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More Bottled Beer in Pubs, Please

goose_island_again.jpg We’re lucky in that we can get to the Pembury Tavern from our house in 20 minutes, and two of our nearest pubs serve real ales in good condition (including a regular mild). But last night, that just wasn’t enough for me — I wanted to go to the pub, but I also had a powerful craving for a strong, hoppy IPA1. That’s one of the few styles the Pembury doesn’t stock. Nor does any pub in our area.

Which made me wish that all pubs had as a minimum:

1. A small selection of cask ale in good condition — as much as they can turn over at a reasonable rate, but no more — ideally including a stout other than bloody Guinness.

2. A German or Czech lager on tap.

3. A German or Belgian wheat beer on tap2.

4. A rotating selection of bottled beer in every style not represented on the pumps.

It’s not reasonable to expect every pub to have ten different ales on tap, but bottles are surely the best way for landlords to offer choice without bankrupting themselves. Bottles last a long time; they don’t cost much to store; and they allow pubs to offer oddities which might only appeal to a small section of the market.

It would be nice if I could drink rauchbier, strong IPA, imperial stout, lambic and other ‘acquired-taste’ beers without getting on a train or bus, when one of these uncontrollable cravings overtakes me.

Yes, I guess I’m spoiled. I should just get off my arse, or drink what’s on offer. But I can dream, can’t I?

Bailey

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1 We’d been brewing a strong, hoppy IPA all day — I always want to drink what we’ve been brewing.

2 We were in a pub on New Year’s Eve that had Franziskaner, Paulaner, Schneider and Erdinger wheat beers on tap. Seriously, one brand is enough!

19 replies on “More Bottled Beer in Pubs, Please”

I hear you loud and clear when you talk about wanting to drink what you just made. That’s one of the hardest parts of brewing – waiting for it to be ready! I also find myself tasting and/or smelling that raw grain wort flavor in every beer I drink on brew day after brewing.

Here in the US, I get the same problem when I go out. I understand that taps are limited, but why not have bottles in at least major styles. All we normally get here is Bud, Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite, Sam Adams, Guinness. That’s like three beer styles. For even a good wheat beer, I’d be happy.

I can’t get cask that I know of unless I drive an hour to a decent brewpub (John Harvard’s or Willimantic). Rauchbier? Forget it. Gueuze? No way.

I think it’s just market forces at work. Still a good 90% of the beer sold here in the US is of the BudMillerCoors variety.

This is a good point. Here in Prague, people definitely prefer draught (even at home, as when my neighbors pick up a pitcher-full from the corner pub before dinner). This is great for freshness, but terrible for variety: most bars and pubs simply don’t have ANY beers in bottles, and just one on tap.

I think this is the new front in the battle for Czech beer culture: convincing publicans and restaurateurs to stock interesting bottled brews. That alone will be hard enough. Afterwards comes “Mission: Impossible,” that of convincing customers to order them.

However, I did get one local hotel to add a “beer list” to its highbrow cocktail bar last summer. In addition to hundred-dollar wines from Bordeaux and Piedmont, it now also carries six bottles of excellent Czech regional brews that are almost impossible to find anywhere else in the city. We have a beachhead!

When you homebrewing Brits brew an IPA, do you do English or American? Just curious, as Americans are all the rage here, but I prefer English hops by a long shot.

Evan — that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Interesting stuff. What reasons did the place you worked with give for *not* having a beer list in the first place? Did it not occur to them, or were there ideological objections to get over?

Wilson — I can’t speak for everyone, but our recipe was inspired by Goose Island, so had mostly Goldings (East Kent) with a small amount of Cascades. Cascades get tired if they’re overused, but they’ve still got a little bit of novelty value for me.

I’d like to see more quality – and bottle conditioned – beer in restaurants and bars. However, I don’t go to the pub to drink bottled beer!

Why is choice more important than quality?

“Why is choice more important than quality?”

Eh? Who said it was? Is it too much to ask for choice *and* quality?

I quite often go to the pub and drink nothing but bottles, if what’s on tap doesn’t inspire me. Especially when the alternative is to be a pain in the arse about which pub we go to. But then I’m quite tolerant of bottled beer, and I’ve picked up in the past few months that you somewhat prefer cask ale…

That sounds like a false dichotomy, Stonch: it’s not a question of choice OR quality. It’s about giving customers better choice AND better quality.

On that note, when I want a beer, I certainly don’t insist that it comes out of a bottle. Nor do I insist that it comes out of a cask (a tough request in these parts). Meden agan, always.

As for the hotel here, they had never considered a beer list, though they knew that Czech beers were supposed to be good. Once I started talking about how good they really were, they asked if I’d help. That was all it took.

And on non-American IPAs: a local brewpub in Prague recently made a Double IPA with Styrian Goldings — Goldings for historical accuracy, Styrian for an “Eastern European” touch, perhaps, or maybe simply because that was what was available. And then they added in a wee bit of Saaz. The result was fantastic.

I think that’s what all of us should be doing — talking to the people who run our favourite restaurants, pubs and bars and letting them know what we think. At worst, they’ll tell us to mind our own business. At best, they might be interested, and find themselves a year later crammed to the rafters with beer snobs wavings wads of money. It just doesn’t come naturally to me as a reserved Englishman, though.

Sorry, but I don’t think pubs with huge beer lists appeal to anyone but the beer geek, and as such the majority of places simply won’t do it.

I’m not talking about one of those huge leatherbound beer lists — just one of each type not represented on the pumps, broadly speaking. I’m not sure having some bottles sitting quietly behind the bar is going to drive anyone away from a pub — they don’t bite.

