Friday, 24 November 2017

Meanwhile, back in the real world

The Morning Advertiser has recently published a feature on the leading products in the on-trade for each drinks category. The top ten cask beers are as shown below:

Their combined sales volume is 814,000 hectolitres, which equates to 514,000 barrels, or over a quarter of the entire cask beer market. The leading brand alone, Doom Bar, accounts for 7.25% of the market. Their average ABV is 4.2%, and only one, Abbot Ale, is over 4.5%.

But one thing that springs out is that most of them are beers that many beer commentators and enthusiasts would describe as “bland macro crap”. In this day when all the attention is focused on limited edition single hop beers, one-off collaborations and barrel-aged stouts, it’s all too easy to dismiss out of hand well-known brews from the bigger breweries which don’t assault the tastebuds and may even commit the cardinal sin of being popular.

It wasn’t always so, though. Just flicking through the 1978 Good Beer Guide, it’s easy to find pubs offering only a single everyday beer from the Big Six brewers. For example, the Pebley at Barlborough in Derbyshire had Stones Bitter, the Half Crown at South Benfleet in Essex Charrington IPA and the Parkers Arms at Paignton in Devon Courage Best. They may not have been considered the finest beers in the land, but there was no problem in recommending them and the pubs that served them.

On the ground, it’s still the case that a large majority of the real ale drunk by ordinary people in ordinary pubs consists of beers of the kind featured in the list above. But are some sections of CAMRA* in danger of losing sight of the organisation’s core purpose by looking down their nose at them? There’s a risk that it will become perceived as the Campaign Against Most Real Ale. There’s a fundamental contradiction in an organisation that claims to campaign for something, but in practice often gives the impression of not thinking much of most of what makes up that something. It’s not difficult to imagine someone thinking that, if the local CAMRA bod doesn’t think this Doom Bar is much cop, why shouldn’t I drink Carling instead?

* For the avoidance of doubt, this is emphatically not a criticism of CAMRA per se, just of the impression frequently given by some of its representatives

61 comments:

  1. I probably fall into the sector of, shall we say beer snobs, to whom you refer Peter. I do however have sincere concerns that a small number of commercial enterprises are trying their hardest to corner the market, along the lines of what happened back when CAMRA was first formed. It seems nothing changes. We really need to promote the smaller independent brewers, whatever they brew, cutting edge beers or solid traditional ales. The beer sector is no different to many other areas neither. I'm sure most people recognise that good wholemeal bread made by your local baker is better in all respects to a factory produced steam baked white sliced loaf - yet still the prepacked sliced bread flies off the supermarket shelves. It always will, so long as large companies make money by providing it. Who's right and who's wrong - the sliced bread eater or the artisanal wholemeal consumer? It's probably a matter of choice and availability for a lot of folk and on that basis, the same as with beer, I will continue to favour the small independent producer and eschew the mass produced bland stuff, if only because the large corporation can bully the market and does not need anyone to stand up for them. Taking the grocery argument further; sausages are exactly the same, the top ten selling brands will include the like of Walls and Richmond sausages, bland over processed and to my mind a very poor product. Surely a sausage made by a local butcher with the best of ingredients is far more satisfying and healthier, yet people continue to buy poor quality ones from the supermarket and if the supermarket is the only place for them to shop then it will continue - much the same with pubs, if the local pub sells only GK, Marstons or Doom Bar then that's what people will buy and so we need to keep campaigning. Campaign for Real Ale, Bread & Sausages anyone?

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    1. You eloquently put the opposing point of view there, Richard. But I would say it is the role of CAMRA to promote a healthy competitive environment in the beer and pub industry, but not to promote individual breweries or their beers purely based on who they are. Nobody should be given the benefit of the doubt just because they are small, or dismissed just because they are big.

      At the end of the day, the organisation has to make a decision as to whether it is actually a Campaign for Real Ale, or a a beer snobs' club.

