It is sometimes too easy to look at the beer world from our lofty and geeky towers and demand new, or better, bigger, bolder, stronger, faster, more type beers and overlook that we are in a decided minority. As one who knocks boring brown beers constantly, you might wonder if I've any windows left in this glass house, but then I get out and about a fair bit and have my feet firmly enough on the ground, to know that most people that drink beer, simply don't see it my way.
I was reminded of this in two ways yesterday, firstly in Wetherspoons, where I nipped in to see what was on in their festival. I had my fingers crossed for one I hadn't had and while on my way, visualised Thornbridge Pioneer on the bar, in the vain hope, that mind over matter could make it so. It wasn't. Instead I had excellent bitter and dry Purity Gold, Lees Supernova, which packed in liquorice and chocolate flavours in a full bodied - yes full bodied - 3.5% variation of their mild and a half of Mordue Porter which was coffeeish and very decent. But I digress. There were a few customers experimenting with the guest ales, but most, despite the relative cheapness of the festival beers at £1.49 a pint, stuck to good old much more expensive, John Smith's Smooth. I overheard one table of drinkers say that they'd be glad when the festival is over, so that can get back to ordinary beer. Now this isn't an affluent area by and large, but these people were choosing to pay more for (what is to me and probably you) an inferior beer. Where pennies count for a lot, the attraction of interesting cask beer was at best, limited.
The second incident was in a local Lees pub where the bitter was, most unLeeslike. The miserable drinkers were complaining about this. (I get approached a lot in this way - being the local CAMRA guru in a small town - people think I can do something about it). It isn't a good thing when a brewery's main product isn't up to snuff. You neglect your core products at your peril. To do so will lose you more trade than almost anything else, as those who know and love the beer, the gallon men, will simply have one and go home grumbling.
Cask beer these days is a bit of a niche product, albeit an expanding niche. Most of the expansion though, in volume terms at least, is in the cooking bitter that can be dismissed as "ordinary, dull and brown". I like to see brewers push the boat out as much as the next person, but it is these mainstream beers that keep the mash tuns filled. While brewers should be more bold in their product line, particularly when they do occasional or seasonal beers, it would be foolish for them to abandon boring brown. There. I've said it. I don't have to like it, but I know it makes sense.
This post scratches the surface of an issue ( what beers should brewers be brewing) that intrigues me. I know it is written from (as usual) the pub going point of view, but I'd be interested to know what others think.
Of course my preferred niche is the specialist cask ale pub where little of this applies, but I drink more Lees Bitter than anything else.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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