Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Why Bother?

That awkward sod Cooking Lager is pretty good at reminding us of the futility and foolishness of pub going and cask ale worship. Both too dear and if you do go to the pub for a real ale or two, it is likely to be manky.  In fairness he does give some stick to the crafties as well. He is nothing if not unfair to all is Cookie. Good on him.  He did give me pause for thought with this tweet the other day, when I was moaning about poor beer in Scotland.

Now there is a semblance of truth to this, but in reality, I rarely get a bad pint because sensibly, since I'm not a charity, I don't drink in random pubs as a rule. In London I avoid cask beer unless I'm confident in the pub, though of course I do get caught out at times, but as compensation, while the beer may be dodgy, the pubs are usually well worth a visit. Like many others though, normally, I mainly in pubs that I know and I go there because I like the pub and I know the beer will be good. Mudgie wrote about the subject here and I agree within this particular phrase in particular "the point about cask beer is that, when it’s good, it’s much superior to kegs and lagers, and the occasional duff pint is a price worth paying for that. If you stick to pubs in the Good Beer Guide, or ones with a decent reputation locally, you’re unlikely to have much problem." 

This brings me on to another point. Most CAMRA members don't spend all their time crawling from random pub to random pub either, but as I do, go to pubs they can depend on. Naturally a lot of us pub goers will go on holiday or have a jaunt to another beer drinking town. In most cases it will be Good Beer Guide pubs we go to. It is the very existence of poor pubs and beer that makes the Good Beer Guide while not infallible, invaluable.  These entries are likely to be best of breed in the area concerned. It is CAMRA people that select them and we tend not to drink or vote for inclusion in the Guide, pubs that routinely serve sub standard beer. Local knowledge helps too, because in good drinking towns, not being included in the GBG, does not mean beer will be bad elsewhere. Sheffield is a good example of this, but sadly, in areas where there is little real ale, scan the description carefully. Read between the lines. It should sing about beer quality. If it doesn't, beware.

So is pub going and real ale drinking futile? Well what isn't in this vale of tears, but hit a good pub and a cask at its sweet spot and for the beer man or woman, there isn't much better.  Still worth a punt then I'd say, but hedge your bets and make enquiries if possible.

Sadly, like most things in life, the quality of pubs and beer cannot be taken for granted or assumed.


Paul Bailey said...

It sounds very much like a case of “buyer beware,” and whilst in an ideal world this should not be the case, experience usually proves otherwise.

Obviously an experienced and battle-hardened pub-goer like yourself, will know what to look out for. I am normally wary of being the first customer after opening time, when the question often is, will I get a flat, luke-warm pint which has been sat in the lines since the last session?

Look at what other people are drinking. Is anyone else drinking cask, or do keg and lager rule the roost? I’m sure that, like me, you can get a reasonable feel for what a pub is going to be like, just by walking past a few times. What sort of customers are going in, or coming out? Does the place look clean and well-kept, or is it run-down and dirty?

On occasion, I have struck gold by going “off-piste” and just following my instincts; occasionally (very occasionally), I have come unstuck.

Cooking Lager needs to get out more, rather than staying home and slagging off pubs; but then perhaps he does in real life?

Curmudgeon said...

It's not really the greatest advertisement for a product if you have to say "be careful where you buy it". However, most people, probably even most CAMRA members, don't go round lots of pubs just to try them out. If the cask beers's good in the pubs they do visit, they'll drink it, if it isn't, they won't.

Have standards of cellarmanship deteriorated over the years? I know there were some real horror stories from the old days, but my recollection is that in tied houses, especially those belonging to the better-regarded independent brewers, you had a good expectation of getting at least an OK pint.

Tandleman said...

Bad pints were rare indeed then Mudgie. And usually spotted by the boss.

Beermunster said...

It's not really the greatest advertisement for a product if you have to say "be careful where you buy it".

Beer isn't unique in that sense though. The same can apply to food, wine, or even to some extent entertainments.

john cryne said...

I shall shortly be in Berwick upon Tweed and while the GBG will be used, I shall be visiting a pub once closed but recently taken on by a close acquaintance of mine. The long lead time on the GBG means there are bound to be both positive and negative changes in the beer scene since Branches carried out their selection process. So personal knowledge, ear to the ground, careful reading of WhatPub etc etc all play a part. And as one commentator says, you walk in and sniff the air, so to speak.