      And you are coming perilously close to the line of argument about "the thick plebs like eating white sliced bread and drinking slabs of Carling, but I am a man of taste and discernment and know better."

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    2. Can you have a "healthy competitive environment" when POCs are forcing the likes of Doom Bar on their tennants?

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    3. Any industry will have a small number of large producers, and then a plethora of small producers. To dismiss any beer that is made in large volume simply because it is made by a large producer is in my opinion rather silly. Remember harps was only founded in 1992, so Doombar was once made by a small brewery.

      What we should bear in mind is that whether it is beer, bread or sausages, there are two types of consumer. There are those that actively seek out new things on a regular basis, and then there are those who want familiarity. As someone who falls into the first category, it is sometimes difficult to remember that the majority of people fall into the latter category, and simply want the same beer every time they go to the pub because they know exactly what it will taste like.

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    4. Wholemeal bread's crap, Warbys all the way.

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    5. The comparison with bread or sausages is not entirely fair. There is a substantial and consistent price difference between sliced white "steam" baked bread and the artisan bakers product; or between butchers sausage and Walls. That consistent price differential doesn't exist in the beer market. In the last week I have paid £4 plus for Old Speckled Hen and bought artisan beer in the Whaley Bridge Brewery Tap for well under £3. Both beers are excellent.

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    6. "Can you have a "healthy competitive environment" when POCs are forcing the likes of Doom Bar on their tennants?"

      What do People of Colour have to do with it? :)

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    7. "And you are coming perilously close to the line of argument about "the thick plebs like eating white sliced bread and drinking slabs of Carling, but I am a man of taste and discernment and know better.""

      Pfft. The wine drinkers will do that to us beer drinkers anyway. :)

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  2. Huish Hugh24 November 2017 at 09:06
    Though in 1978 often finding any pub serving Real Ale in parts of the country was an achievement, so pubs with one mainstream offering might be an oasis in a desert worth recording (and the Guide had pages to fill). Who these days needs a guide to tell them The Stumbling Weasel (trusting there's not really a pub of this name being traduced) has a single hand pump of Doom Bar on the counter? It may be an excellent hostelry in many other regards, but the GBG is not primarily a 'Good Pub' guide. (First effort removed to correct spelling.)

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  3. The Good Beer Guide tells you who keeps their beer best. Some of my best pints have been in pubs keeping one or two beers from that "usual suspects" list, particularly Pride, Deuchars, Bass Pedigree, Abbot, 6X and (lower down) Brakspear and Batemans.

    CAMRA may not have an active policy of disparaging these beers but read virtually any branch magazine and see barbed references to "dull beer range" and members walking out because they only had Marston beers on.

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  4. CAMRA's campaigning is done then, with real ale available almost everywhere, albeit of very varied quality. They've been a victim of their own success, ensuring big brewers continue to produce profitable national cask beer brands the only way they can - industrially - that appeal to the non-beer enthusiasts and keeps their revenue rolling in. Then they trade off the real ale brand by making the product available in a variety of brewery-conditioned packaging which also appeals to the non-enthusiast.

    What next for CAMRA then? Taking a look on their website I see that their aim of 'Promoting Real Ale, Cider and Perry' comes sixth on the list after the Pledge for Pubs, Cutting the tax burden on our pubs, Promoting and protecting pubs, Clubs campaigning, and New alcohol guidelines.

    It's clear to me then that CAMRA have also recognised that their founding objective is complete, so they've moved on to become a more general pub and beer consumer pressure group, while their grassroots campaigners have moved on to become a beer enthusiasts club, always looking for something new, small and interesting, and producing an annual guide to all of their favourite pubs which each year penalises more and more pubs that might sell great cask beer, but don't have six pumps, and probably belong to a family brewer, once the doyen of CAMRA, but increasingly cruelly discarded in favour of railway arch brewers selling murky grapefruit beer through converted charity shops.

