Monday, 22 May 2017

Moving in mysterious ways

Twitter correspondent Michael Harris has recently reported that Sam Smith’s have removed cask Old Brewery Bitter from the Swan in Holmes Chapel, only just over a year after it was reinstated following the pub’s extensive refurbishment, which I described here. Apparently it just wasn’t selling quickly enough, leading to a lot of wastage. There’s nothing wrong with that approach in principle, and indeed some other pub operators would do well to follow it rather than struggling to sell cask where there’s insufficient demand.

However, looking at Sams’ mix of cask and keg pubs, it’s hard to believe that it’s applied in a consistent way. For example, surely the very popular Sinclair’s in Manchester city centre must easily have enough turnover for cask, and it’s hard to believe that the Roebuck in Rochdale town centre, which Tandleman wrote about here, doesn’t either. Likewise the well-situated and busy Duncan and General Eliott in Leeds city centre, both noted for their down-to-earth atmosphere and presumably shifting impressive barrelages.

On the other hand, cask seems to be almost ubiquitous in Sams’ clutch of rural and village pubs in Cheshire, some of which must have a much lower turnover than the urban boozers I mentioned above. Might a consideration be that some pubs have a more middle-class clientele that might be rather more resistant to the removal of cask beer? After all, how many keg –only pubs do you come across and think “that’s a missed opportunity for cask”? In general, it’s associated with inner-urban and estate pubs catering overwhelmingly for local trade.

Another curious feature of Sams’ pubs is the variation in the selection of keg beers available. They have a very wide range – I think 14 including the cider – and obviously most pubs would struggle to sell the lot, but what you get often seems quite arbitrary. Virtually all pubs seem to have OBB, whether cask or keg, Taddy Lager, Stout and Cider, but beyond that it can be pot luck.

The Boar’s Head in Stockport has pretty much the full range apart from the higher-strength India Ale and the rarely-spotted Best Bitter. The light mild is rarer than the dark, but most of the pubs Tandleman has visited in Rochdale don’t have either. One pub I visit has the excellent Double Four Lager, while another similar one doesn’t. Sovereign Bitter, which, although of similar strength, is an entirely different brew from OBB, sometimes crops up, and sometimes doesn’t.

The German Wheat Beer is, perhaps understandably, fairly rare, while the relatively strong and expensive India Ale doesn’t appear in the two Stockport town-centre pubs, and nor in most of their Cheshire estate, where presumably the fact that many customers will be driving is a consideration. I believe it is popular in their London pubs, though. In fact, finding a 5% keg bitter outside of a “craft” pub is quite a rarity. Incidentally, I recently tried this on draught for the first time in the White Horse in Beverley, and have to say it’s a beer I would drink more often if I came across it.

I wonder if anyone’s ever tried to make a serious analysis of what sells where, or whether it’s simply something that has developed arbitrarily over the years based on past trading patterns.

12 comments:

  1. There have only ever been frivolous analyses of Sam Smiths sales. Never serious ones.

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is just another example of Sam Smith's eccentricity. I expect the analysis goes no further than, "if it sells, stock it - if it doesn't, don't", which seems to work for them.

    ReplyDelete
  3. My experience in London suggests that all SS pubs have 4 kinds of lager - Alpine, Taddy, Double 4, and the Organic Stella-taste-alike, OBB, Wheat Beer, Cider and Stout. Every so often a pub has the Sovereign as well. I don't recall seeing Best or Mild. India only comes in bottles and most pubs carry a fairly complete range of those of which the Nut Brown seems to sell best - generally to Americans, who probably buy it at home.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Surprised at that - I would have thought India Ale would sell well on draught in London. I'm pretty sure they have it in Sinclair's in Manchester.

      I'm not quite sure what role the Best Bitter is supposed to fulfil in the range. Do they really need an even more price-competitive bitter? As I said, I've never seen it in a Sam's pub, although Tandleman spotted it in one in Rochdale.

      Delete
    2. The only Sam Smith's beer I've ever had on draught is Best Bitter (Sam Smith's pubs don't appear to exist in the West Midlands). They have it on at Great Barr Conservative Club in Birmingham. Could it be more tailored to the free trade?

      Cheers,

      Chappers.

      Delete
    3. I have wondered if the Best Bitter was mainly intended for the club trade rather than Sam's own pubs.

      Delete
    4. If you're drinking in a Sam's pub in London, it's usually because it's cheap and the lagers, bitters and stout are pretty good. If you want to drink (and shell out for) IPAs then you can find much better examples close by.

      Delete
  4. how many keg –only pubs do you come across and think “that’s a missed opportunity for cask”?

    All of them? I'm a member of this campaign that's in favour of what we call 'real' ale - we think everyone should have the opportunity to drink it.

    I've seen (and drunk) India Ale in the Malt Shovels in Altrincham, which is a town centre pub as far as that goes; not particularly middle-class either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, in theory, but there's no point in putting real ale on if it doesn't sell, and, as I argued here, it would taken massive changes in society and the beer market for it to again become the norm in working-class locals.

      The Malt Shovels may not be middle-class by Altrincham standards, but it certainly is in comparison to most of the pubs Tandleman has visited in Rochdale. I'd say given that, and its town centre location, it's a good candidate for selling India Ale. The White Horse, right in the middle of prosperous Beverley, is of course ideal.

      Delete
    2. Yeah, but most 'real' ale is crap, either because it's tired and poorly kept/served, or it's bargain-basement Cottage-style garbage to start with. Most drinkers wisely stick to consistent keg beers, and, if they want it, seek out cask in the right places.

      Delete
  5. The Angel in rotherhithe definitely has the India Ale on as did the Anchor Tap near Tower Bridge. The Horse and Groom on Great Portland Street definitely has the Dark Mild on too

    ReplyDelete
  6. Both of the Sam's pubs in Chester have the India Ale , which is one of the most tasty 5% beers I've ever had the pleasure of drinking, although I do prefer the Draught version; and at least it's taste doesn't resemble a carton of Umbongo/ fruit juice !!

    ReplyDelete

Comments, especially on older posts, may be subject to prior approval. Bear with me – I may be in the pub.

Please be polite and remember to play the ball, not the man.

Any obvious trolling, offensive or blatantly off-topic comments will be deleted.

See this post for some thoughts on my approach to blog comments. The comment facility is not provided as a platform for personal attacks on the blog author.