Anna Lancefield said...

Interesting read, thank you. You may like to know, though, that our Branch guidelines on writing pub descriptions for the GBG (I'm not sure where they came from) specifically state that we shouldn't mention the pub does good real ale, as it should be a given. I wonder if other branches do likewise?

Cooking Lager said...

Please forgive me if I have been unduly negative about the endeavours of beer enthusiasts and if I have come across as suggesting futility I can only apologise. Going in pubs, if that is what you enjoy, is no more futile than any other activity done for pleasure and only futile in the sense that everything is ultimately futile and pointless.

What I do like to needle is irrational behaviour. Whether that is crafties exhorting us to pay more for beer to support brewers (as an aside I am in favour of companies paying more for IT contractors to support IT contracting, but that is different entirely) or people forking out £13.40 for a beer thinking they are paying for the liquid in their glass when they are paying for the liquid the artisanal experimenter has poured down the drain unsold due to failed experiments.

Or the irrational behaviour of CAMRA campaigners persisting with repeating nonsense because they want it to be true, not because it is. No other product is the “pinnacle” that requires you to buy a book to ensure you only consume it where it is not rotten & requires etiquette advice on complaining because of the certainty that you will at some point be served muck they will decline to replace. Not cars, not clothes, not hot dinners. Just cask beer. It’s not the pinnacle of the brewers art, get over it. It’s a product like any other. Enjoy it for what it is.

It is sad the crafties have copied this campaigning perspective from CAMRA and wish to campaign for their cloudy overpriced muck rather than simply get about enjoying something they clearly like & think is worth the money they pay for it.

It is not futile nor difficult to simply go about enjoying what you like and not look down your nose at normal people. It’s harmless to form a club about it and hang about together. It’s like them metal detectorists off my favourite telly show about metal detectorists with Toby Jones in. It’s time to simply go about enjoying what you enjoy.

Curmudgeon said...

I know it's a deliberate policy so as not to antagonise licensees, but WhatPub? is of limited value in choosing pubs to visit as it deliberately avoids any qualitative judgments. I've been in several that sounded appealing on paper but turned out to provide disappointing beer and/or atmosphere. In some the description, while not actually incorrect, is quite misleading.

As you say, there are various other sources from which you will get recommendations in any particular area. There are some pubs that maintain a reputation even if not in the GBG in any particular year.

Anonymous said...

‘What Craft beers do you have?’

‘cask? Might as well have a dinosaur sandwich with it’

‘What do you mean you don’t sell north California beer ?’.

As a lover of beer, I like to get regularly shit faced , have a kebab and splatter the loo when I get in. As the owner of a CAMRA card I can do this for slightly less money as long as I avoid the geezer with piss pants in spoons.
I will never forget the first day that I met a craft bore. I had barely had 2 pints of Old dimpled dick wad when this guy with a much neater kempt beard called Jasper said “ All this ale is just not acceptable , have you not seen the amazing things they are doing in California with Cascade and nugget ? “ nugget , I haven’t already have I? The first and most infuriating characteristic of your stereotypical Craft aficionado is the outright arrogance and rudeness that is on display every time that they step foot in a bar/pub. Myself and other piss heads have spent years of our lives drinking without wanting to know about the processes and intricate details of the brewing/beer industry. Yet apparently even knowing we do not give a Monkeys a Jasper will tell you all about it.
My second point is bittersweet as I know it comes from good intentions. When the craft scene first started, they genuinely had a fight on their hands to get in the pub, so they secretly grew beards , good on them, It is a lot harder to get in a pub at 15 now.
The best place to witness just how stuck up they are is a new craft ale festival, calling it something that they think trendy like Indie from the 90s err?, “ you must have it in a third glass , scientists from Silicon valley say that is the optimum amount to drink to know whether it is worth £ 25 a half or not”

I just say thank fuck for the Spoons, what with everyone on £6.50 and hour and zero hours contracts we have to drink Tetleys tea at home rather than the beer in’t pub.!

py said...

The quality of cask ale is a big issue - but not just in terms of the quality of dispense, but also the actual quality of the beer offered. No amount of conditioning is going to stop GKIPA tasting like decomposing vegetal matter - and as long as all the cask ales taste like twigs, the punters are going to stick to the lager. The majority of cask ale on offer is mass-market cheap swill that most people think tastes absolutely awful, and they think CAMRA are fucking nuts for trying to promote it.