Monday 31 August 2015

Hit and miss

In recent years, we have seen a huge expansion of the German discount supermarket chains ALDI and Lidl. Before acquiring any new site, I’m sure they study very carefully the demographics of the local area, the prominence of the location and the ease of access to it. No doubt Greene King and Marstons do the same when looking at building new dining pubs, and likewise BrewDog and Wetherspoons. Spoons sometimes get it wrong, but they generally don’t, and their failures generally result from going a little outside their comfort zone.

But pub operators in general don’t have that luxury, and are in effect saddled with the estate they’ve already got, which will generally have been established in times when the pattern of demand was very different. Most of our pubs are still on sites that were pubs before 1914, and something that is often forgotten is that, in the days before buses and electric trams, many men would regularly walk two, three or four miles to and from work, and thus had plenty of opportunity to call in for a pint or six on their way home. This helps to account for the way pubs are (or were) strung out along all the main radial routes from cities and large towns, but clearly it is something that no longer applies.

The distinctive trade of many pubs has developed over the years in a kind of hit-and-miss fashion – this one a music pub, this one a sports pub, this one a codgers’ pub, this one a young folks’ pub. But any pub operator investing substantial money in a refurbishment scheme needs to consider the potential market very carefully. It’s no longer a matter of “if you build it, they will come”, if it ever was. In the past, pub operators have been guilty of many ludicrous flights of fancy that might have seemed a good idea after a long lunch but were based on no market research whatsoever – who ever imagined that doing a pub up as a smugglers’ cave would boost trade in the long term?

I still get the impression, though, that many modern-day refurbishments are done on a kind of seat-of-the-pants basis without any in-depth research. Pub operators really need to consider:

  • Who is going to come here?
  • Will they be people already in the area, or will they make a special journey?
  • How are they going to get here, and back again?
  • At what times of the day will they come?
  • What beers and other drinks will they want to buy?
  • Will they want food and, if so, of what kind?
  • What is the key factor that will make them visit this pub as opposed to another?
But I’m not sure whether they really think this through, or just take the view that, if it’s a bit smarter than it was before, the customers will flock in. Recently, Robinsons have carried out quite an expensive refurb on a pub in one of Stockport’s satellite towns. It’s quite sympathetic, but it’s all a bit pastel, the beer offering verges towards the “crafty”, and the lunchtime snacks are a touch “gastro” and a long way from basic butties. I can’t help wondering who they think they are targeting, and that any idea this will become the trendy go-to meeting place in the locality is surely misguided.

Going back a couple of decades, there was a trend for the major brewers to convert pubs to the then-trendy “alehouse” theme regardless of any consideration whether there would be a demand for it in that location – the Chapel House in Heaton Chapel being a prime example. Over the years, I’ve seen several examples of pub operators trying to introduce an up-market food format in obviously unsuitable locations, and indeed a smaller number of cheap’n’cheerful food operations in prosperous middle-class areas. There are obvious examples of thriving pubs of various kinds, but it shouldn’t be assumed that a winning formula will translate to another location, especially if done in a half-hearted, by-numbers way.

Locally, Holts’ attempts to turn the Griffin in Heaton Mersey into a smart dining pub particularly stand out. They carried out a thorough refurbishment to make it look posher and introduced an ambitious, expensive menu, promoted by prominent on-street A-boards. But it clearly didn’t work, and the food offer has been repeatedly reduced and made more affordable. Unlike some other Holts’ pubs, it’s not really a good location for a dining pub, and its general appearance and layout still shout “boozer”. It seems they have lost the lunchtime clientele who used to have a couple of pints and a bacon roll without attracting any replacements who fancy a pan-fried lamb shank.

Monday 24 August 2015

A Year in the Drink

My recent visit to West Wales prompted me to dig out my copy of A Year in the Drink, a book written by Martin Green and published in 1982, which describes the author’s experiences of running a pub in a small Welsh market town. By coincidence, a few weeks later, Boak & Bailey posted about a book called We Ran a Cornish Pub which had fallen into their hands, and it seems that this is a niche literary genre of its own.

