I'm quite a fan of JD Wetherspoon though I'll readily admit its many faults, but on the whole, I quite like what they do. People do call it a vast monolith that sucks the life out of other pubs, but I for one never forget that not so many years ago, there wasn't a single one. They have been built by one man and who can grudge such business flair that consistently gives a lot of people what they want? Not me.
Now back to these faults which can manifest themselves differently in different places. I'm not expert on the JDW pubs in Scotland outside the centres of Glasgow and Edinburgh, but like their pubs in England, they vary and usually vary down to the competence or otherwise of the manager. As in all businesses, good managers bring flair, direction, purpose and enthusiasm. Take these away and you have a bad pub. Recently I was visiting my old mother in
my home town of Dumbarton. Now Dumbarton isn't a wealthy town. The
Wetherspoons there,theCaptain James Lang, only opened just over three years ago and it has added a lot to the town. Mothers and old ladies love it for coffee in the mornings. Old soaks like the prices, though I don't detect the same hard cadre of 9 a.m. John Smith's drinkers we get here in Middleton. It sells cask ale for the first time in Dumbarton since I left over 30 years ago and here's the point. No bugger drinks it. I have tried when I visit and every time I have ordered a pint, I'm assailed by vinegar and the beer is "taken off". I'm offered a replacement with the same results. Frankly if you don't drink Tennents Lager, get out of town I shudder to think of the wastage rates.
On the following night I took the family for something to eat - no, not at the Captain James Lang despite the fact that there is less choice to eat in Dumbarton than you'd get in a Welsh Chip Shop - but to a carvery run by Crown Carveries, a subsidiary of Mitchells and Butlers. The venue displays a Cask Marque sign outside, so all will be well? No, it won't. This time I asked for a taster. The Deuchars IPA was vinegar. The barmaid offered to pour some off as no-one had had any for "a few days". I declined and looking at the pumps, ordered a Heineken. No dice - "that's just for show". So, a pint of Tennents was ordered. The chatty barmaid explained that only Tennents and Guinness sell and that they have told M&B repeatedly that no-one drinks real ale, or Coors, or Heineken, but it seems it is a standard offer, so no changes. The barmaid said disparagingly "They are English - they don't get here. Just wasting their money."
The Pub Curmudgeon recently wrote about this subject here. I agree. What is the point of selling real ale where clearly there is no demand? There is none. You have to grow a cask market and you won't do it by selling them vinegar and cask, in what is already stony ground for it, will get an even worse reputation. A downward circle of death. That is not to say that you can't do something - you can - but you need to start off slowly, have offers and tastings, educate and encourage. If you don't do that you are lost. Maybe M&B and Timbo should take a good look at their Scottish outlets. The market is different there and they should cut their cloth accordingly.
As always, "It's the offer Stupid."
Why didn't I eat with the family in JDW? Because I had an atrocious meal there when I had the duff beer. No prizes for saying which eggs were cooked by my 84 year old mother and which by JDW. And no, I'm not saying either company should give up on real ale in Scotland, but apply a bit more individual thought and intelligence according to location.
The carvery was really rather good and great value.
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.
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