opinion pubs

Breaking the Cycle of Recommendation

In the comments on this post last week, a side debate broke out about whether people ought to research a town’s beer scene before visiting, rather than hoping to stumble upon a good pub or bar.

A similar conversation, with a more hysterical tone, followed Pete Brown’s post about Chesterfield earlier in the year.

It’s obviously a bit rich to dismiss a town or city as having nowhere good to drink if you haven’t done any research (although that certainly wasn’t Mr Brown’s point) but playing it by ear from time to time can be both fun and illuminating.

The risk to relying on the guidance of others is that the loop can end up closing: everyone goes to the same handful of famous places, drinks the same few ‘must try’ beers, ends up writing more-or-less the same articles and blog posts, and then makes the same recommendations when they’re asked. The same places end up appearing in listicles and guide books, often for years after they’ve lost their lustre.

By all means carry out research before your trip, but do also leave a little time to explore, and to follow your instincts — you might find a new place struggling for custom but destined to be the next big thing; or stumble upon a great pub that no-one recommends because the beer is terrible; or just get really under the skin of the town you’re visiting.

You might even strike-out completely and end up back in the hotel bar, but that’s fine, too: if every single drinking session is ‘world class’, none of them are.

5 replies on “Breaking the Cycle of Recommendation”

I remember when we moved to London first and we found it really tricky to find good pubs. Without knowing the area, you always ended up going wherever the work crew went, or whatever was on main thoroughfares.

It seems all the great boozers are off the beaten track, down side streets etc. The high street with its high rent, is the domain of chains, getting their repeat business from location and passing trade.

Though if you want to do research, pick up the Craft Beer London app. Its never put me wrong yet, and it is well curated.

I find that asking locals for recommendations is a vital part of my research process, usually through Twitter. The responses I get form the basis of Google searches and digging through RateBeer (love it or loathe it for beer ratings, the listings of pubs, bars, bottle shops, and breweries is very helpful). Of course some discoveries are wonderful accidents, like The Cromarty Inn where I firsts had Cromarty Happy Chappy, or The Castle Tavern, which Mrs V and I just stumbled upon one Sunday morning on a walk by the River Ness. This may be something of a wild accusation, but I find happy stumbling accidents are more likely in the European context, given the more relaxed drinking culture.

I do a bit of looking up pubs and stores when I travel but only as a start. Mostly as a start, however. I am not looking for the perfect precious experience. I want to see what is going on when and where I travel. We have spent too much for the odd boring experience but mostly it is more than balanced off by the good surprises. I had looked up a few spots before the summer trip to Edinburgh. Often it was the other pub down Rose Street or across the road in North Berwick which was the one I remembered.

I feel similarly about the many people that seem to rave about the same few ‘in’ breweries. If the path’s well trodden it’s good when people go off piste a bit.

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