It turns out that Martin Green only died earlier this year, and was in fact born in Stockport in 1932. He led a varied and nomadic life, much of it spent in the publishing industry, and was the co-author of a couple of guides to London pubs in the 1960s. He sounds like someone I might have found a kindred spirit:

Green always looked at least 10 years younger than his actual age, while his attitudes toward anything new in the world were those of a curmudgeonly dotard. His friends used to tease him about the way he would become old. He would be grumpy, always occupying the same seat in his local at the same times, criticising the young, sipping pint after pint, seldom laughing. “I can’t wait,” he replied.
The book is set in the fictional Welsh market town of Llandampness, which is in fact is a thinly-veiled version of Llandeilo, on the River Towy about ten miles east of Carmarthen. In the book, his pub is called the Black Lion, but in fact I think it was actually the now-closed Three Tuns, which is listed in the 1980 Good Beer Guide as selling the same beers he said he’d sold. It is now the Olive Branch Delicatessen. Llandeilo is a rather slight little town, with a population of under 2,000. It has some attractive buildings, but isn’t really a tourist magnet. In the book, Green says the town had twelve pubs, whereas now I can only find five, plus a couple in the village of Ffairfach across the river, which he may or may not have included. And a boutique hotel!

Green and his wife – Stella in the book, Judy in real life – take over the lease of the closed pub early in the year, and then do it up and open at the beginning of April. Given references to the forthcoming devolution referendum, I guess that the year in question is 1978. They quickly come across the tendency of the locals to order a “bitterlemontop”, which was the staple drink in that part of the world. They have to deal with a variety of local characters including The Major, Clem-Band-of-Hope, Myra the Lady of Disaster, Ewan the Poet and Mad Dai Plumber, and their biggest challenge is handling the influx of tepee-dwelling hippies when they come into town to collect their benefit cheques. They’re quite relieved when summer comes and they start to welcome some more polite and well-behaved tourists.

They make friends with some of the other licensees in the town and form a common front against the local troublemakers. They also put on real ale, which only one other pub in the town served, in the form of Marston’s and Felinfoel, and attract the attention of the local CAMRA representatives, which gets the pub more widely known. Green praises CAMRA’s role in reviving interest in traditional beer, but says that from his experience in London he found some of them in person rather joyless and po-faced. The Owd Rodger certainly goes down well over the Christmas period!

However, by the time of the summer holidays, Martin and Stella decide that the pub trade really isn’t for them, and start making plans to sell up, which they manage to achieve by early January. It seems to be a feature of these pub memoirs that the authors only stick at it for a year. The book is a good read, and contains plenty of insights into the pub trade at that time, particularly the relationship between licensees and customers. However, it’s never laugh-out-loud funny in the manner of James Herriot’s vet books, and indeed has a generally slightly wistful and melancholy feel reminiscent of John Moore’s Brensham Trilogy. A minor irritation is that several mysteries are left up in the air – for example, he mentions a pair of well-dressed chaps he calls Tom and Jerry who come into the pub and start buying everyone drinks, but never explains who they were or what they were doing.

Llandampness is, to be honest, very much a backwater, and is described as somewhere you have to leave to make anything of your life, and where you come back to die. Drinking seems to be the principal entertainment of the local population. People wax lyrical about “community pubs” and regular customers, but in reality many pub regulars are somewhat sad individuals who have little else to do. On the other hand, the book does portray an era when pubs were much busier and more numerous than they are now, and where you could see a wide cross-section of society coming in at different times through the day and rub shoulders with each other.

All of the characters and the other pubs in the town are given fictional names, but I’m sure most would have been recognisable to locals and, given that some are portrayed in distinctly uncomplimentary terms, I wonder whether Martin Green ever received any negative feedback.

