Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Beer vs pubs

In the early years of CAMRA, it was recognised that pubs and real ale were inextricably linked. Without pubs, there would be no real ale. It was an era when the pub trade was booming, so pubs were not in general under threat as such, and one of the main campaigning priorities was increasing the proportion of pubs that sold real ale. Much effort was put into producing pub guides for the various areas of the country showing people where real ale was available.

Beer festivals steadily assumed a greater importance, but their general aim remained to highlight beers that people might want to look out for in pubs. A change started to happen in the late 1980s with the rise of multi-beer free houses, where many beer enthusiasts started to drink in preference to tied houses with only one or two beers. Another change in the marketplace was the growth in new microbreweries, which found a ready market in the multi-beer pubs, and also got a foothold in more mainstream pubs through the guest beer clause in the Beer Orders. However, at this stage they were still in general only producing their own take on the beer styles already offered by the established breweries.

Then, beginning with the development of American-influenced intensely hoppy beers, things began to change, and this led to the current explosion of different styles and flavours associated with the “craft beer revolution”. More and more, the cutting-edge beer enthusiast would find little of interest in the general run of pubs, and a growing number of specialist bars and even beer festivals have sprung up to cater for the demand.

Although it tends to grasp the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the reasons for pub decline, CAMRA has in recent years devoted a lot of effort to pub campaigning. But the new-wave beer geek may well ask what is the point of trying to stop a run-down estate boozer being converted into a Tesco Express when there are cool new bars in the centre of town offering a greater range of beers than anyone’s ever seen before. They will fail to see any attraction in spending the evening in a pub full of old blokes drinking one or two regular beers from a fuddy-duddy family brewery and, from reading some blogs, they regard a trip away from the big city into one of the more far-flung parts of the country as something akin to a journey into Darkest Africa where they might have no alternative but to drink Wainwright or some boring brown bitter from a local farmhouse brewery.

Now obviously people have the right to pursue their own interests as they see fit. It’s not really something that floats my boat – as I said here, while I’m far from uninterested in beer, ultimately I’m more interested in pubs. But it must be a cause for concern that enthusiasm for beer is becoming increasingly detached from the everyday pubgoing experience of ordinary people.


  1. You're right.

    Something I've been thinking about is how - after being so enthusiastic about the new wave of craft beer bars when they first started popping in London about four years ago - I now almost never set foot in one.

    Last night I went for beers and visited two pubs and drank two different beers that I was enjoying a decade ago. But then like you I'm a pub person.

  2. It's unfortunate but main pubcos' conservative tendency on range is a factor (and big pubcos like to have big contracts with big brewers).
    It's a bit like the big supermarkets' beer ranges, very rarely anything truly exciting there either.
    Big retailers need/prefer big suppliers I guess.
    Parallels in wine too (interesting challenge for Majestic as it has got bigger)

  3. I've never really been a big fan of 'craft beer bars' much, which may explain why my favourite places to drink in the Charlottesville area are brewery tap rooms and more recently a new Oirish pub that opened up with a very generic line up in beer, Guinness, Bass, Harp, Smithwicks and a couple of local Central VA brews for good measure but is actually a nice place to sit with the paper and have a pint, or meet with friends and hang out. Good company doesn't need good beer.

  4. I know it's easier said than done, but it would be helpful if you could name some names or point to some examples of the attitudes you're discussing.

    There are maybe a *handful* of people who seem to only drink in craft beer bars, but we see plenty of evidence that the majority of beer geeks/bloggers also spend plenty of time in their local, and many of them are vocal fans of old school bitter as well as being into the weirder stuff.

    Part of the problem (as I've said before elsewhere) is that there's only so much you can *write* about having yet another perfectly decent pint of Tribute in the same pub you usually go to, so Twitter/blogs tend to give the impression of a non-stop cavalcade of novelty.

  5. @Alastair - many of the pubs I'm thinking of do have good beer, just not an aver-changing selection of cutting-edge beer.