Exactly. In my case, I just talked up the beers, explained that they keep quite well, and offered to select six charismatic and characteristic brews in bottles (on-tap was out of the question): one dark lager, one golden yeast beer, one light pale lager, one strong golden lager, one ale, one wheat beer. I chose all the beers from a single distributor and provided contact information for ordering.

As for appealing to anyone but beer geeks, this is probably Prague’s most expensive hotel: beer geeks generally don’t travel in such swish surroundings. Nonetheless, it’s become quite popular there, or so I’m told. And I’m ready for my next target.

“I’m not sure having some bottles sitting quietly behind the bar is going to drive anyone away from a pub — they don’t bite.”

No, but the pub wouldn’t stock them if they don’t sell in sufficient quantities, which in the vast majority of pubs they wouldn’t. That’s my point! I’ve spoken to a number of landlords/managers about this, I’m not just talking out of my arse.

This is an interesting discussion. This and other similar ones I’ve read recently have led me to ponder the general differences between American and British beer culture (bottled vs. cask). Occasionally, I see where it leads to one side or the other getting a bit sniffy about which is superior, which seems pretty silly when discussing something as subjective as beer. Naturally, being American, I tend more towards bottled beer as it’s what is most abundant and what fits my own lifestyle most closely. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t like to indulge in a nice cask ale at a pub if I found it available and convenient though.

Unusually for me, I’ll take the middle road on the question at hand. I can see where Bailey has quite a valid point in wanting bottled variety in addition to only one or two cask ales. I can also concede that places I’ve been to here in the US that feature a large variety of bottled beers do primarily benefit the beer geek, as Stonch points out. Being one of the beer geeks though, I’ve never had cause to complain about choice. If patrons aren’t adventurous, they can always order one of the always abundant macro brews on tap. The non-beer geek types don’t seem to be offended by the presence of beer they’ve never seen.

The Dude, I’d quote a comment someone left on my own blog recently:

“If my interest in beer had to revolve around taking bottles home from the offy I’d be looking for another interest!”

See here for that discussion: What comes first for you – the beer or the pub?.

Let me be clear: I’m not saying choice is a bad thing. It’s just not realistic to expect all but the most specialist beer bar to offer a list of beers as long as your arm – the stuff simply won’t sell.

I think the “beer geek” tendency in the UK is extremely small, much smaller than in the States. The vast majority of people who’d profess to be beer lovers here are really only interested in cask beer. If you offer a perfect pint of session bitter in good condition, they’re happy. I don’t think there’s a market for anything else (apart from mass produced fizzy yellow stuff, of course).

Stonch,

I read your post not long ago (but didn’t comment there), and that was partially what I meant when I said:

This and other similar ones I’ve read recently have led me to ponder the general differences between American and British beer culture (bottled vs. cask).

If my interest in beer had to revolve around cask ales available at pubs in Houston, Texas, USA I wouldn’t get to drink beer. Being a “beer geek”, I’m more than happy to get what I can get (which is quite a bit, variety-wise) on terms that suit my lifestyle.

The thing about me personally is, I’m a family man. I’m married with two young kids (9 and 7 years old). Bottom line there is that I simply don’t live the lifestyle of spending my evenings in pubs. I work all day and I’m one of those freaks who actually enjoys interacting with his kids when he gets home at night. A few American parents are funny that way.

Even though I’m an involved parent, I still enjoy beer. I don’t think the two interests have to be mutually exclusive. I actually think it’s rather healthy to show my kids a male role model that enjoys his alcohol in moderation. If I was single and childless, perhaps I wouldn’t view my beer pursuit as I’ve described. But I am, so it’s a moot point.

Again though, I come back to the point I made earlier about neither the pub nor the bottled beer approach being superior. We adopt the approach that works for us personally and moreover, societally. So in short, if I was a single guy in the UK looking for a girlfriend, I probably would prefer a pub with great atmosphere but a relatively small beer selection. Nothing wrong there. Or maybe I’d be the grumpy old fat guy drinking lambic in the corner of the pub with the poor atmosphere but great beer selection. Nothing really wrong there either. We are who we are.

In all honesty, there aren’t that many people here in Houston that I’d truly consider “beer geeks”. I have friends that are willing to try beer that I give them that falls outside the mainstream, but overall, they could really care less about beer. If it wasn’t for me they’d likely be more than happy to go through life drinking only the fizzy yellow stuff. Once again, we are who we are. If I made an intimate knowledge of the brewing process a prerequisite for social interaction, I don’t guess I’d get to talk much. And speaking of talking much, I’ve probably done quite enough of that for now.

Cheers,
Dude

Hello again, the Dude. Thanks for dropping by.

Stonch — no need to bring your arse into this… not when you’ve got Norovirus…

Isn’t this: “No, but the pub wouldn’t stock them if they don’t sell in sufficient quantities, which in the vast majority of pubs they wouldn’t” what people used to say about cask ales in 1980?

Bailey:

I don’t think that’s a valid comparison for a number of reasons!

The Dude:

I see what you mean – well put. People have different lifestyles. I suppose mine is the more unusual one, if anything.

Of the subject of beer, which I find increasingly dull, I’m watching a movie from a few years ago about Boudica, and Dawn from Eastenders is in it as Nero’s wife. She doesn’t even have a speaking part, and she still manages to act very badly.

Dude,

Thanks for your well-made point on the child-loving-American-parent perspective! Can’t hang with the kids if you’re at the bar. But then, there’s always after they’re sleeping…

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