Sunday 23 August 2015

Bring your own

The White Swan in North Walsham, Norfolk, has recently been in the news for stopping selling food and suggesting that customers bring their own. The licensee cited the new allergen regulations – which carry potentially unlimited fines – for no longer making it viable. In recent years, increased red tape has caused many pubs to question whether serving food is worthwhile, which may well be the reason behind the disappearance of lunchtime pub food in many smaller towns. Another rule which is likely to put pubs off knocking up a few sandwiches is the requirement to have a commercial kitchen entirely separate from your domestic one.

Pete Edge at the White Swan has put menus from local cafés and takeaways on display and is happy for customers to order food from them and eat it in the pub, so long as they buy a drink. There are already plenty of pubs across the country doing that, the Wellington in Birmingham being a well-known example. However, it’s essentially just a convenience for existing customers. People aren’t really going to see a pub where you can order a takeaway as a destination dining venue, and pubs also forgo the revenue from food, which can command a much higher margin than drinks.

There must be scope, though, for pubs to consider more innovative ways of providing food for their customers without taking on the overhead of doing it themselves. Maybe they could enter into a more formal partnership with takeaways, where the pub effectively becomes the takeaway’s own restaurant, and food is delivered rather than collected by customers. I would have thought too that pubs could similarly link up with local sandwich shops to provide a menu of straightforward lunchtime snacks which must be far better for trade than serving no food at all. If done right it could benefit the business of both pubs and food outlets.

Of course, it remains far more common for pubs to insist that you only eat food purchased on the premises, something an elderly Wetherspoons regular found to his cost – although I believe there was more to that than meets the eye.

Thursday 20 August 2015

Make your minds up!

Go back a few years, and it was common for a man ordering a round of drinks in a pub including a half-pint to be asked by the bar staff “and is that half for a lady, Sir?” If you said No, you would get a smaller version of the pub’s standard glass, probably a Nonik or tulip. If you said Yes, you would get a stemmed beer glass of various designs, or at least one with a thick, splayed base. Understandably, this was widely seen as patronising and sexist, and you don’t tend to hear it any more. Surely there is no reason why the glasses used by men and women should not be identical.

But, on the other hand, you often see articles such as this and this arguing that pint glasses put women off drinking beer, which seem to imply that women actually do have different tastes in glassware from men. I think there are several things going on here, including a dislike of traditional macho pint-drinking culture, and not really wanting to drink beer in that kind of volume. It’s not simply a dislike of Noniks and dimpled mugs.

Few pubs outside of specialist bars have taken up the recently introduced two-third pint measures, but every pub serves halves, and I’m sure most, if asked, would produce a stemmed half-pint glass of some kind. Maybe pubs should make more effort to stock stylish half-pint glasses, but other customers would object if they were offered as the default, and is that going to make much difference in the overall scheme of things anyway?

This kind of thing is easy to say, but it’s more difficult to define exactly what pubs are expected to do about it. Recently we have seen a large rise in the number of distinctive brand-specific glasses used, although they normally only come in pint sizes and are usually just for keg beers and lagers. This is a conscious attempt to make glassware more appealing, although personally I find many of the designs unattractive and over-tall, and the stemmed ones, such as the Stella goblet, are particularly horrible. I don’t think stemmed pints are really what is being requested.

I don’t believe, though, that it’s in any sense sexist or discriminatory to say that women have different tastes in glassware from men, as they do in many other spheres. And, deep down, I suspect one of the things women dislike more than men about pub glasses of any kind is that they are brim measures with the attendant risk of spillage. But that isn’t going to change any day soon, and neither is the position of the pint as the predominant beer measure.

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Craft Beer: Evolution or Revolution?

I was originally going to do a rather light-hearted post on “why I don’t like craft beer”. However, in view of this post by Arthur Scargill saying Craft beer? The bubble has burst, and these from Beer Battered and Fuggled suggesting that, even for an enthusiast, innovation has become an end in itself, I felt I ought to take it a bit more seriously.

Who knows what is craft beer, and what isn’t? I’ve certainly enjoyed plenty of beer in the past few years that qualifies by one definition or another. But I have to say that introducing the concept into the British beer market has been counter-productive, provoking divisiveness and encouraging elitism. There you go, I’ve said it.

