OK, if you go into a tied pub of one of the independent family brewers, or Greene King or Marston’s, you will probably still find a beer on the bar in the 3.6% - 4.0% strength range describing itself as “Bitter”. But go in the vast majority of pub company outlets, or any “free house” that isn’t a specialist beer pub, and you’re likely to be confronted by three or four of the widely-distributed premium ale brands such as Doom Bar, Cumberland Ale, Bombardier, Wainwright and London Pride, which are in a slightly higher strength – and price – band. “Ordinary bitter” is conspicuous by its absence.
Indeed, very often the staple ale in these pubs is a smoothflow offering such as Worthington, John Smith’s or the dreaded nitro Boddington’s. Cask beer is reserved for the discerning “premium” customer with his deep pockets. You may even get a funny look if you walk in off the street and ask for it.
Yet, as I said here, to pack so much flavour and variety into beers of such modest strength is arguably one of the greatest achievements of British brewing. And, at a time when high pub prices are a constant source of complaint and we are being urged to curb our alcohol consumption, making a wider variety of ordinary bitters available would help both our wallets and our livers - not to mention our driving licences.