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.