July 2013

A Question of Balance

Too many pubs fail to put a decent spread of beer types on the bar

IF I RAN a pub, I’d make sure that the range of cask beers included sufficient variety that as few customers as possible would be disappointed. If I had four pumps, I’d have a classic ordinary bitter, a golden ale, a stronger premium bitter and a dark beer, either a mild or a porter. As the number of pumps grew, I might add one or two stronger and/or more exotic beers, but I’d still retain roughly the same proportions. And I’d always remember that, although there’s much to be said for offering more unusual brews, the majority of customers, even in specialist pubs, will be looking for beers in the gold-amber-copper colour range with a strength roughly between 3.5% and 4.5% ABV.

So it’s disappointing when pubs which you think really should know better fail to adhere to the basic principle of offering a balanced beer range. Although by no means the only offenders, Wetherspoon’s often seem particularly bad at this. For example, on one occasion, apart from the usual Ruddles and Abbot, there was nothing on the bar below 5%, which isn’t ideal if you want to keep a clear head at lunchtime. Another time, all the guests were dark beers of some description with the exception of one cloudy Belgian-style witbier which I imagine many casual punters would have sent straight back. It really isn’t good if you’re confronted with eight handpumps but can’t find anything you want to drink, or if in Spoons you find Ruddles the least worst option.

I also recently called in a well-regarded free house (not in this area) which I’ve always found to have a particularly congenial atmosphere. It had eight beers on, one of which was a chocolate porter, and the remaining seven all golden ales. Now, I’ve nothing against golden ales, and many of them are excellent beers, but it would have been nice to see a bit more variety and one or two milds and classic bitters. Wye Valley HPA is a fine brew, but on this occasion their Bitter or Butty Bach might have provided a broader choice.

It’s not difficult, licensees – as far as you can, within the number of beers you can turn over, make sure you offer as wide a variety of strengths and styles as practicable, and don’t neglect beers of sessionable strength in the amber and copper colour range.

Party Pooper

It’s a licensee’s right to bar admission to large parties to maintain his pub’s character

IT HAS BEEN reported that the Blue Bell pub in York has been excluded from the 2014 “Good Beer Guide” by the local branch of CAMRA because at times it supposedly operates a restrictive admissions policy. Now, this is a pub I am very familiar with and would place it in my Top Ten of British pubs. It’s a tiny, unspoilt place with front public bar, central servery and rear snug, connected by a corridor along one side. Fifty people would fill it. So it’s perhaps understandable that the licensee chooses to put up “Private Party” signs to keep out rowdy stag and hen parties visiting the city on weekend evenings. He says: “We do get nice strangers coming in the pub but on Saturday nights and race days York city centre is a nightmare.”

Realistically, apart from a few hours on Friday and Saturday nights, casual visitors are not going to have any problem gaining admission, and even then I would imagine all that it takes is to ask politely. The main impact of excluding the pub from the “Guide” will not be to cost it any trade, but simply to deprive some visitors to the city of the opportunity to experience one of Britain’s true classic pubs. Maybe a more diplomatic and tongue-in-cheek approach would have been to follow the example of one Bristol licensee and put up a sign saying “No Idiot Pub Crawls”.


  1. What if he felt soldiers in uniform disrupted his carefully maintained non-militaristic atmosphere?

  2. I agree with a better range. I'm often in the mood for a porter but rarely can I find one however many pumps a place has. Everywhere I seem to visit is generally just bitters with maybe a golden as well.

  3. Depends how many of them there are, and whether they're well-behaved soldiers or rowdy soldiers.

  4. Another blinkered and ill thought decision made by one or two tub thumping and self-opinionated CAMRA committee members.

  5. You're so right with your comments on the range of beers in some pubs and bang on regarding your reference to good old 'spoons.
    Like reading your column, in the main.

  6. Spot on with the comments about the beer range in pubs. Yes, Spoons are among the worst offenders.


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