Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Putting a Face to a Name



We had our six weekly CAMRA Committee meeting last night in Sam Smith's Yew Tree near Rochdale. It has the advantage of being reasonably central and has a guaranteed private room. It also has cask Old Brewery Bitter or, rather, did.

When I got there, three of my colleagues were already there. I sensed something was up. "It's gone keg" says one. Damn. A well dressed and very posh gentleman was on his mobile at the bar. He had a large list in front of him and was asking each recipient of his calls in turn, in the plummiest of tones, "Do you have a spare microwave?" He preceded this by announcing "Humphrey Smith, Area Manager here". I whispered to my friends, "This is the top man - this is Mr Humphrey, the controlling owner of Sam's". We determined to beard him in his den. When he got off the phone, introductions were made. "Why had the cask been removed?" "Head Brewer says you need to sell an 18 a day otherwise the beer sours in wood." quoth he gruffly. "Why not do metal nines then?". "This is a traditional brewery" says the oracle. "Our cask beer comes in wood." One of our number continued the conversation as he went out to his car, a very modest X reg Rover 75. Apart from a sideswipe about Lees, he got no further. Mr Humphrey had left the building.

We had a quiet word with the landlady after his departure. Was he really the Area Manager?  Yes. He had taken over when the last one left, to save money it seems. Now Sam's are known for their eccentricity.  It comes from the top as Mr H rules the roost. What he says, goes, odd or not. You also now know the criteria for getting cask in your local Sam's pub. Flog an eighteen a day!

He presumably wanted the microwave for re-heating" the pre-prepared meals, from the company they recently bought. They introduced standard menus and chucked out all home cooked food, though I believe in some cases, this has been moderated.

25 comments:

Curmudgeon said...

The only food-serving Sam's pub I've been in this year is the Vine at Dunham Woodhouses, which has certainly reintroduced a more conventional and varied menu after the debacle of "you can have anything you like so long as it's a pie".

Have they replaced cask OBB with the keg version, or do they just serve Sovereign?

Tandleman said...

The keg version.

Barm said...

I love the idea that keg beer is somehow more traditional than filling a metal cask with real ale.

Brew Wales said...

So Sam's get criticised for improving beer quality by taking out a slow selling product that does not have enough throughput?
They did the same in London a few years ago and in their new pub in Cardiff Bay have not even bothered to put cask in.
Not every pub can sell cask beer - wish a few more breweries would realise this.
My local is a Sam's pub, Ye Olde Murenger House in Newport and sells around 15 x 18s a week of OBB, quality excellent.

Jeff Pickthall said...

Did anyone get a picture of Humph? They could be on a nice little earner with that unless the rumours are true that cameras mysteriously fail to function in his presence and that he has no image in mirrors.

Tandleman said...

He was a very smart looking guy. I'd say he was about 65 and very fit looking. No pictures though.

BW.

We merely asked for nines which they don't do. Nor have we experienced quality problems there, but fair enough points - in some ways.

Anonymous said...

I wish I'd been a fly on the wall watching Alexander and his Raggletaggle Band accost Humphrey.

Red rags and bulls come to mind.

Tandleman said...

Not at all. Not only are we all retired professionals, we are impeccably polite. No red rags you'll be sorry to hear.

Oh I should add "you anonymous prick."

Tyson said...

BW
"Not every pub can sell cask beer."
No, but most can. The point is that Sams only brew one real ale and yet have an estate of pubs that many brewers can only dream of. You would think it would be in their interests to try and sell more of it-else why bother to brew it?

Brew Wales said...

Sometimes I wonder if Sam's want to sell more cask beer. They could easily put one of their bottled stouts in cask for Christmas and sell it through a few selected pubs. Or even bring back Museum Ale! I've even been impressed by the quality of their keg lagers, by far the best of any UK brewery.

Laurent Mousson said...

Well, isn't the latest addition to their bottled range bottle-conditioned ? Armed with this piece of information one may assume they may take another step in the direction of live yeast within the next 20 years. ;o>

Leigh said...

interesting post, given the elusive nature of anyone connected to smiths.

Wurst/Whorst- Brewing Arts Instructor, CEO APRK said...

Cask Shmask! If I had the choice between OBB in all its cask, wooden glory, I'd still take a pint of a hoppy West Coast gem in Proper Real Keg form. The best beer they ever brewed was Museum, and they killed it. OBB is a boring, malt driven, butter bomb!

Ed said...

I'd take Sam Smith's keg beers overt their cask, let alone a West coast gem!

It would be interesting to see Humphrey Smith though, I've heard a few stories about him ...

Tandleman said...

Sausage - Sam's don't sell West Coast gems, PRK or otherwise. Most places - most being 99%+ don't, so the point is moot really.

Tandleman said...

That is most places in the UK.

And Ed - I can see where you are coming from when you think of OBB.

Wurst/Whorst- Brewing Arts Instructor, CEO APRK said...

Ummmm, I realize that Herr'man. My point is rather simple in nature. Cask beer from the wood doesn't necessarily mean anything.

ChrisM said...

Having worked for Sam's previously I can vouch for their oddness. I can't believe that the pub I worked in turned over a barrel of OBB every two days, though. It was on cask breather, too, for what it's worth.

Paul Bailey said...

Can't believe the beer would sour that quick, even in a wooden cask. Let's face it, wood vessels were the only means of storing beer for hundreds of years and I can't imagine our forebears puting up with sour, evil-tasting beer.

TIW said...

I'm sure I once read (or was told) that Humphrey is retiring soon. Apprarently his odd decisions are to ensure that his son gets the company in the same state that Humph got it from his dad.

Tyson said...

Cask Shmask!...Keg Schmeg!

Sid Boggle said...

The London estate use cask breathers. I remember being told (a couple of years ago) that all bar the Rising Sun in Smithfield were taking hogsheads, and they were having the keg. Then, a new management team were able to get it in 18s in the wood, but the concession was purely because their cellar doors wouldn't permit hogsheads. If you were to pursue the argument, somebody could ask the Rising Sun how much OBB they turn over each week...

Barm said...

Here's a programme about him, not terribly favourable depiction: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0071mqm

Tandleman said...

Umm. That's about nuns!

MicMac said...

Tandy - I just watched it here -

http://tinyurl.com/bah-humphrey

There's at least 2 photos of him, from about 30 yrs ago I'd guess by your description - apart from these photos he really doesn't come across in a very pleasant light.

It's the first 10-15mins of a 30min prog, well worth a watch, and I'm sure some Yankily beer-fans (& others) would like to see it, if anyone is techno enough to download it & host it somewhere - best be quick though, as I think it's coming off the site tomorrow.

I used to have a soft spot for the co. but he really does sound like a real xxxxxxx I mean lovely bloke (he sounds a very litigious bloke too, so I thought I'd re-phrase what I was going to say about him!)

As Barm suggests - well worth a watch.