It’s easy to poke fun at the craft beer movement – the hipsters with their skinny jeans and ironic facial hair, the achingly trendy bars devoid of comfortable seating, the eye-watering prices, the insistence on child-sized measures, the conflation of strength and quality, the existential terror on entering a pub in a provincial market town, and the relentless pursuit of ever more bizarre ingredients. A pint of bitter in your local it isn’t. But the problem goes deeper than that.

I was recently involved in an Internet discussion about beers of the 1970s, in which someone said “well, we didn’t know any better then”. Obviously we didn’t have foreknowledge of 2015, but my recollection is that we had a huge range of excellent, distinctive beers, and plenty of busy, characterful pubs to drink them in. The belief that one generation has discovered something new and wonderful is very characteristic of youthful enthusiasm. It’s depressingly common to read comments like “twenty years ago it was virtually impossible to find any decent beer.”

Over time, the beer market has evolved, as I have described here. We have had golden ales, pale hop-forward beers and then beers using New World hops. I enjoy Summer Lightning and Wye Valley HPA, I regard Hawkshead and Dark Star as go-to breweries if I see them on the bar, and when it was first introduced I found Jaipur IPA a revelation. Despite the stereotype, I’m no stick-in-the-mud devotee of boring brown bitter, although I would argue that many beers in that category are seriously undervalued. But it has to be admitted that within those new styles there are many lacklustre golden ales, one-dimensional hop syrups and ridiculous grapefruit-flavoured so-called IPAs.

In the mid-1970s, there were only 44 brewing companies left in the whole of the USA, and the beer market was dominated by bland, light lager. So the conditions were ripe for the development of an “alternative beer” movement, initially referred to as microbreweries, but more recently morphing into craft breweries. They were able to draw on a wide range of brewing traditions from all around the world, including a substantial influence from British real ale, to produce a huge variety of interesting, characterful beers, and even developing their own entirely new styles. Their most distinctive contribution to the beer world has been the strong, highly-hopped American IPA which, despite the name, is really unlike any other IPA that has gone before. The craft beer sector in the US has gone from strength to strength and now accounts for 11% of the beer market by volume and a staggering 22% by value.

Not surprisingly, beer enthusiasts looked at this and thought there was a golden opportunity to extend that buzz over to this side of the pond. However, there was a little problem. Britain already had a thriving craft beer scene, comprising both the established independent breweries that CAMRA had originally been created to champion, and hundreds of micro breweries that had sprung up since then in a similar way to the US. Yes, some of it could be conservative and stick-in-the-mud, but there was a huge amount of innovation and variety in beer styles.

Yet it was this “real ale scene” that the new evangelists of craft chose to tilt against. The international mega-brewers were so far over the horizon that they weren’t worth bothering with. The first sign of this was in the “pale and hoppy” movement around the turn of the millennium, which came up with the phrase “boring brown beer”, but at least this was generally real ale and something that fell within the broad category of “bitter”.

Then it intensified with the more recent wave of explicitly US-themed craft beer, which really goes back no more than seven or eight years. If the US had mega-strong triple IPAs, then so should we. If the US universally used 355ml bottles, then we should use 330s. If the US put craft beer in cans, then why not? If the US used all kinds of weird and wonderful flavours, then we should stop being so conservative. If the US sold draught craft beer on keg, then so should we rather than that warm, flat, twiggy stuff. And if US craft brewers had check shirts and fancy beards, then surely that will make British beer taste better too.

The real tipping point was when BrewDog stopped producing cask beer entirely and deliberately portrayed themselves as standing up against everything CAMRA represented. It was them and us, it was new vs old, it was crafties vs beardies (even though the crafties were more likely to have facial hair). Now, over the years I’ve often been critical of CAMRA, not least over its dogmatic refusal to recognise merit in any beers that are not cask- or bottle-conditioned. But it’s a broad church, and has come to encompass the vast bulk of British beer enthusiasm and knowledge. By rejecting that, the craft beer movement is being unnecessarily antagonistic and dismissive of history and tradition. Of course that’s a bit simplistic, and there are many beer lovers who happily straddle both horses, but it remains a very common viewpoint, such as here.

