I inadvertently started a sort of flame war on Twitter the other day. I innocently called into my local Spoons the other day after a few pints of Holts and Lees. I took a photo - this photo - which seemed to kick off a lot of angst.
Bloody Wetherpoons. Mass Market beer. pic.twitter.com/cCY2ogpOpw— Tandleman (@tandleman) April 21, 2022
It seems that many of the Twitterati retain a visceral hatred of JDW, even if they up their cask game beyond the "usual suspects". In a tirade reminiscent of a Usenet Flame War came the sort of comments that are all too often flung about where Wetherspoons are concerned. You can look for yourself to see what exactly was said, but the same old clichés were trotted out. Let's list a few:
"They buy nearly out of date beer; they are sucking the life out of every High Street; they are loss leading cask beer; they are screwing brewers by forcing them to sell at under fifty quid a nine; £2.10 is an unsustainable joke even before the recent huge increases in EVERY aspect of producing beer;"
You get the picture. Of course, added to the general tirade about Wetherspoons, were the usual attacks on CAMRA and its members for daring to a) offer and b) use 50p vouchers. Another theme was that brewers are devaluing their own products by selling to Wetherspoons and further shooting themselves in the arse by doing so at unsustainable prices. I particularly liked this post - countered by Cooking Lager. One can almost feel the spittle flecks:
If you want the future of beer to be pisswater served in a lifeless, soulless husk, then sure, we can pretend it’s sustainable. If you care, it’s not even close to it.— Tim Hoolahan 💙🤍💛 (@TimHoolahan) April 21, 2022
So what is the truth here? Like many things, it is complicated. Let's all remember that JDW didn't fall from the skies as a fully formed company of nearly 1000 pubs. Owner, Tim Martin, started with one pub and slowly built his empire. Back then, as far as I recall, the company always used its buying power to keep prices down and attract a wide base of customers on the" pile it high and sell it cheap" model. I assume as business picked up and the number of outlets increased, their buying power also increased. This essentially is the model that most supermarkets use. They don't have high profit margins, but they squeeze their suppliers to maintain value to customers. It isn't new at all.
Back on Twitter, I was moved to respond by naming what I called "the elephant in the room":
There is a degree of self entitlement and holier than thou about all this. I might write a blog about it later. Elephant in the room? Too many small brewers cutting each others throats and having their throats cut by bigger "small brewers" is one. Yes think I will.— Tandleman (@tandleman) April 22, 2022
I suppose that the argument that brewers are devaluing their own product is some kind of abstract, perfect world thought, as the evidence, rather is that many breweries - most breweries - are not so indignant about the issue that they won't sell. The inconvenient truth is that they are all scrabbling for outlets and the real reason for their supplying JDW, is that if they don't, someone else will. There are a lot of brewers out there with beer to sell. Likely there are more brewers than we really need to supply the market, but nobody likes to admit it. Oh, and JDW pay the agreed price promptly. You make beer - you have to sell it. Not much outrage there.
Another inconvenient truth, that we must remember, is that selling cask ale is a quite small part of JDW business, but it accounts for a lot of cask beer. JDW does not make much of its money from cask and if they suddenly ceased to exist - or decided not to sell cask at any price, the problem of over-supply wouldn't go away. There wouldn't suddenly be sunny uplands where cask beer will be sold at £140 a nine and all breweries would live on milk and honey. Rather, even more of them would have to cease trading. Be careful what you wish for.
So back to the hatred, by some of Wetherspoons. What's really behind it? Yes, they are a big company that force prices from suppliers to be lower than some would like, but unlike, say, certain other pub companies who also buy cheaply, they pass the savings on to customers. Bad people? There is undoubtedly, too, a certain snobbery aspect. This will be vehemently denied, but really, many rather look down on ordinary people being comfortable with their peers in an environment that they can afford. Better by far they should learn to improve themselves and save up to buy expensive murk in a tin shed or railway arch. That would improve the beer market and give more money to deserving brewers, rather than to the ingrates flogging to Wetherspoons.
You know, this is a somewhat overlooked point. I am writing a blog piece about JDW as mentioned. It is tricky. Much of what is written about them is pure snobbery. How dare of ordinary people enjoy themselves in an outlet in which they are comfortable and can afford. Pt1— Tandleman (@tandleman)
Pt 2. They should save up and drink better in a tin shed so that saintly brewers (who would happily kill each other for a sale) can pursue their calling.— Tandleman (@tandleman) April 26, 2022
So are JDW saints or villains? I'd venture neither. They fulfil a need, and they keep mash tuns full. You also have to remember two basic facts. Nobody has to go there and nobody has to sell to them, but should you really despise and demean those that do?
What is/was Usenet? Usenet (/ˈjuːznɛt/) is a worldwide distributed discussion system available on computers. Users read and post messages (called articles or posts, and collectively termed news) to one or more categories, known as newsgroups. Usenet is culturally and historically significant in the networked world, having given rise to, or popularized, many widely recognized concepts and terms such as "FAQ", "flame", sockpuppet, and "spam"
Back in the old Usenet days in the 1980s, we (semi jokingly) boiled things down a bit when discussing beer. Was it good, or was it shite? Hence this blog piece title.