Saturday, 19 April 2014

Do you ever get a feeling of déjà vu?

Sometimes I get an idea for a blogpost, only to realise I’ve said pretty much exactly the same thing before. Yesterday I was in Joule’s excellent Cross Keys in Chester and thought a few words of praise would be in order, but there’s very little I can add to my thoughts from a couple of years ago. The Cross Keys – once a Boddington’s pub – is basically a single room, but has been very tastefully refurbished with glittering mirrors, wood floors and extensive bench seating (complete with a few scatter cushions).

It’s difficult to avoid the feeling, though, that the Joule’s pub estate is ultimately dependent on some deep pockets. If taking failing pubs over and carrying out lavish refurbishments as proper pubs rather than family-focused eateries was such a good commercial prospect, then surely others would be doing it, but rather conspicuously they are not. Their recent revamp of the previously run-down Butcher’s Arms at Forsbrook in Staffordshire is a good example. Still, why not just enjoy them and not worry about who is paying for it all?

On the bar of the Cross Keys is the vintage Carling Black label font pictured on the right, now non-operational, of course. And this reminded me of another point I’ve made in the past, that the working classes almost to a man now shun cask beer. It was a beautiful sunny day, not particularly warm, but the sun was pleasant if you were out of the wind. While I was there, a sequence of fairly down-to-earth looking groups and couples came in, and pretty much every bloke went for a pint of Grolsch, even though there were six cask beers on the bar and the Joule’s Pale Ale was in excellent nick.

Is cask beer seen as just too difficult, poncey and precious? And is that maybe a reason for stocking Bombardier and Cumberland Ale rather than 57 varieties of stuff the average drinker has never heard of?

15 comments:

  1. There's a cracking Joules pub in Wrexham, the Royal Oak http://www.joulesbrewery.co.uk/pubs/pub_details.php?id=16
    As for class divides and cask beer, I'm not too sure. I've been doing some pub reviews recently which have taken me into a few estate pubs which I might not have otherwise visited. Overwhelmingly they have no cask beer. My local, on the other hand, in an area dominated by 1930s semis, has six. The pub has a mixed middle/working class clientele. The middle class drinkers pretty much all drink cask, the working class lads are about 60/40 ale to lager, although being in the West Country, cider comes into the mix as well. Interestingly, the younger blokes tend to favour cask.
    Incidentally, it amuses me that South Bristol hipsters (ironic facial hair, daft hats, craft keg) favour the dimpled mug, in much the same way that North Bristol over-seventies do. Does this mean that that the oldsters are the new hipsters or vice-versa?

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  2. If cask ale is going to be revived as the default "pint of beer", one of three things is going to have to happen. One is that regional brewers - the Robinson's and Harvey's of this world - have a massive revival in credibility; I've no idea how this could happen. One is that ordinary beer-drinkers convert en masse to thinking a new and different pint of beer is as good as, or better than, the pint they had last time; this just isn't going to happen. And the third is the creation a 'safe', recognisable national brand, that punters can stick to and know what they're getting. Cumberland, GK IPA, Bombardier, )spit(fire, even Hobgoblin - they're all attempts to do this. None of them's really cracked it yet; Hobgoblin's had a bit of success in the "used to listen to HM, don't drink any old rubbish" demographic, but even that's tiny compared to (say) Beck's drinkers. The idea of knowing - or caring - what three or four different bitters taste like would strike most people as daft - let alone the idea of deliberately choosing a beer you'd never had before on an ordinary night out.

    We forget sometimes that, compared to most people, we're all tickers.

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  3. Is cask beer seen as just too difficult, poncey and precious?

    No, it's just the herd mentality. Most people are like sheep, and if all their mates/peers are drinking Carling/Fosters/Stella et al, they will do the same.

    It's nothing to do with class; just a total unwillingness to step out of the comfort zone and try something slightly different.

    Creatures of habit, and all that! I used to work with someone who went on holiday to Cyprus every year, during the same fortnight. Him and his wife stayed in the same resort, in the same hotel and even in the same room!

    Horses for courses, I suppose, but it does sum up a worryingly large percentage of the human race.