I’ve been drinking legally in pubs for not far off forty years, and have had enough time to work out what I like and what I don’t. This is not to say I’m resistant to trying new things, but if offered something well outside my comfort zone like a 7.3% greengage and liquorice stout, I will know that, even if it’s palatable, it’s not something I would want to drink regularly, or probably ever again. I really enjoy many of the classic Belgian strong ales, but again they are just an occasional treat amongst a diet of more sessionable brews.

As I said above, I’m no single-minded devotee of boring brown bitter, and indeed my ideal pub session beer might well be something pale and hoppy (although not grapefruity) like the old Yates & Jackson Bitter or Marble Manchester Bitter. But I would have no problem spending an evening in good company on well-kept Holts or Lees Bitter or Sam Smiths OBB, whereas many crafties would be climbing the walls. I enjoy the odd drop of Punk IPA and similar hop-bombs, but I see them as something akin to peaty Islay malt whiskies, good to have occasionally but a bit extreme for everyday supping.

A lot of excellent beer has been produced under the banner of “craft” But I could say that, to a large extent, “craft” represents to me beers with weird flavours, at offputting strengths, in measures I find too small, and prices too steep, sold in bars where I don’t feel comfortable to people I have little in common with. Surely championing the cause of good beer should involve making better beer more widely available in a form many people will find appealing, not deliberately cutting yourself off from the experience of the vast majority of beer drinkers. To be frank, that vast majority don’t want to chop and change beers within the pub. Have you ever seen a lager drinker go into Spoons and go round the pumps from Carlsberg to Heineken? No, me neither.

Very few are ever going to see a good night out as drinking your way through six beers of wildly different styles at strengths up to 10%. But maybe that’s the way the craft evangelists want it.

Saturday 15 August 2015

It just doesn’t stop

Last week, the Royal Society for Public Health came up with a set of proposals to further restrict smoking in public places, including a ban in pub beer gardens and outdoor eating areas. In the past, indoor smoking bans have been justified on the somewhat spurious grounds of protecting workers’ health, but this throws away that figleaf and openly admits that the objective is not health but is explicitly the denormalisation of smoking.

Not surprisingly, this plan immediately drew condemnation from various quarters, amongst which my favourite was this impassioned rant from beer blogger Mark N. Johnson, and the government was quick to make it clear it had no plans to bring in such a restriction.

When the indoor smoking ban was introduced in 2007, many of its supporters made the point that pubs would still be able to accommodate smokers, but they would have to smoke outside. This may have seemed to smokers like putting them in the open carriage with hard seats at the back of the train, but at least they were still allowed on board, and in the intervening years some pubs have made the effort to provide welcoming smoking areas as far as the law allows. Indeed, smokers continue to make up a considerably higher proportion of pubgoers than of the general population.

However, if smoking was prohibited in any outdoor areas of pubs too, then they would not be able to cater for smokers in any way. A smoker might occasionally go to a pub for a meal but, as for socialising, forget it. This could well have an even more catastrophic effect on the pub trade than the current indoor ban. There are plenty of wet-led pubs where half the customers seem to spend most of their time outside, even in bad weather. And it’s very noticeable how, when the sun shines, a good outdoor smoking area can really bring in the customers. A few years back, I remember visiting the Barrels pub in Hereford on a sunny Monday evening and seeing its extensive rear yard-cum-patio, which has plenty of seating, much under cover, absolutely rammed with groups of smokers and their friends.

There is one positive aspect to the report, though, in that the public health establishment is at last grudgingly recognising that e-cigarettes can make a significant contribution to cutting smoking rates. Initially, they were highly sceptical, viewing them as something “not invented here” that mimicked the act of smoking and could be a gateway to tobacco. This problem is well described by Christopher Snowdon as The Prohibitionist’s Dilemma. However, as the evidence mounts that existing smokers are turning to e-cigs, their stance is gradually softening. If the authorities don’t stand in their way, e-cigs have the potential to reduce tobacco smoking to a small rump in a generation.

