Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Plenty Kisses and No Frogs

A few short weeks ago, my local CAMRA Branch had one of our days out by coach. This time - and we have been there before - Skipton in North Yorkshire - was the venue. No great distance from us, probably 45 or so miles depending on where you measure it from, and a busy market town with lots of pubs beckoned. What would it be like? Now, the way we operate, we aim to get to whatever venue it is by around 12 noon. On this chilly but bright Saturday, we were dropped off at the coach park bang in the centre, more or less on the dot of twelve.

On these events, our social secretary usually prepares a list of pubs to visit. These are recommendations, not a route to be followed, as naturally we are all free to wander where we choose, as long as we are back at the announced departure time. The bus does not wait around.  This time our list was around ten pubs and micropubs, and as soon as we were let loose, off we went, dragging our thirsts behind us. Of course, we don't visit pubs mob handed, people deciding with their cronies where and when they'll go first, if at all, but inevitably groups bump into each other and exchange information. That's always handy, and it is great to meet our lot along the way.

Skipton is a great mix of pub types and micropubs, café bars and micropubs, quite a few of which didn't exist on our last visit around four years ago, but my little group started at a couple of old canalside favourites.  These weren't lacking at all on the cask ale front. Another thing is that the town is compact and while there are pubs further out, such was the quality, ambience and friendliness, particularly of the micropubs, that we found ourselves enjoying the places so much, that sometimes a couple of beers were decided upon, so good was the place and company. In fact, we got nowhere near our list of ten before the witching hour of bus departure, but did in fact, on recommendation from fellow topers, venture off-piste with great success. It was a happy bunch of CAMRA members that departed back to Lancashire, although we left with great reluctance.

So, what does this all tell you? Firstly, when cask beer standards are so high - and I didn't hear of anyone getting a duff pint - as a pub or bar, you simply have to raise your standards, or you will be left behind.  Where standards are high, you can shift a lot more beer, which in turn means you can offer greater choice without diminishing quality. This is the virtuous circle that cask beer needs to thrive.

How does this apply elsewhere?  While nothing is certain, it all starts with having exemplary standards in serving cask beer. Do that, and you should get the custom needed to maintain it. Then, hopefully, others will follow. Cask beer dead? Not a bit of it. Just do it well and see how that helps it thrive and survive.

 This is happening in practice in my CAMRA branch area. Rochdale has an increasingly great cask offer - and it has been pretty good for years. There the pubs get together to offer weekly discounts, annual ale trails and more. Bury is up and coming and the Oldham real ale revival is well under way. 

Another point to make was the great welcomes we all had. Locals keen to chat, friendly bar staff and great beer. Dour Yorkshire folks? Not a bit of it. As always, get the offer right, and you are much more likely to succeed.  Get it wrong and you certainly won't.

I haven't mentioned craft beer. When cask is this good, why would you?


Birkonian said...

In the last fortnight or so I've had superb cask beers in Liverpool, Altrincham, central London (really!)and Leytonstone. They were as good as i could possibly expect.

retiredmartin said...

I always welcome your positivity, Peter. I've had really good cask this year since reopening. Tempted by a return to Skipton by that post.

Tandleman said...

I'm thinking of moving there! 😉

ABrewHaHa said...

Skipton has always had a good range of Real Ale pubs with a long term presence of Timothy Taylors, GK and, in the past, Tetleys. Possibly the game changer was Ian Fozzard opening The Narrow Boat and his insistence on quality of Real Ale and that proved an immediate hit. The worst thing about The Narrow Boat was it was too close to work, so a lunchtime pint was a regular draw (luckily my clients aka claimants went else where!) Even when they opened JDW next to the office I still went to the Narrow Boat.

Unknown said...

Cask ale where I live is consistently okay to very good. And I'm not in the city; one GB guide place and one not. Cask is in rude health here and in the city centre.

Fred Polliwog said...

Love Kissing frogs me. Bring 'em on

Paul Bailey said...

Sounds like a really good day out, and a good plan of attack as well. Good news too, that the cask was in fine condition.

Like others commenting here, I've had mainly positive findings with regard to cask quality, over the past three months, and in places as diverse as Stockport, Central London and rural Kent. Long may this trend continue.

Robin said...

I agree with ABrewHaHa, the opening of the Narrow Boat made all the difference to the Real Ale scene in Skipton. Its a lovely beer destination, the only market town that comes near it locally (I live in Ilkley) is Otley.