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  4. I'm not sure why ale enthusiasts are that bothered what everyone else drinks. Cask ale is a healthy niche that serves its punter base well, why not just enjoy that? You don’t need everyone on it, just a few to keep it going for yourselves.
    As for the blog repeating itself, well that’s the nature of bloggery; turns out most people only have so much to say. I used to enjoy the beery travelogue type blogs, now they are same old, same old. Your blog suffers from the clear out of the smoking ban. With every year of distance that passes, fewer pubs suffer from it as the wash out of pubs closing because of it slows. I doubt it is possible to blame it for pub closures today, in the same way as the first 3 or 4 years.
    In other aspects of the politics of drinking there is still something to say. The on-going denomalisation of drinking is a factor to keep banging on about if you can find a range of ways of repeating the same thing. People drink less, pubs shut.
    I expect in about 10 years it will become noticeable that the current entrants to the market are quite temperate as that feeds through into “proper”pub going (as opposed to noisy places to pull), beer festival attendance & desire to join a beery club.
    Love the old font, it’s the type of thing I look out for on eBay as this summer I have decided to take the plunge and build myself a pub shed. If I can be bothered, like. Not all mainstream beers are crap. I’ve always found Grolsch one of the better wife beaters to get trollied on. Nice and cold on a hot summer’s afternoon.

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  5. bit of a patronizing view of your fellow man, you've developed there, Paul. You'll be using "ignorami", next.

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  6. The rot started to set in when it became "real ale" rather than just "bitter".

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  7. I've tried not to be too judgmental Cookie, but I'm only reporting what I find. Ever had that experience where you park your car, at the far end of an almost deserted car park, only to find on your return that people have parked right next to you, even though there are still dozens of empty spaces?

    Watching people's behaviour when waiting to board a plane, or trying to board a crowded bus, only serves to reinforce my point about the herd mentality of the human race.

    Going back to your earlier comment, I would agree that it shouldn't (and doesn't) matter what everyone else is drinking, but being pedantic here I would describe myself as a beer enthusiast, rather than purely an ale one. I therefore enjoy and appreciate many different styles of beer, including pilsner-type lagers, and have been known to go for a Kronenbourg or a Grolsch when there's nothing else available. A "distress purchase" perhaps, but miles better than John Smiths Smooth and, as you point out, nice and cold on a hot summer’s afternoon.

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  8. Most people I know who drink lager have tried ale and just didn't like it; too warm, too flat, too bitter, too muddy, too inconsistent.

    All the things I don't like about a lot of ale as well.

    It is also cultural as well of course. Network effects.

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  9. ps. Does anyone know when Carling dropped the "Black Label" strap-line from their most famous product?

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  10. and that rot got set when the answer to the question "pint of bitter please, treacle" became "which one?"

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  11. I don't park my car at the back end of deserted car parks, paulo, as dogging isn't really my bag. I park near the front of the store in the mother and child spots. I'd park in the disabled ones buts that's a step too far, for me.

    Human nature is a strange thing, but being a member of the herd is quite rational. If todays paper told you your bank was going bust, you'd join the long queue outside, with the rest of the herd.

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  12. Cookie, if todays paper told you your bank was going bust, you'd join the long queue outside, with the rest of the herd. - I think it would be too late by then!

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  13. Probably, matey, but it would be rational. Causing a bank rush is irrational, but joining one isn't. There are plenty of times both you and I have joined the herd because that was, at the time, rational.

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  14. Stanley Blenkinsop20 April 2014 at 12:05

    @Cookie.
    I've parked in diasbled bays for years.There are 15 at my local Tescos.When are you ever going to get 15 raspberries all shopping at the same time ?
    However, I used to feign a pronounced limp when walking from the car to the store to at least throw some pretence to the do-gooder.
    Ain't in just the thing though - I've now got a permanent pronounced limp as a result of a gammy,gouty,knee.
    Hoisted by my own petard,I say.Hoisted by my own petard.

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  15. Your gout isn't related to your boozin' though, it's genetic. I learnt that on a blogger twiss up. I thought initially that it was statistically unlikely that so many 20/30 year olds would get gout and that it must be the pop, but they all assured me it was genetic.

    Just like a group of lads all on the Carling is a herd, but when I've got me millets trousers & sandals on and am on a beardy pub crawl with Mudgie & the beard club we are not at all and in any way a herd.

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