Rather than calling for further restrictions on smoking, surely the public health lobby should now be strongly opposing moves by bodies such as the Welsh Government to impose the same curbs on e-cigs as on tobacco. But, even though it’s recognised that nicotine on its own is no more harmful than caffeine, they still have a big problem in accepting e-cigs as a recreational product that people actually enjoy, rather than simply a medical aid to stopping smoking.

Thursday 13 August 2015

Dull metal?

I recently came across a post on a US heavy metal website asking Does Anybody Actually Like IRON MAIDEN's Trooper Beer? It’s over a year old, but still makes interesting reading. The author didn’t like it at all, saying it was “incredibly bitter”, a verdict that most British readers will find surprising. There are a lot more favourable views in the comments below, and in the poll 80% of those who had tried it said they liked it.

When it was first launched a couple of years ago, my initial verdict was that it was a bit lacklustre, and several tastings since in both cask and bottle haven’t really changed that opinion. It’s important to remember, though, that Iron Maiden are one of the few rock bands to make a big point of their British identity, and it was Bruce Dickinson’s intention to produce a classic British-style ale like those he enjoyed around 1980, not an international lager or a US-style hop-bomb IPA. Incidentally, Bruce Dickinson is about a year older than me, and has certainly flown more aeroplanes, although probably driven fewer Morris Marinas.

Trooper has certainly been a great success for Robinsons, with the ten millionth pint mark recently being passed, and contributing to the brewery recording its highest production level for fifteen years. It’s good to see a long-established family brewery enjoying such success and exporting beer all round the world.

Unlike some others, I really like Robinsons beers in general. When well kept, Wizard, Dizzy Blonde, Unicorn and most of their seasonals, are some of the most palatable beers around. But Trooper just seems to fall between two stools. It’s not an old-fashioned, rich, chestnut English ale, in the way that Wychwood’s Status Quo beer Piledriver was. But, on the other hand, neither is it a modern, pale, hoppy beer. In the past, Robinsons have brewed an excellent rich “winter bitter” called Robin, which could have made the basis for an English heavy metal beer to rival Hobgoblin. Or they could have made a version of Dizzy Blonde turned up to 11 – light, with distinct hop character, but not overwhelmingly so. But Trooper just seems to be neither one thing nor the other.

It will be interesting to see how the limited edition celebration version, the 6.6% ABV Trooper 666, turns out. Unfortunately Robinsons have said it will only be available as a bottled beer, but it would be nice if they could put some into casks, maybe as part of their White Label series. Also hopefully it will be sold in 500ml bottles, not just 330ml ones.

Monday 10 August 2015

Hiding behind a cloak

This blog, like many others, is written under a nom de guerre, as is my Twitter account. I’ll explore the reasons for that later.

The other day, I tweeted a link to this blogpost by Ben Nunn. As a non-Londoner, it’s not actually an issue on which I have strong feelings one way or the other, but I thought it was an interesting, forthright piece that deserved a wider airing. As said in many Twitter bios, “Retweets and links do not imply endorsement”. However, this seems to have touched a raw nerve and, even though it wasn’t my criticism in the first place, I ended up accused of being a coward who lurks behind a pseudonym.

Well, yes, but if you read this blog you will find plenty of information about me such as where I live and which pubs I like visiting. I’ve even referred to several letters written by myself that have been published in What’s Brewing and quoted my real name. Much the same is true of bloggers such as Tandleman, Tyson and Boak and Bailey. It is quite clear that I am a real, rooted person, not some anonymous troll.

So why use a pseudonym instead of blogging and tweeting under my own name?

