We went to our local Wetherspoon pub twice last weekend and found its craft makeover quite startling.
As usual, what drew us through the door in the first instance was a craving for beer that isn’t local. Oh, yes, local beer is great, and very worthy, and all that, but blimey, can it get monotonous. During the regular Spoons real ale festivals, even our fairly conservative branch usually has something pale, hoppy and from up north on offer. On this occasion, Rooster’s Union Gap, at a mere £2.25 a pint, fit the bill admirably.
But we were also keen to see if the craft-beer-ification of the chain that kicked off at the beginning of October had reached Penzance. It has, and how. What amounts to a sub-brand, Craftwork, has its own logo which appeared on staff T-shirts, beer menus and posters; and a fridge which had previously been filled with various ‘world lagers’ was stuffed with cans and bottles from BrewDog, Sixpoint, Goose Island, Rogue, Lagunitas and Adnams’ craft spin-off, Jack Brand. The designated keg font for craft beer was dispensing Devil’s Backbone American IPA.
When we started blogging back in 2007, we would have been astonished and delighted by a pub with a range like this, even in London, but, these days, we’re a little more critical (or maybe spoiled). For starters, there is a transparency issue. This is how the Devil’s Backbone beer is advertised on their website:
That’s consistent with point of sale material in the pub, too. The problem is, it isn’t brewed in Lexington — it’s produced at Banks’s in Wolverhampton — and therefore isn’t American. Now, to be fair, the (rather good) in-house magazine does have an extensive feature explaining all of that, but a note on the menu and keg-font lens, as for the beer festival international collaboration beers, would feel more honest.
Then there’s the fact that, despite the dazzling array of brands, the range is actually rather lacking in variety — all amber ales and IPAs. We’re not suggesting that it needs to compete with the offer at the Craft Beer Co, for example, but why no stout? (The terms of their massive contract with Guinness, we suspect.)
Then there’s the most important issue — the quality of the beer. Lagunitas IPA, at £2.49 a bottle, has a bit of something about it (weedy peach syrup) and we’re not ashamed to say we’re fans of BrewDog Punk (boozy Lilt, also at £2.49) but Rogue Amber is just pointless — no better than any bottled standard British best bitter from the supermarket, despite its sexy packaging. The same goes for the kegged DB IPA. We’d rather drink Ruddles.
On the whole, this is probably a positive development, giving more choice to consumers outside major cities, and to regular Spoons drinkers, at prices everyone can afford. If only it felt a bit more… sincere.