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    1. I think you are correct in that CAMRA has essentially fulfilled its original purpose. With a few exceptions (Scotland mostly) you don't have to travel very far to find a pub selling cask ale. There are well in excess of 1000 breweries making it and therefore more beers available than you could hope to sample in your lifetime.

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    2. Even if you define CAMRA's purpose narrowly, I don't think it can be said to have achieved its original objective, when we consider that the absolute volume of real ale sold is far less than in 1973, it has ceased to be regarded as a staple beer in many of the pubs that still sell it, and there are extensive and growing cask beer deserts, often in working-class areas that were once strongholds of real ale. Plus there is a renewed threat from the rise of "craft keg".

      Love your final sentence, though :-)

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    3. I think those 'extensive and growing cask beer deserts, often in working-class areas that were once strongholds of real ale' are actually more like pub deserts, as the backstreet and estate pubs close for good, and the town centre boozers either shut or get a food-led makeover.

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    4. Yes, a lot of pubs have closed in such areas, but there are plenty of places around where the pubs are mostly or entirely keg-only - see this post. Look at any of the former industrial towns in the North of England or South Wales.

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    5. That last paragraph from Electric Pics is one of the great comments of the year.

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  5. All of these brewers should be applauded, (especially Timothy Taylor and St Austell) - they all started out small at one time, carried the flag for real ale during the keg years, and should be respected, not castigated for being successful. Very much the reverse of the typical CAMRA "beer snob" I would make a bee-line for any of the above beers, (except perhaps Doom Bar because that is from a modern brewer !)...It seems that everything nowadays that has a bit of tradition and heritage is despised. Long live "BBB" !!

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    1. Very much so.

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    2. Here Here!! That list is a list of my favourite beers.

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    3. Fair point. We had Tribute on the bar a couple of weeks ago and two customers opined "it's not like it used to be." This is a strange comment in South Shropshire where regular sightings of Tribute would have been rare until fairly recently.

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  6. At least I can drink most of those on that list, if push comes to shove. Indeed if I see Landlord on it will be a plus point, and Tribute is decent (although I prefer Proper Job).

    The problem beer here is Doom Bar. Yet, I remember when it started becoming popular, that it tasted fine. It's only since it became so popular that the taste went hideously wrong. GKIPA can be okay, but it's too difficult for many pubs to keep, and it's also just on the wrong side of 4%. I can only see it being popular because it's the de-facto single real-ale offering that many pubs have. I have hopes for the canned 'craft' ale market in the future, I like a Vocation or Beavertown can occasionally, and they are easy for pubs to offer without any of that 'keeping a beer' problem, or turnover issues.

    Still, going to a pub isn't just about the beer. It's the pub itself, the atmosphere, and the people. Some are worth the odd pint of less-than-desirable real ale.

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  7. I fail to see what is wrong with Pride: a good beer brewed by a family brewery that never lost the faith and still brews in London...unlike some (yes, Youngs, I'm looking at you!).

    But GK IPA was always ditchwater 30 years ago when every damned College bar in Cambridge stocked it and one had to flee out to drink Tolly or some GK Dark Mild at the (defunct Zebra). I assume little has changed.

    I do raise my eyebrows at the ubiquity of Doombar and wonder why we have to drink Cornish ale in London. I solve this conundrum by not drinking it.

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    1. But I'd blame that on the ubiquity of pubs that at the time didn't have to care how the kept beer,especially for student types, GK IPA was after all hailed by Michael Jackson as a top British beer, & it is if it's kept properly it's issue like alot of those beers in the list,though I'm convinced Doom Bar has changed, is they arent,which is why people say they taste horrible and get sniffy about them

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    2. Interesting. So it wasn't just me that preferred the often-derided Tolly to Greene King IPA. And 40 years ago my college bar sold Younger's Tartan. You were lucky.

