Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Taste or Don't Taste




How do you know how an unknown beer might taste before making a purchase?  Well, in a good pub you might ask the bar staff, or perhaps consult the tasting notes supplied by the brewery-  if any. Or you could Google* it.  You can even ask for a taster if the pubs policy allows - and not all do.  Or you can just order and hope for the best.  I think most of us have done the latter a lot and the rest a bit less so.  Of course you can just take a leap into the unknown and who knows, you might enjoy it. But then again, you might not.  Even having a quick taste of a small amount may not be a help. In my experience it can in fact be downright misleading, as when the beer is scaled up, it presents somewhat differently and usually not as nice as you imagined from that small sip.  It's a bit of a minefield, especially as we now have so many breweries in the UK.

I was quite taken by a bit of an internet discussion the other day by a publican and a brewer over something I haven't given too much thought too over the years - well not in any great detail anyway.. How does the beer get on the bar in the first place?  Putting aside price, agreements, ties and other such, the argument on Twitter basically ran along the lines of "As a publican I must taste and approve a beer before inflicting it on my customers" while the brewer countered with "New Breweries need to be given a chance or we'll end up with the same old beers everywhere."  Now I can see where both are coming from but a number of thoughts occur to me. How is the publican going to get to taste all the beers available to him or her? Does the brewer or his sales person bring a plastic bottle with a sample along? That wouldn't work surely? Does the new brewery offer a cask that can be returned if the licensee doesn't like it? Well that's more possible, but of course the liking it or not by a landlord doesn't necessarily affect the sale of any particular beer. I've refused to drink some awful and pretty damn faulty stuff, while others have opined "Not a bad drop that" - or some such.  I had just such an experience of condemning beers at the Rochdale Beer Festival while others were happy to drink them.

My own experience is that many licensees just take a beer and hope for the best that when they test it in the cellar before putting it on (and they all do that don't they?) the beer will be of sufficient quality to allow it to go on sale and if it isn't, they will take it up with the brewery. To me that seems a fairly reasonable compromise. Not liking it is one thing, finding it to be quite unsaleable, another.

I turned to an experienced landlord of a respected free house for his opinion. Simon Crompton runs the Baum in Rochdale, is a former CAMRA National Pub of the year winner,is known for giving new and up and coming breweries a chance to appear in a top pub, so likely knows a thing or two about this subject.  What does he do? "I try and encourage new breweries. I have a mix of tried and tested and new as that's what my customer base expects. If the new brewery's beer is poor, I take it up with them and likely won't re-order.  It's the best sanction I have while supporting a broad range of beer. It works for me."

I reckon that's what I'd do. What do you think?


*Other search engines are, apparently, available.  

Got to say the Baum is a great place to try new beers, though I don't always like every one, but then again, others do like beers that I don't. It's all down to taste or I suppose we'd just be drinking one beer.

10 comments:

Barm said...

I know one local pub’s policy: they will give any new brewery a chance, once. But if the beer doesn’t sell they get the boot. Harsh but mostly fair.

ShadowHider said...

The bloke who orders the guest ales for The Baum is the same bloke who ordered the beer for Rochdale Beer Festival. :-))

RedNev said...

One problem is that some people can't tell the difference between a beer they don't like and a beer that is poor quality, either in the brewing or in the way it's kept. As for tasters, I'm not entirely persuaded they're useful: it can sometimes take a while for your taste buds to adjust to a beer, especially if it's radically different from the previous one, although a taster will tell you if a beer is one you can't stand.

As for licensees, not reordering a beer that doesn't sell well is just common sense.

boozyprocrastinator said...

Funny that the quote from Mr Crompton should feature the phrase "tried and tested"

This was precisely the phrase used in what I think is the tweet that this piece and the resultant discussion on twitter came from.

Tried & Tested to me means that it has been on before and has been well received.

Said publican I think meant it to mean that all beers would be tried and tested before being sold (or even bought) which to me is rather an obvious and sensible practice that I would assume most pubs would carry out.

Surfice to say a poorly worded tweet and the subsequent need to not even admit that it could be interpreted in many ways lead to the interesting discussion.

Still I've not seen a battle like that since Godzilla took on Mothra.

Stonch Beer said...

It was a good bit of stirring. Pleased with it.

Truth is someone running a pub has many opportunity to try new beers before committing to orders, so I'm at a loss as to why this caused any consternation.

There's trade samples of course, and an even better selection will result if orders come as a result of finding beers in the "wild" at pubs and beer festivals. The great thing about trying a beer somewhere else is you get to chat about it with customers in that other setting and of course the staff selling it. It's not a hardship. It's fun.

On the other hand there are some breweries you already trust who will bell you up and say they've done something new, ask if you want some, and you'll say yes straight away. You don't need to try it before ordering: you trust the producer, because they've earned that trust.

In contrast let's imagine a brewer whose beers are notoriously a mixed bag - some decent, some truly awful. You certainly won't feel the same way when they call with a new release. They'd best bring you a sample of all the new brews they produce, at least until they've established credibility. This is likely to be the case with new breweries. Pubs and their customers don't owe them a free ride just because they're small.

Also, as a brewer you'd best not gripe via subtweets on twitter about a pub's legitimate buying policy too much, just because it doesn't suit you and isn't what you were used to previously. The danger is that route to market considered an entitlement becomes far less easy, and might even close. This would apply particularly in somewhere where new breweries are popping up all the time and will all be competing for a slice of the same pie.

When it comes to microbrewed beer, in many parts of the country it's a buyer's market. This applies particularly in London and Manchester. And then of course there's always beers from larger breweries, a lot of which is extremely good and loved by a broad range of customers.

retiredmartin said...

I agree with Nev. A pint is a reasonable sample.

Perhaps we could agree a list of bad beers, but as there isn't agreement on, say, Donnington, I doubt that. I've had too many beers that have been dull or worse in one pub and good the next, Surrey Hills, Otter and (sorry) Doom Bar being recent examples.

It's good business practice for a pub to take off a beer that's not selling, but it's not necessarily a bad beer. The Landlord in a Penzance (GBG) pub was despairing he couldn't get locals to even try a fantastic local stout as all loyal to equally good Bass.

Phil said...

A friend and I had pints of a 'Sorachi Weissbier' this evening. It was challenging - cloudy to the point of opacity and decidedly sharp, to the point of having that citric bite, at the front of the tongue, that bitters often have when they're on the turn. I decided to give it a chance but my friend took his back. They refused to exchange it, on the classic grounds that it was "meant to be like that". (And perhaps it was. I'll let you know in the morning, IYKWIM.) The interesting thing is that he had requested a taster, which obviously didn't give the full effect.

On the other hand, sometimes a taster is all you need. When I went back to the bar I asked for a taster of a "blackcurrant sour". Then I had a pint of stout - which was very nice (fortunately).

Tandleman said...

Phil - I doubt that in the dodgy world of "pushing the boundary" craft beer that you will ever be on solid ground any more when you take some of THAT stuff back to the bar.

Sadly too, as we have discussed many times, that widens out into beer you KNOW isn't right. It isn't that widespread yet, but it undermines many years of certainty.

Jeff: You are right in many ways, but maybe over egging it. It boils down to a mixture of taking a chance and having a circle of trust. Like drinkers do mostly. Two sides of the same coin.

Tandleman said...

Shadowhider. Hmm yes. I know who you are and where you can be found! (-;

Retiredmartin: Don't think I've ever had an enjoyable pint of Donnington. Craft before its time!

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