  1. I have been writing a column as “Curmudgeon” in Opening Times since 1993, so it’s an established fact of life

  2. There is a long and honourable tradition of pseudonymous opinion columns in the press, most notably Cassandra, although it has reduced in recent years

  3. As someone who is not professionally involved in the beer industry, and may wish to change jobs, I would rather any internet search on my name didn’t reveal a load of rantings on the subject. I know of one beer blogger who occupies a senior management position and I’m sure wouldn’t appreciate Google revealing a long list of their beery thoughts to potential recruiters. It may well be something appropriate to mention at an interview, but not as search results. Hence I post on the CAMRA forum as “PeterE” (there is someone else called curMUDGEon)

  4. “Mudgie” is to some extent a persona, not the real me. Paul Bailey writes an excellent beer blog that draws on his own experiences. I want to adopt a more argumentative and detached line that may distil or exaggerate actual events. “Mudgie” is a kind of cartoon character loosely based on me – see here for more info. That’s a bit dated, and at least one of the answers would now definitely be different, but it still basically holds true.
This is a classic slightly fictionalised account of Mudgie’s exploits. But the only Morris Marina I personally own is the one shown below, although my father did have one of similar colour and vintage.

Sunday 2 August 2015

Any colour you like, so long as it’s brown

There’s an old saying that “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing” This illustrates a fundamental divergence in humanity. Some people have a wide range of interests about which they have a reasonable level of knowledge, whereas others have one particular passion that dominates their life. Likewise, some businesses succeed by offering a wide range of products or services, but others do well by concentrating on the one thing at which they excel.

In recent years, the fox has been very much in the ascendant in the pub trade, with pubs aiming to offer an ever-expanding choice of beers and other drinks. In general, more choice has been greeted as a good thing, but it does have its downside, especially with cask beer, where tired beer is a common problem in pubs that try to sell more beers than they can turn over properly.

So it was interesting to see on this post on Stonch’s blog that one commenter suggested “Someone should be bold and do a single beer boozer.” This seems unthinkable in this country, but is not uncommon on the Continent. As well as the Czech examples given, many of the traditional taverns in Cologne serve just the local Kölsch beer and nothing else. It’s seen as part of the local heritage and identity.

Yes, there are handful of British pubs that just serve a single draught beer, but in general they’re out-of-the-way rural taverns where turnover is the main consideration, such as the Dyffryn Arms in Pembrokeshire, which is mentioned in that thread. In the Anchor at High Offley, the choice is basically Wadworth 6X. I think there is also a lager pumps, but scarcely anyone drinks it. I wouldn’t say Sam Smiths pubs qualify as, while they only offer the one cask beer, they also stock a wide range of keg ales and lagers which, as far as I can see, make up a substantial proportion of the sales.

But there used to be a prime example of the one-beer pub in the Athletic Arms (aka the Diggers) on the west side of Edinburgh. Close to Murrayfield and Tynecastle, this pub could at time get extremely busy. The only cask beer was McEwans 80/-, dispensed by air pressure through traditional Scottish tall fonts (shown at top), and I doubt whether much of anything else was sold. However crowded it was, if you walked through the door and held up the relevant number of fingers, the same quantity of pints would be waiting for you on the bar when you got there. Described just as “Mecca” in early Good Beer Guides, it was somewhere you would be guaranteed a fresh pint.

McEwan’s 80/- is now a thing of the past, and it has now become a more conventional multi-beer pub, although one that, according to this write-up is still well worth a visit. I was particularly struck by the picture of a cosy corner shown at the right, which epitomises what pub interiors should look like. (In a public bar environment, leatherette is acceptable). I should say that, while I have visited Edinburgh several times, I have never been in this particular pub.

Maybe, in the right British location, the one-beer pub could work. The key advantage of the concept is that you know the beer will be fresh, and won’t have been lingering in the pipes. And this can make a surprising difference to quality. Obviously it won’t work for your typical village pub, but in city centres it could prove very popular and suddenly find itself riding a trendy wave. But you have to have a beer with sufficient cachet that customers will flock to drink it. And in my view the ideal beer for the one-beer pub is not some weird crafty indulgence, but Draught Bass.