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    3. Pretty extraordinary comments here. In late 70s Cambridge I thought GK IPA ( in college or the Cambridge Arms ) a revelation, and Tolly (usually keg) garbage.

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    4. I don't go back quite that far, Malcolm, but IPA in the Free Press under the Lloyds was my first real ale exposure, and it was gorgeous.

      Tolly, no idea.

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    5. Certainly didn't drink keg Tolly: there was plenty of cask around (1983 onwards). Tolly Original was a nice pint and Bitter was preferable to the usual GK IPA. But this was all a long time ago!

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  8. The Stats say it all,
    Doom Bar is on in most normal pubs that do one or two real ales,my local does Doom Bar and it sells,if you put Dark Star Hop Head on,everybody would be saying what the *uck is that,they want what they know.
    Most other local pubs have beers on that list and our local Wetherspoons has a Nottingham beer on all the time and 90% of guest beers are from Nottinghamshire,Lincoln Green,Navigation,Milestone,Springhead because they are known in our local area so will sell better than a line up of say Yorkshire beers.

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  9. CAMRA has long been the campaign for whatever middle class guardian readers want more than an actual Campaign for Real Ale. It's been like that for years. Can you really recall a time it wasn't? Look at the horror among activists when your own branch ended up with a Sams pub as your pub of the year.

    CAMRA members like obscure micro brewed beer that all tastes of homebrew. You shouldn't surprised that is what they cheer on and support.

    It really doesn't matter what they cheer on. They are only influential in their own clique. Nobody else listens to them. The rest of the country goes about drinking whatever it is they happen to like. Wine & lager mainly. John Smiths if it comes to ale or maybe a reliable consistent cask beer they know they can trust. Like a Wainwright myself. Never had a ropey one.

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    1. I know that, Cookie, which is why I do posts like this to wind them up ;-)

      But I'd say it has got worse in recent years.

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    2. Maybe Stockport is an outlier, but I've never been convinced by Cookie's characterisation of CAMRA members as Guardian readers. Middle class certainly but my overwhelming impression from years of interacting with members across the country is that Daily Telegraph-reading would be a much better description, they fit the paper's demographic, are generally conservative (certainly with a small c and often with a capital C) and nostalgic, tend to favour small businesses over large and are resistant to change. I suspect Guardian readers are far more likely to be paid up craft beer acolytes than real ale bores...which is worse I couldn't say.

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    3. Don't agree. My impression of CAMRA, after spending many years active in the organisation, is that its broad political tenor is moderately left-wing, with a strong anti-corporate element - just look at all the anti-pubco ranting. However, in many ways it's the political Left that is now wanting to live in the past by seeking to prop up declining industries and resist the march of technological change.

      And how many openly conservative beer bloggers can you think of beyond me, Cookie and Ben Viveur?

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    4. My experience is anecdotal and based on popping into branch meeting from Merseyside, Lancashire & Yorkshire just to check it out & see what it's about. Not as deep an impression as you may have formed over more years but reasonably wide. A can accept other regions may differ and your experience is different.

      One thing is common is that we agree the grassroots arguably prefer small brewers’ to larger ones. It struck me as much ideological as based on taste preference.

      One attribute is further true. Its members have an inflated view of its own significance which is largely ignored by the wider drinking public. Even Mudgie applies undue significance to what CAMRA is up to.

      This happened on one meeting I attended in Mudgies branch. They have an annual drinking Mild circuit of pubs where people collect stickers and get T shirts. I sat in a meeting listening to the organiser of this declare it another success as more people had taken part & more pubs were on the list. The gentleman had certainly gone to a lot of effort & deserved praise for delivering something many people appeared to enjoy taking part in. This was the same year Robinsons brewery stopped making Mild after decades of its continuing decline & customer indifference. Robinsons is the most significant brewery in the town and owns a significant number of tied pubs. In the year Mild was abolished the campaign to save it was declared a success. People that took part commentated it was a better circuit without Robinsons.

