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.
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.