This post comes from a discussion I was having on the twissup with blogging legend Tandleman over a pint of pong. It isn’t a recounting of the conversation as I was half cut at the time, but an attempt to more articulately express my point of view having thought about it a bit more. It fits in with a post written by Hardnott Dave here and 2 subsequent postings, here & here, from a blog which I hope is going to be renamed shortly to “cooking lager talk’s bollocks”. Please, I’d love it, and be honoured.
It is difficult to remember the details of a conversation when slightly half cut from an afternoon of irresponsible pub based binge drinking, but the gist of my opinion was that I accepted the pongy cask conditioned ale I had been drinking all afternoon was both a quality product and an enjoyable one. However that did not mean I was incapable of enjoying a can of Stella. I cannot really remember whether Tandy was agreeing with me or not. He can speak for himself, but I suspect it might be either “partly” or “not at all”.
Here, oop north, There are a number of regional breweries alongside micros, and in my view both the micros & regionals do not represent any form of brand. A brand is important not because I wish to buy into a lifestyle or want a logo on my clothes, a brand is the trust and liking I place in a particular product. Anything I buy has different manufacturers competing for my custom and brand value is no more than my preference for one over the other based on quality & price.
In the case of micros it is for the simple reason I have never heard of them and have no idea what their beer is like. In the case of regional’s I have experienced poor quality from them. I understand, I think, the mentality of the beer enthusiast in seeking out information on small scale producers and what are the better pubs to drink from the regional’s are, but I personally simply do not possess the desire to do so myself. I do not consider myself unusual in this. In fact I think most people are like me. On the rare occasion I go into a pub it’s because it’s near work, near home or I’m on a night out and not because I’m seeking out a particular beer.
There are a number of regionals within the area of “oop north” I reside, Hydes, Holts, Robinsons, & Lees are all I can think of and their pub estate represents quite a motley bag. If I leave my office with my work mates and head left the first pub we encounter is a tied pub of a regional brewer. For the cask ale drinker there is a choice of 3, mild, bitter, strong bitter. All are pretty decent and within the pub these 3 cask ales are cheaper than the Carling, Stella or Guinness.
If however I head right I encounter a string of pubs from the same brewer and the cask beer can only be described as varying between piss poor and rank with a wince inducing gag reflex free with every pint. It’s the same beer with the same pump clip and the same brand. Can you blame me or my work mates for not thinking that brand of beer represents quality? Do you really expect us to be beer geeks and buy a book off CAMRA to hunt out the recommended establishments to drink this brewer’s grog or do you expect us to simply make a judgement as we find it and decide the Carling is a safe bet?
The Carling is a safe bet. One of the first things said to me on the twissup was “you’re an ale man, really, aren’t you?”, to which the reply was “no, I’m just a beer drinker” I could have added I am a beer drinker that believes price is as important as quality in a purchase decision and I am a consumer and drinker and not a supporter of brewers, pubs, beer or even supermarkets. I really do just want a glass of something neckable that is also cheap. But that would have been a long winded answer.
For me a pint of Carling represents not the adverts of mates together or any image Coors wish to create, it represents a drinkable pint of 4% grog that isn’t going to make me wince, whether at home or in any of the pubs that flog it. It may be the Big Mac of beer, but Big Mac’s are also quite nice. I like Carling and I like Big Macs.
As for the regional beer, I get all the arguments about localism, tradition and the beer being potentially nice but basically each and every one of them cannot guarantee me that. I could take the gamble and complain when they serve me rot, but there are pubs in the regional estates that only serve rot. An actual campaign for ale wouldn’t worry about the price of cheap lager; it would worry about the quality of the beer it is campaigning for. Rather than support a regional brewer and promote its better pubs it would give a critical assessment of the dumps and tell the regional brewer it is damaging its own brand value by continuing to sell pongy rubbish cask beer in places where the beer stinks. It would celebrate a crap pub dropping cask beer and serving smooth flow keg because regular drinkers would not then suffer crap cask beer and be put off it. It would place consistency above the importance of guest or seasonal beers because it is the crap beer that is damaging the brand. If campaigning for beer is something you want to do, then the experiences of regular drinkers matter more than your own personal boozing or pushing a message, because we educate ourselves by our own experience. The interesting seasonal beer may be of interest to beer geeks but for me it represents another step into the unknown of not knowing what you are going to get when you part with your cash or whether you are even going to like it.
This leads on to micro brewers. Rather than possess the negative brand value of regional brewers they possess little or no brand value. I have never heard of the brewer or beer, it could be dark it could be pale, it could be bitter, it could be sweet. All I know from the pump clip is that it is 4.2 % and has a daft name. Fancy a gamble? If I take the gamble and like it I may remember either the brewer or beer name depending on what is most prominent on the clip. If I see it again I might have another go of it. If it tastes different next time I drink it I will either still like it or change my mind. I am not going to think of it as trustworthy though. I am going to wonder what it is I’m throwing down my neck, and why it’s different from last time.
Oh and please don’t think that I need educating about cask beer. That I need to appreciate that you cannot give me reliability and consistency and I should just accept that and learn to love it anyway. I just want a pint of something decent. If I step into a pub it’s not for the beer, it’s because I got dragged there by mates to watch the game, out with workmates or taking a break from an afternoon of shopping with the squeeze. My criterion is a pint of something I will like that doesn’t require a second mortgage, because I am conditioned to think a pint is manly and a glass of red wine would make me a ponce. Oh and whether you are educating and informing people through a blog or within the articles of newspaper or magazine know this. I only read a fraction of any newspaper I may buy if I bother to buy one rather than gander at the internet. Especially at the weekend. Half the supplements get thrown in the recycle bin unread. If I read an article on beer I already have an interest in it. You are reaching nobody that doesn’t already have a pre interest in the subject.
I’ll finish on this. There are 2 car manufacturers. One produces decent reliable cars. The other produces excellent cars but only half of them end up decent by the time they are delivered to customers. You’d buy a car off the first and laugh at the notion that you need to be educated to better understand and appreciate the traditional methods of production and distribution of the second, you need to take the rough with the smooth and accept you will occasionally buy a duff car. You'd laugh and buy the car that doesn't break down.