      I said nothing. My opinion would have been interpreted as unappreciative of the hard work involved and I certainly didn’t want the job of organising an effective save Mild campaign. But I left with the view that CAMRA as a campaign sits in its own bubble but that’s no problem because they are happy in it & everyone else is happy for them to stay in it. They pretend it’s a campaign when they talk only to themselves and they rest of us go about drinking what we like as usual. They are nice people and well worth checking out if you don’t know what goes on at the meetings.

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    5. I'd have to say Berkshire Bloke's view seems more accurate that Cookie's to me. I'd say there's more chance of a Guardian reader being a wine snob, but we're talking stereotypes and generalisations. Out of CAMRA members I know, some would self-describe (incorrectly, IMO, but there you go) as middle-class, have (C)conservative views, and yes, read the Telegraph, but just as many are definitely working class, some are left-leaning, some right. I remember someone recently describing National Trust members as all rightish and conservative, which is also incorrect. I don't think you can realistically align membership of organisations like this with political or economic leanings. I'm politically and economically left, but I love heritage, and want to see history retained. I'm a CAMRA member because I want to promote good beer and pubs, simple as that.

      Anyway. The beer. On that list there's several I like: Wainwright, Pedigree, Landlord, Hen, Tribute (but like another poster. The popularity of Doom Bar and GK IPA is beyond me (and I consider calling GK IPA an IPA at all a travesty), but if it sells, then that's the free market for you- it's people's choice. It's probably drive me to the lager, though.

      I think the Bread/sausage analogy works to some degree, and it's not because people are thick that they choose white sliced bread and Walls sausages: it's convenience, packaging, and familiarity. I'd always prefer to go to the butchers/bakers, but they're open 9-5 when I'm at work. I can wander a few hundred yards and buy the packaged stuff at any time between 6am and 10pm.

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    6. My experience is anecdotal and based on popping into branch meeting from Merseyside, Lancashire & Yorkshire just to check it out & see what it's about. Not as deep an impression as you may have formed over more years but reasonably wide. A can accept other regions may differ and your experience is different.

      One thing is common is that we agree the grassroots arguably prefer small brewers’ to larger ones. It struck me as much ideological as based on taste preference.

      One attribute is further true. Its members have an inflated view of its own significance which is largely ignored by the wider drinking public. Even Mudgie applies undue significance to what CAMRA is up to.

      This happened on one meeting I attended in Mudgies branch. They have an annual drinking Mild circuit of pubs where people collect stickers and get T shirts. I sat in a meeting listening to the organiser of this declare it another success as more people had taken part & more pubs were on the list. The gentleman had certainly gone to a lot of effort & deserved praise for delivering something many people appeared to enjoy taking part in. This was the same year Robinsons brewery stopped making Mild after decades of its continuing decline & customer indifference. Robinsons is the most significant brewery in the town and owns a significant number of tied pubs. In the year Mild was abolished the campaign to save it was declared a success. People that took part commentated it was a better circuit without Robinsons.

      I said nothing. My opinion would have been interpreted as unappreciative of the hard work involved and I certainly didn’t want the job of organising an effective save Mild campaign. But I left with the view that CAMRA as a campaign sits in its own bubble but that’s no problem because they are happy in it & everyone else is happy for them to stay in it. They pretend it’s a campaign when they talk only to themselves and the rest of us go about drinking what we like as usual. They are nice people and well worth checking out if you don’t know what goes on at the meetings.

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    7. It costs you no more, and is no less convenient, to drink real ale rather than keg lager in the pub. But you can't get a sliced loaf of artisan bread for a quid that will last you four days.

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  10. This top ten list could have been a lot worse - I'm more than happy to drink Deuchars, London Pride, Landlord or Wainwright. The ubiquity of Doom Bar is puzzling though. I've only tried it a couple of times and was unimpressed. Then again, was it properly kept/served etc? I'm not entirely sure how it's supposed to taste. Which goes back to what I think is now the most important issue for drinkers and for CAMRA: not beer variety or beer availability, but beer QUALITY.

