Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Creating Demand

I was in Scotland last week and as always I try and observe the beer scene there, remote though I am from it.  I usually pop into three pubs for a half or two on the way to or back from Dumbarton.  I've written about the Drum and Monkey (part of the Nicolson's chain) before and it does a good job of presenting interesting beer in good nick, though a glance around the pub shows as many, if not more supping Tennent's Lager.  When I called last week they had a "Beer Festival" on and the approach of a few well chosen beers isn't a bad one at all.

Nearby on the way to Queen Street Station are two Wetherspoons.  The Counting House is a huge and impressive ex banking hall and is interesting for that and while the range of beers is expansive, I have never really found it that good quality wise, though it has improved.  My CAMRA colleagues from Glasgow say it is on the up, but it is in and out of the Good Beer Guide(currently in) indicating an ambivalence at best.  Nearby - across the road in fact - the smaller Camperdown Place has a smaller, but probably better chosen range and the beer is always good.  I do tend though to spend a fair bit of time in both watching what people drink in there and gratifyingly, there is a fair bit of real ale sold.  You simply can't deny that without JDW there would be a lot less cask beer drunk in what remains a lager stronghold. Then again, the West of Scotland always has been a lager stronghold, so perhaps that is all the more remarkable.

My home town has no real ale outlets.  Yet.  I was reminded forcibly of this when out with my old mother. Tennent's Lager which is ubiquitous, has no discernible taste other than carbonic acid, but is everywhere.  Smooth beer (Belhaven usually) and Stella complete the range.  Bottles? Yes. Becks or Corona.  The thriving real ale scene in Scotland is actually very small and is hard to find, other than in its key strongholds such as Edinburgh. So where is this going?  I was in Helensburgh meeting an old friend.  Helensburgh is a posher and slightly less depressed place than my home town, with a fair sprinkling of people from rUK.  Well, England really. Some are Royal Navy from the huge Faslane base and many just live there for reasons of business or perhaps a liking for wind and rain.  The local JDW, the Henry Bell, was selling a lot of real ale.  I chatted to the manager who was worried they'd run out of festival beers.  Quality was good and she said that there was no problem selling cask, though of course, she still sold more Tennents. Oh well, but the point is that where there is a constant availability and choice of real ale, it not only turns over, but it sells.

Back in Dumbarton I looked at the new JDW being built. It is the old Woolies I remember so well from my childhood and of course it will sell real ale. Now Dumbarton is a lot harder a nut to crack.  I remember the Cutty Sark trying it years ago and the many pints of vinegar I was offered,  but if I'm right, real ale will gradually gain a toe hold here.   Even in depressed Clyde Coast Towns, beer isn't cheap and I have no doubt that in the Henry Bell, many will have gone for cask on price, but they wouldn't stick with it if they didn't like it.  So keen pricing in the new Captain James Lang will be a key factor, but it will be the constant availability and commitment that will slowly raise sales.

I'll be back in Dumbarton in July about a month after the new JDW opens.  I await it with great interest as it will bring cask beer back to a real ale desert. That to me is a good thing.

Of course JDW haters will think that a lot of bollocks, but they have a choice usually.  It will mean that there will be food available until ten at night.  That's good too. Pubs in the town are already complaining.  They'll really have to up their game.


Curmudgeon said...

It’s noticeable how beer is often much cheaper in the less prosperous parts of England than in equivalent areas in Scotland.

It may be a bit unfair, but I get the impression that some Scottish drinkers see cask beer as something provided for the benefit of tourists from south of the border.

Cooking Lager said...

Sounds like cultural imperialism to me. Trying to impose real ale on a native lager country. No wonder the jocks want their own country. If I were a jock that Salmond would get my vote by promising to protect Tennants and keep out the pongy English pish.

Glad I'm not scottish, though, I wanna live beyond 50.

Tandleman said...

Well I am not sure what Wee Eck drinks, but will all these English vote for or against independence?

Live longer? Well of course why would you if all you have to drink is Tennents?

PS. Tennants was Sheffield, which was in England last time I looked.

Cooking Lager said...

fair do's, here's an archive of lager can lovelies


A useful thing would be to campaign to bring those back. More useful than promoting pongy pish to disinterested violent ginger hooligans.

Jeff Alworth said...

There are a ton of new Scottish ale breweries--so where are they selling their beer? My brief visit to Scotland took me to Edinburgh (with a side trip to Dunbar), and I found some nice beer there. It was a poor excuse for a proper visit, though.

Tandleman said...

England, Edinburgh and Dunbar! Of course you can find it, but if you didn't have a guide, human or an internet or book resource, you'd find walking into a random pub in vast swathes of Scotland, real aleless.

Rob Nicholson said...

Wander into any of the popular walking areas, and you'll find cask ale rules supreme. But then again, walkers and beer have always been closely aligned.

Curmudgeon said...

Rather underlines the point about tourists...

John West said...

In Oban last week, I noticed a new JDW had opened in the past four months or so.

It was rammed. And clearly with a mix of visitors and locals. Deuchars was a "people's pint" at £1.99 (beer was certainly not very cheap in Scotland - I've had cheaper in the north of England, as Mudgie noted).

It was noticeable that other pubs did not serve a good range of cask - or even one decent pump of Jarl.

JDW was offering range and price points for all. The social mix was really interesting. Young, old. Different classes.

I'd be surprised if the other pubs in the town don't have to improve their offer.

Ian said...

I'm still not sure what happened to cask up here. Lager has always been dominant as long as I've been drinking, but there was a time where lots of proper boozers would have a cask McEwan's 80 and those sort of places generally won't now. Belhaven Best has very much filled that space round here.

A new Weatherspoons has just opened by me as well and although the range of cask is welcome, I'm not sure Deuchars IPA and a range of obscure craft will turn the tide. Tennants for £1.99 seemed a much bigger deal.

As for where Scottish Brewers are selling there wares - supermarkets. The range of Scottish beer in every supermarket has never been better.

Professor Pie-Tin said...

'Spoons have finally decided to make inroads into Ireland after an initial plan years ago foundered on sky-high property pricess.
Interestingly, while property prices and the economy crashed the price of drink has continued to rise.
I pay €4.30 for a pint of stout and a pint bottle of cider is well over €5 - and this is in an area of the country considered cheap for drink.
I can't wait for my local 'Spoons to open ( it's a closed-down barn of a city centre pub ) not just for the range of beers but competition on prices.
Bring it on Tim baby !

Tim said...

Is the reason that no one is selling Real Ale, because nobody buys it? Supply and demand.

Tandleman said...

Tim: To a large extent yes, but there are other reasons, such as those of tradition and culture. Availability has of course increased due to the many micros.

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