    @Bailey - I don't want to get personal and start naming names (and I'm certainly not thinking of you). However I do remember some beer blogger (not sure which) who described a holiday somewhere on the Norfolk or Suffolk coast in a way that sounded like an expedition to Borneo.

  6. You cannot beat a good run-down estate boozer (with their flat roofs, meat raffles & "crack the giro" nights). Happy days.

  7. @Curmudgeon

    I think we are likely on the same side when it comes to this. The best brewery tap room in this part of VA is at Three Notch's Brewing and has a good range of beer styles. Their core beers are absolutely solid and always worth drinking, and they have lots of seasonals and specials which are worth trying as well. The tap room itself feels very much like a pub at home (not surprising as one of the founders is Irish), and deliberately so.

    We have had a couple of 'craft beer bars' pop up in town in the last few months and for all their changing beers and having the latest greatest hoppiest barrel ageist randalised beer, they are just not places I want to go. Their prices are usually higher than other bars for the same beer and the service is often so-so. I'd just much rather wander into the Three Notch'd bar and decide what to drink while the barman pulls a pint of brown ale for my wife.

    My comment about 'good company doesn't need good beer' came out wrong, good beer is important, but it doesn't define a good pub for me. A good pub with good beer is what I want.

  8. I think you just have to accept the death of the pub and move on. Don't dwell on it. Like a bird you dated at college, you may occasionally think of her and the past but when you look her up on facebook you discover she's now fat so you are grateful for swerving that one.

    Move on, drink your grog on the sofa and tweet about it like the rest of us. Live in the present, Mudge.

  9. As a beer geek I think you are over estimating how many geeks there are and their influence in the beer choice for most pubs.The big change in London has been brought about by Locale and the explosion of new brewers.Pubs dumped the regional beers and now stock London beers.The younger pub goer now gets to try loads of different beers and are happy to try new stuff.I am not one of the younger crowd but the thought of drinking the same beers week after week is my idea of pub hell. cheers john

  10. "But it must be a cause for concern that enthusiasm for beer is becoming increasingly detached from the everyday pubgoing experience of ordinary people"

    "But it must be a cause for concern that enthusiasm for trains is becoming increasingly detached from the everyday travel experience of ordinary people"

    "But it must be a cause for concern that enthusiasm for stamps is becoming increasingly detached from the everyday postal experience of ordinary people"

  11. I think Bailey being rather over-defensive here. Perhaps they are all hiding their usual pub going habits under a bushel but with a few honourable exceptions you do get the sense of a disconnect between many contributors to the blogosphere and your average pub-goer. Although I suppose that begs the question what is your average pub-goer these days?

    Part of the problem I think is that many beer geeks, much like computer nerds, can't see that most people aren't actually like them.

  12. Martin, Cambridge5 November 2014 at 08:23

    I'm with you Curmudgeon, but I only have CAMRA newsletters and beer blogs as evidence that pub-going is seen as secondary to beer-finding, and I'm not sure how big a factor significant beer-geekism is in the decline of the pub compared to other factors.

    I suspect there is much less interest now in tracking down pubs with genuinely good beer quality, whether that beer is Wainwright or a micro, although I personally still think there is a vast gulf in the quality of beer, even in Beer Guide pubs. Your local CAMRA branch is one of the few that seems to reflect that.

  13. @John Clarke - pub customers have always been a broad church, of course. And nowadays in many pubs the average customer is primarily there to eat a meal.

    @Martin - I don't think beer geekism is a major factor in the decline of pubs. But the attitude is becoming more widespread that, as described by "munrobasher" on the CAMRA forum 'ask the hipster generation if they are worried about pub closures and the answer is usually indifference and often more likely "yeah, some of those old man pubs have gone but they've been replaced by some great new bars selling great beer in town'"

  14. Beer, wine, tea, coffee and chocolate are a few items easily defined by their flavours. In the case of beer if a small number of people are evangelising their love of high IBU hop bombs or other varieties and consequently entrepreneurs build temples for the new masses to worship then I really don't see a problem. The problem is overstating a niche market. Beer is determined by flavour. Pubs are defined by your own personal preference. Heaven is having beer and pub exactly to your personal taste.