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    1. Spot on, whoever you are ! I doubt many people have drunk any of those beers, and especially Doom Bar is a really top quality pub.

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    2. I think Doom Bar is meant to taste a little bit like Sharp's keg beer Wolf Rock, the latter ought to have a more reliable taste for comparison.

      At least they have a similar taste to me.

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  11. Interesting reading this. As an outsider (an American) I've been struck by the kind of love/hate relationship real ale drinkers seem to have with CAMRA; from my point of view, I see more critiques of the organization than praise, perhaps it's a "familiarity breeds contempt" kind of thing?

    I personally love old-fashioned British "macro" beer, whether it be Boddingtons or London Pride, it's the taste I most enjoy. And as it remains pretty hard-to-find over here in the States, I cherish these brands in a way some beer fans over there apparently don't. That being said, I've had some pretty bad pints of Old Speckled Hen, so maybe it all comes down to the time and place you've had it.

    In any case, thanks for posting this, it was very educational in terms of confirming what the real top ten brands are.

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  12. I do wonder how much of the 'popularity' of these brands is down to them being the only real ale choice available in a large number of pubs.

    And that 'choice' being entirely due to PubCos forcing these beers on pub managers who work under extreme restriction?

    I'm not arguing that most folks would choose to drink a 7% Arbor IPA over Doom Bar - just that the stats might be somewhat skewed by factors other than individual choice.

    Sales divided by Availability would be an interesting stat to see.

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    1. That *would* be interesting. Doom Bar is very commonplace, after all, and GK's beer is forced upon a depressing amount, but I know people that genuinely would choose Doom Bar every time over (say) the nice pint of Oakham Citra that I'd go for.

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    2. But pubcos aren't breweries, and don't have a vested interest in selling a particular brand of beer. If drinkers at the bar were genuinely rejecting Doom Bar, they would drop it like a stone. If it's the best-selling cask beer in what is generally a very open and competitive market, then it must (like Carling) be offering something that drinkers want.

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    3. Why is Doom Bar so ubiquitous then. We'd never heard of it a decade ago. Is it purely down to Pub Cos selling it relatively cheap to tenants ? Genuinely bemused. Had a pint in a GBG Spoons today and couldn't finish it.

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    4. @stymaster - yes, but they don't sell Doom Bar in their pubs. My point is that Wetherspoon's and pubcos don't *have* to sell Doom Bar - they only do so because it's something their customers will buy. If it didn't sell, no amount of financial inducements from Molson Coors would persuade them to stock it.

      Spoons are pretty ruthless in ditching slow-selling lines - remember Devil's Backbone and This.Is.Lager? And when Spoons started out, their staple beer was Younger's Scotch Bitter, presumably because they got a good deal from S&N. They don't sell it now - indeed does it even still exist as a beer?

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    5. Indeed. Doom Bar, GK IPA, and in 'spoons, Ruddles are popular, cheap, and sell well, so they stay. That's just good business sense.

      Interestingly, the last time I looked, Devil's Backbone was still sold, but in bottles, which seems sensible for a slowish seller. I had some when I didn't fancy any of the cask on offer (one of which was Doom Bar!).

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    6. I don't completely buy the comparison with Devils Backbone, TIL or Younger's Scotch - all of which were products you'd struggle to find outside the Wetherspoons estate on which they had taken a chance. Tim Martin is quite a fan of the 'throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks' approach to business, and to some extent it's one of the things I admire about him.

      But Doom Bar is ubiquitous far beyond the JDW estate; heavily pushed and widely marketed with a lot of financial clout behind it. The point is, it didn't have to be Doom Bar. They could've done the same thing with another beer and hyped it into dominance in exactly the same way.

