Mark has written a very good piece about bad beer and bad drinking practices on his blog. He remarks about a frank exchange of views on Twitter (involving me) about just such an experience and wonders how best to go about things when you are less than satisfied. A good question.
I am often thought of as a "namer and shamer" and indeed when I see it as justifiable, that is indeed what I do. Of course I praise far more pubs and beers than I ever criticise and that's as it should be. You ought to find good beer far more than bad in your travels and that should be reflected when recounting your experiences. There is no point in simply trotting out a serious of negatives. Of course there is a view that such naming is inherently counter productive and that a quiet word will solve the problem. You know what? It almost never does in the beer business and I have been around that business a long, long time. How many times have you complained at the bar that a beer "might be a bit off" or "near the end of the barrel" - always said deferentially and apologetically and usually by way of a circumlocution - when you know in fact that it is undrinkable? The typical response is to have your view either denied, or at best an exchange given, while the beer continues to be served to the next mug. How many times have you felt the beer is too warm, or too cold, or flat, or old, or any number of other faults? Have you had that quiet word, or just accepted it as a fact of life? Do you repeat that experience in the same pub time after time, or go elsewhere? Badly presented beer loses customers, whatever they either say or don't say to the management and it puts people off drinking beer.
Then there is the brewer and his reputation. People don't always make the correct association between "bad" beer and bad cellar practice. They often blame the brewer. Unfair? I'd say so. (That works in reverse too). What about the cost? You can shell out up to £4 a pint for beer and for that, don't you deserve a beer on top of its form? Curiously there is an unjustifiable degree of public tolerance for bad beer, bad service and a bad experience in pubs, which is strangely at odds with our views elsewhere. Would you be happy at Tesco if your roast ham was clearly past its best? With Sainsbury's if your milk was on the turn? More tellingly, would they? Would Waitrose say "well everyone else is eating it?" when you expressed doubt about the freshness of their quiche? No. They'd be horrified and be unable to do enough to make amends. That's the attitude we ought to encourage in pubs surely?
And then there is focusing on the positive. This is good as far as it goes, but when it happens, should the bad be overlooked? Does the restaurant critic hold back on his findings? Of course not. But that's their job you holler? Well maybe, but my aim as a blogger is to give opinion based on experience and knowledge. That's my job if you like. I rarely have anyone deny the message, tell me I'm wrong about what I say, or that what I say just isn't so. They just tell me that it should not be said. "Bad form Old Boy."
So back to naming and shaming. Mark says rightly, that this has to be given proper consideration. I agree and despite some cynicism, I suffer too much from the triumph of hope over experience, so it is rare that I'll go into print about something that has happened, unless it has been more than once. That isn't to say a mention won't be made in passing, or as a recounting of an experience. As I really believe that quality is absolutely important, if you knowingly and repeatedly fail to deliver that quality, then yes, I will likely name and shame you. It is a discourtesy to beer and to my readers not to issue a warning where one is needed. The reader can then make their own mind up. (Interestingly publicans never respond with outrage either and if it was me and it wasn't true, I'd be spitting tacks.)
I was a fully trained barman under an old school boss when I was 18. High standards of customer service and quality were drummed into me. As part time bar staff we did everything in the customer facing part of the pub, from serving and changing beer, cleaning lines and even toilets. I have looked after more beer (both in festivals and in the pub) and drunk more beer and beers than most people have had hot dinners and I do know what I'm talking about, but you know what, that isn't the main point? Above all I'm a customer and I like things to be good.I was taught that one bad experience will poison the customer's mind and the minds of those to whom he or she tells the tale, while a good one will do the opposite and bring more customers in.
I am bitterly disappointed if my experience isn't good - that the publican doesn't care as much as I do - and I may just tell my readers about it. It is disappointment and the taking away of my enjoyment (as well as my money) that really irks me and motivates me to comment on it. Above all it is just feeling let down.
Mark's other point about the increasing influence of bloggers is interesting and relevant, but is for another time.
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.
This blog mentions specifics; pubs and beer, good and bad. The opinions will be forthright, but you can always disagree, just don't be offended. Comments from those mentioned are particularly welcome and a right of reply is hereby offered.
Read my information and links and then decide for yourself. You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes.
If you wish to email me you can do so by using this address: tandleman[at]yahoo.co.uk
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