  15. Clarkey is bob on. I get the impression that most beer geeks think the point of a pub is to service beer enthusiasm as a hobby. For most people a pub is a social environment to chat with friends and they pick one on the basis of decor, atmosphere, are the other people in here like me? (a coda for social class). The actual products are lower down the list of importance. Not unimportant as no one want to spend hard earned on crap, but not the point of it. People don't actually go out for a pint. They go out to socialize. Having a pint is just how we Brits socialize.

  16. CAMRA killed the british pub the day it started acting as wetherspoons marketing department.

  17. you could make a hot song of that, py, to the tune of "video killed the radio star"

  18. I like beer, but actually I think pubs are more important. Having a social space where people feel comfortable going either by themselves, in couples, or with a big group, where they can get to meet and interact with their local community is hugely important. The internet can never adequately replace actual face to face interaction.

  19. CAMRA killed the British pub
    The day it decided not to fight the smoking ban

  20. Mudgie agrees with py shocker!

  21. You guys do know that a park bench is social space right? See you both there. Py, you bring the mangy dog. Mudgie, you bring the Spesh.

  22. Its a bit cold though, no? At least pubs have a nice fire on.

  23. Cold? Not after the 1st Spesh.

    Some of you crafties are what we oop north would refer to as "nesh"

  24. Lord |Egbert Nobacon5 November 2014 at 12:13

    I know what you mean.
    The biggest pub disappointment in my life was making a visit to the Holborn Whippet after reading beer bloggers eulogise about it.
    Most of the craft beer I drank was shite and the bar istelf was untidy,full of dirty glasses and looked like a 1970's Burton shop.
    So we buggered off round the corner to the Prince Louise and spent a few happy hours drinking good old Sam Smiths.
    Great bogs as well.

  25. @Cooking seems to be suffering a wit infection. Most welcome.

  26. wit infection? Isn't that the new sour wheat beer from Magic Rock?

  27. "The biggest pub disappointment in my life was making a visit to the Holborn Whippet after reading beer bloggers eulogise about it."

    Ah, yes, like that notorious pub-hating craft beer hypester Tandleman.

  28. Lord Egbert obviously has duff taste. Sorry Lord Egbert, but that's the way it is.

  29. The English Pub (Saxon Tavern)was as much a part of the "English Way"as much as the Village church
    and market place.
    The OPEN doors offered welcome to all both local and traveller,retired generals shared a lively bar with yokels and social intercourse flourished through good times and bad
    Now many pubs are little more than loners retreats,specific groups and neolithic yonners.
    Of course some pubs are surviving
    as they sweep up the dregs from local closures,a bit like bragging about grave robbing.
    To halt the decline in pubs will require a fundamental change of
    attitude from those who still frequent the remaining pubs,sadly but a dream


  30. Professor Pie-Tin5 November 2014 at 13:30

    As they say,opinions are like arseholes.
    Maybe we caught an off day but any pub that can't clear tables and have staff who don't appear to know much about the beer they're serving is crap whether it serves craft beer or not.
    We weren't the only ones - from Time Out's review: " not all the staff seem to have the levels of enthusiasm and expertise a pub like this needs."
    The Princess Louise was rammed, the Holborn Whippet far less so. Maybe all those people have duff taste too.
    Now The Rake is a different kettle of fish altogether.
    A proper craft beer bar and not a cloth cap or whippet in sight.
    Great beer too.

  31. Martin, Cambridge5 November 2014 at 16:55

    Sorry py, i agree pubs are more important than beer, but Wetherspoons are as likely to attract groups of people going out to socialise i.e. to enjoy pubs , as anywhere else.

    That doesn't mean I'd rather have a pint in the Tivoli than the Blue, just that I defend the existence of Spoons as a legitimate pub experience.

    While I'm talking about Cambridge, have you experienced the Architect yet py ?


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