      'Cathedral City' cheese is another example of a brand/product being developed from almost nothing *not* because anyone has anything good to say about it, but through sheer money power and relentless promotion.

      Doom Bar may yet fall away, as other 'leading' brands have done over the years once something else comes along. Remember how hyped and popular and widely available Boddingtons was in the early 1990s? How 'absolutely everyone' was drinking Caffreys a few years after that? Fame is fleeting. Success is transient. Trendiness is hollow.

      Did people suddenly go from genuinely not liking Caffreys to really liking it a lot and drinking it all the time, back to genuinely not liking it again?

      There is a lot of faddiness in the craft/beer snob/bubble/whatever you want to call it world. But exactly the same thing happens on a macro scale too. It's quite possibly an unavoidable facet of human nature.

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    7. Caffreys! I'd forgotten about it, having sunk many pints of it back in the 90s. I think it was mostly part and parcel of the "Irish" pub boom of the 90s, so when they closed, Caffrey's mostly went too. Fads and fashin, as you say.

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    8. Of course trends come and go, but Caffrey's (and Boddingtons) was the victim of poor brand management. When first introduced, it was 5.0% ABV and (dare I say it) was lovely stuff. But it was progressively reduced to 4.2% and then to 3.8% in an attempt to stop people getting wrecked on it, and that destroyed its USP.

      It's funny how smooth beer was seen as cool in the early 1990s, but has now become even more of an old man drink than real ale.

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    9. @Ben Viveur - I think you're being a bit unfair on Bill Sharp and the two investors he sold it to in 2003 - plus Stuart Howe of course. I remember the excited word-of-mouth surrounding this new microbrewery back in the mid-90s - unfortunately my taste-memory doesn't extend beyond it was "nice", but it was more than "just another beer". You've got to have a decent product if you're an independent brewery that can build up to 135,000hl sales in 2010 (ie it would have been second in the above list, and bigger than Pride, or Abbot + Deuchars put together). This url tells the story - www.morningadvertiser.co.uk/Article/2010/12/09/Doom-Bar-doubles-to-reach-24-million-pints - it had doubled sales was the second biggest-selling cask ale in Enterprise pubs, the biggest pubco - that's a huge achievement.

      Sure, it's only got bigger since Coors bought it - and the key to that success is not so much its own merits as a beer, and far more to do with Carling. I think the ordinary punter fails to appreciate just how dependent brands are on distribution and the deals that come with that. Carling is a must-stock for many pubs, particularly in the north. Medium and big chains will be doing a direct deal with Coors as a result, and so it's easy for them to agree to take Doom Bar (and eg Coors Light) if it means they get a slightly better deal on huge volumes of Carling, or £2000/year per pub off their Sky bill. You have to remember that even though Doom Bar is massive in the cask world, it's tiny compared to Carling, it's <10% of Carling. So decisions about lager have big implications for the handpulls as well.

      It's notable that in the above list only Doom Bar and Landlord come from breweries without significant tied estates, and as I describe above, Doom Bar is effectively tied to Carling. If only people could learn to condition Landlord properly....

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  13. (Oh, and Mudgie, I'm Conservative only in the sense of an extremely Capital 'C'!)

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    1. conservatism (with a small "c") is a loose political philosophy that often bears little relationship to the actual policies espoused by the Conservative Party.

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    2. Indeed - the point is that it's not really a political philosophy that I espouse either, being a fairly radical free market Libertarian, hence my strong preference for a big C.

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  14. Always entertaining! Beer snobbery is akin to music snobbery and political snobbery i.e. should be ignored 😉

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  15. Interesting thread!

    One point that I don't think has been made is that Doom Bar and Abbot are available in Wetherspoons all over the country, which I assume gives a bump to their sales and apparent popularity.

