My first ever cask ale was consumed in the Bon Accord in Glasgow back in 1974. I can't say it was an Damascan conversion to the real thing. The grip of keg beer was too strong and cask ale in the West of Scotland at that time was as rare as a brass monkey's bollocks. It still is to all intents and purposes. The Bon Accord was not the only outlet for cask in Glasgow then, but it was by far the best. Over thirty years later, though changed inside, it probably still is.
I was in Glasgow at the weekend and of course when we left the train, I and an equally thirsty E nipped straight into the Horseshoe Bar in Drury Lane. Now this is a classic pub , with its patter, bustling atmosphere, vertical drinking and slick service, as well as its value meals. In cask ale terms it lags however. The offerings tend to lack lustre in both selection and quality. E got the better of the deal with her half of Deuchars, though you are painfully aware that if you have to praise Deuchars, you are deep in the doodah beer wise. My pint of some other nameless Caledonian brewed fluid could not be finished.
On the way to Queen St station, there is one other pub, the Standing Order, a JDW offering in a massive former banking hall. I quite like it, not solely because I can gaze wistfully on blown up photos of the banknotes of my youth, but for its buzz and the sheer chutzpah of its size. The quality of the beer however suffers from the copious volumes of Tennent's Lager and John Smith's swooped down. E declined, wisely as it turned out, to partake of any of the numerous dark offerings. My pint of Houston Warlock Stout was so tart and bitter that I wondered whether it was off or not. I just couldn't tell, but either way I couldn't finish it. Two pints in a row with undrunk beer left on the bar. Not a great score.
On the way back the next day, we stopped off at Charing Cross and headed over the deafeningly busy motorway undercroft, past the magnificent Mitchell Library and into the Bon Accord. It felt right, with gleaming brass handpumps, a gantry glittering with rare whiskies, a cornucopia of selection and eager bar staff. Our choices were both English. First up, the excellent pale and hoppy Bradfield Farmer's Blonde and then, E's preferred tipple, York Tettnang, which was clean, spicy and peppery. Both were very moreish and bursting with condition, so we did the decent thing and had some more, until the 17.40 from Glasgow Central nagged at us insistently to get moving. I know some complain about the hefty £3 a pint price, but for beer of this quality that you could not only finish but enjoy, it seemed a small price to pay.
Now here I have to say that a flagship pub and a classic pub are not the same thing, but if you'll indulge me, we'll save the "classic pub " argument for another time. What makes a flagship pub is a moot point, but they all tend to have several factors in common. I would venture that they are considered "best of class", a "mustn't miss" and they are renowned for choice, quality, service and dependability. They will sparkle inside, be warm and welcoming and be the sort of place to which other pubs ought to aspire. If part of a brewery, chain or group, it will be the one they are most proud of.
Of course not all pubs can be flagships, but all, like the Bon Accord, can strive to be quality places to go to. It is a pity so comparatively few seem to have even that modest ambition.
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 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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