Some might regard the sale of canned big brewery lager in pubs as a bad sign but there is a definite silver lining.
This year, we’ve been making a special effort to break routine and go to pubs that, for one reason or another, we’ve ignored or avoided in the past. (Which, by the way, has been great fun.) As part of that, on Friday, at a loose end between trains in St Austell, we went to the first pub we came across on exiting the station – The Queen’s Head Hotel.
Some context: St Austell is a working town rather than a tourist destination, dominated by the brewery up the hill with its slick Hicks’ Bar, but oddly lacking a destination pub at its centre. We’ve tended to end up in the over-large, over-bright White Hart on previous visits because we could at least see inside. Often quiet in the evenings, the town is even more so in November and early December.
The Queen’s Head is an old building with two entrances and, though lacking partitions, indicates the lingering class divide with soft furniture and carpeting. All the action was around the bar and the pool table where regulars of various ages, all male as far as we observed, were chatting and joking with the young woman behind the bar.
There was cask ale on offer, and it was in decent condition, but we were surprised to see how many people were drinking pint cans of Stella Artois, straight from the tin. There is one obvious reason for that choice: it was £2.60 a pop, whereas the going rate for a pint of draught lager is more like £4.
For beer folk, this might seem like bad news, even a bit depressing – what hope for breweries if people don’t want or can’t afford to drink the beer they produce? And it does feel a bit like the pub has given up – the equivalent of turning up for work in your pyjamas.
But here’s that silver lining we promised: doesn’t this say something quite hopeful about the institution of the pub?
Given that you can buy Stella at the supermarket for the equivalent of about £1.30 a pint – exactly the same product, served in the same way – why would you pay even as much as £2.60? The pub, even one that isn’t all that special, is adding value.
People have to go out once in a while to be with other humans, and the pub is still the best place to do it.