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.


  1. I would volunteer for Mugiefest, a miserable, one boring brown bitter festival in the rain, in a muddy field. Count me in.

  2. If Jethro Tull and Fairport Convention provided the music, I'd be as happy as a pig in shit.

  3. That concept is every tickers nightmare.

  4. Usually though a one beer pub isn't just selling one beer, it's selling *the local beer*. Unfortunately the connection between beers and locality just isn't as strong as it once was in the UK. Or at least as strong as we've been lead to believe it once was.

    I do think we've made a wrong turn with the current more hand pumps=better cask pub calculation but I can't see how we break away from that. And if you were going to do a single beer pub it would have to be done completely without affectation which seems almost impossible in the current climate.

    Perhaps a single beer boozer near or in a major commuter train station, open only for the post work crowd. And if I had to choose a beer to put in there, I'd go for Marble's Pint. I had a Bass at the Lord Eldon last week and it really weren't all that.

  5. The Masons in Southport has only one real ale, usually Robinsons Unicorn. The Mount Pleasant was a one real ale pub until a couple of years ago when it ditched the Tetley's Bitter in favour of Doom Bar. It has since then installed an extra two handpumps after customers' requests.

  6. All those punters that fill up a Munich bier garten or Czech keller to drink one or limited local brews are not beer geeks. They are drinkers. Custom has happened to condition them to believe there own local produce is best. When they tell you the beer you are drinking is the best in the world you know they believe it. They are proud of it. It's nice. It may not be the best in the world but it's often pretty decent stuff to get pissed up on.

    That doesn't exist in the UK. Beer geeks like to try lots of beers and drinkers like regular brands they are familiar with. Neither seem to have a conviction that there local pop is the best there is.

    It isn't just beer. Most Germans I know are of the firm belief that German produce is best, whether obst, gemuse or fleisch. Maybe it's why they run trade surpluses to the detriment of their neighbours.

    I drank some really average wine at a wine festival in Hamburg a few years back. Nothing wrong with the pish, just very average. The Germans I spoke to truly believed German wine was the best in the world. I was polite enough not to disagree. But that's what keeps their wine industry going, I guess.

    On some things they are not wrong. The cars are decent enough.

    How many Brits think anything we produce is the best in the world? In a lot of things it is, but its the foreigners that buy it that believe it more than us.

  7. Professor Pie-Tin3 August 2015 at 07:07

    In agreement on draught Bass - the best beer ever made.

  8. Some of the Bathams pubs are effectively two beer pubs. Everyone drinks mild or bitter, nowt else.

  9. Most people round my neck of the woods think that the local beer is piss and reckon that the only way that the main local brewers- Badger if you're interested- keep going is by owning lots of the pubs and so not giving customers much of a choice.. Free houses and non Hall and Woodhouse pubs in Dorset tend to sell beer from further afield and its (usually) much better recieved.

  10. What's the probability that every member of your party is going to like that beer? Only takes one person to say "can't we just go to a normal pub" and they've lost a hundred quid in trade.

    Sounds like a recipe for disaster.

    Plus you could bet your bottom dollar that after some "market analysis", the "one beer" they would choose to put on would be some mediocre stuff that no-one really hates but no-one really likes either - like Bombardier or something... and then they'd wonder where all their customers went. To a proper pub, of course.

  11. @py - obviously that's a strong reason why it's unlikely to work in this country. But the fact is it does happen in other countries, so it's worth speculating whether it could here.

    Many years ago I remember going on a CAMRA trip to a cider house in Surrey. It didn't serve any beer, so you had to drink cider or nothing. Maybe not a place for everyday drinking, but it seemed popular for the odd night out.

  12. The All Nations in Madeley used to serve just one beer, All Nations Pale Ale, which they brewed round the back. You walked and were confronted with a short bar with one handpump in the middle. Your choice was a pint or a half. Very nice it was too.


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