeed it says:

    "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."

    which is entirely consistent with the latest post. Pubs need to have a USP in their beer range.

  8. Martin, Cambridge14 October 2013 at 20:26

    We'll I'd be happy to drink any of those if in good condition in a friendly pub, and so would a good proportion of beer drinkers in the real world. It's only 15 years since Harvey's, Landlord and Sharps were beers CAMRA groups actively sought out and I don't think they're a lot different now. Add Spitfire to the list.

    If I had to pick a pub on beer quality, with nothing else to go on, I'd probably go for the Spoons as well based on experience.

    On the wider point it's a great shame the chains can't access Marble as does have a consistency and broad appeal as well as local credentials.


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