    I did go through a brief period a couple of years back of actually trying Doom Bar, rather than either automatically buying whatever else happened to be on the bar or just walking out of the pub. However, I soon gave up again because even when it was in reasonable condition there was absolutely nothing pleasant about it as a drink. This is not the case with the (much more rarely seen) John Smiths Cask, which, when well kept, is a far superior drink to John Smiths Smooth Crap (as Alan Winfield always refers to it).

    I don't think it's beer snobbery to say that you find some of these seemingly popular beers bland and boring. Surely we can speak as we find without being branded as snobs? As someone who frequently drinks in pubs where real ale is not the pub's raison d'etre, I often find myself drinking beers that are not only boring and bland but also poorly kept. This latter fault also applies to beers that I would not describe as boring and bland (though others would) such as Landlord and Black Sheep. I've pretty much given up on Landlord for this reason, but I've done quite well with Black Sheep recently, finding pub after pub, mostly in North Yorkshire, where it was spot on and only one that I can recall all year where it was below par.

    This is the point of Camra's Good Beer Guide, is it not? It's not saying "this pub serves good beer, you will like it", it's message is "the beer here is well kept, if it turns out it's not to your taste, try elsewhere". I don't think the fact that some (even most) Camra members don't think Doom Bar is much cop dilutes or contradicts the organisation's overall campaign. Or at least, not to the extent that support for craft keg would.

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    1. As you sat, John Smiths Cask, where you can find it, is actually a tasty, interesting beer in a good pub. 15 years ago there were plenty of GBG pubs that focused on a good pint of John's and a.guest. No longer. No Tets or Johns or Bass in the Top 10 😱

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    2. You're perfectly entitled to say you don't like certain beers, or find little to appeal in them. It's only when it crosses into the territory of saying that anyone who chooses to drink them is lacking in taste and discernment, and that you're a person of superior judgment for preferring Ivo Checkshirt's Diarrhoea IPA, that it becomes beer snobbery.

      Of course an issue here is that, unlike most of what we buy, beer isn't really a functional product, so any judgments about it are really bound to be a subjective matter of individual taste.

      Tetley Bitter was once the best-selling cask beer in Britain. To have let it sink so far is surely a tale of disastrous brand management. Even from Wolverhampton I'd prefer it to Doom Bar any day.

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    3. I had some Tetley cask not long ago (in Hornsea, IIRC), and it was a good pint.

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  16. Rather than “bland macro crap” I would suggest that nine of those ten are good to very good beers.
    I’ve certainly never minded a pint of five of them these past forty years, nor Deuchars IPA since 1991 or St Austell Tribute since 1999.
    I’ve actually preferred Old Speckled Hen from Bury St Edmunds rather than Abingdon but haven’t drunk Wainwright enough to comment as I always opt for Pedigree instead in my local Marstons ‘eatery’.
    I drink Doom Bar occasionally in my nearest pub, when The Reverend James isn’t on, and although it’s far from my favourite beer I’m sure it’s better than the lager and nitrokeg alternatives for washing down my Nepalese meal.
    The suggestion that any of them are “not the beer they were” should, in the absence of evidence in the form of recipes ‘then and now’, probably be dismissed as erroneously comparing what were the tastiest, and therefore surviving, beers in CAMRA’s earlier years with the tastiest limited edition single hop beers and barrel-aged stouts now.
    Those who only go out with the expectation of having their taste buds assaulted and getting no change for a pint out of a fiver won’t have any patience with Old Timers like me but if the future is only seen as “high-quality” “craft” does it not matter that there’s a risk of ‘ordinary drinker’ being denied the ‘ordinary’ cask beers that some of us have campaigned for most of our lives ?

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    1. In the case of Doom Bar, there has been known recipe changes since the early days - from memory they've changed the bittering hops and replaced a lot of the Fuggles with modern Slovenian hops (which are related but different). Can't remember the exact details.

      More controversially, there's been suggestions that there have been recent changes which the brewery deny but which regular drinkers swear blind have happened. Could just be seasonal variations in ingredients have been greater than usual, but these things do happen.

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