So that was cider season 2019

Time passes so quickly – it feels like we’ve only just declared October to be our month of cider and yet here we are at the end.

Did we do quite as much cidery stuff as we’d hoped we might? Not really, but we did:

Here’s a rundown of what we drank, where, and some of the (limited) conclusions we reached.

We kicked everything off with a visit to the Cider Press on Gloucester Road – an easy one because we pass it on the way home from work.

We ordered two dry ciders from (we think) Rich’s and Heck’s. So dry were they judged to be, in fact, that we were made to taste them before ordering by a barman obviously used to having to deal with put out customers.

Cider at the Cider Press.

After all the fuss, we found them not exactly sweet, but not what we’d think of as dry either.

This might be because, insofar as we know cider at all, our tastebuds have been calibrated by Mr Wilkins’s dry, which can tend to feel like putting cotton wool on the tongue.

But we also suspect that The Orchard, the splendid backstreet ciderhouse on Spike Island, would be selling these as medium, or medium-dry, or at least not making a fuss about it.

So first lesson: dry is contextual and to some degree in the eye of the vendor. (See also: hoppy.)

The following day we refreshed ourselves mid-ramble with a pint of a cider we didn’t expect to like but felt obliged to try. Thatcher’s Haze must be one of the top selling ciders in Bristol and certainly seems to be the go-to for our respective work colleagues. And you know what? We didn’t hate it.

If you think of it as a kind of soft, sweet fizzy pop, then it’s no trouble at all to drink.

The Dark Horse

The main destination of our walk that day was The Dark Horse in St George’s. It’s a fairly normal pub catering to a blend of locals (students, hipsters, hippies, hardened boozers) which we’d noticed on a previous visit has a wall of boxed cider, as well as a few on draught.

Here we hit upon the first ciders that we can actually say we really enjoyed. One was from Iford and described as medium-dry; the other was a dry cider from Tricky. The Iford in particular was like a delicious freshly-pressed apple juice with just a hint of funk and acid.

Heading back into town, we stopped off at the newly gentrified Swan with Two Necks (more on this later) where there was another Iford, Somerset Sahara – a joke about its supposed extreme dryness. Again, it was excellent, so we felt as if we’d achieved one of our aims for the month: finding a producer we could rely on and look out for on otherwise overwhelming cider lists.

After we Tweeted something along these lines,, Oliver Holtaway recommended Honey’s Midford. We happened to see a bottle of the Medium Dry in one of our local bottle shops a few days later and took ‘ee on.

Up to this point in our experiment, we hadn’t really seen any point of sale blurb about the ciders we were drinking (and indeed often struggled to work out the name or manufacturer of specific ciders from the available information) but this came with some detailed liner notes.

It was described as ‘unfiltered craft cider’, our first encounter with the C-word in the world of cider. It was ever so slightly fizzy. We really liked this, enjoying the full and complex apple foretaste, balanced with enough farmyard grit to make it feel like scrumpy. Will saying we appreciated the carbonation get us thrown out of cider club? Well, we did.

We had to fit in a visit to The Orchard where we had cooked up this daft plan and scheduled a proper Sunday sesh.

Jess began with Janet’s Jungle Juice, which is an award-winning medium-dry cider made round the corner from Ray’s parents. It’s been her default choice at The Orchard for a while so it was interesting to taste it properly with a little more contextual information. It really is a journey in the glass: it smells, and at first tastes, like a toffee apple, morphs into easy-drinking juice, then swings in with an acid kick at the end. The trick is to sip it as a gulp seems inevitably to produce a coughing fit. The Double IPA of the cider world?

Iford’s Windfall – great name – was described as medium but still tasted sweet to us, and… Look, that’s all we’ve got. It was perhaps a bit bland, or maybe subtle, and, evidently, our cider palates still need work.

We also drank a dry cider, Porter’s Perfection, that was indeed completely without residual sweetness but at the same time completely lacking sourness.

This triggered a realisation: we had been making the shortcut association of dryness with sourness which of course isn’t necessarily the case. Just as in beer, you can have a sour cider that is also sugary, and a dry cider that is super clean.

Ashridge was a disappointment. We think we’ve enjoyed this in the past but on this occasion it managed to be the worst of all cider worlds, lacking apple character while also being petrol-fume harsh. It reminded us, unfortunately, of homemade fruit wine with too much white cane sugar in the mix.

We finished on a couple of very dangerous options.

Rocky Road was described as medium but, again, tasted pretty sweet to us, with no harshness whatsoever – just like drinking apple juice, with the lethal punchline of a barely evident 6% ABV.

Red Hen, meanwhile, was a subtle medium-dry affair which made us understand cider as apple wine – it had the crisp finish of a Riesling.

The session taught us something else which is that it is very difficult to objectively taste cider as part of a session as the previous cider really does impact on how you perceive the next one. The same applies to beer, of course, but it felt especially pronounced here, perhaps because there are relatively few variables – no hop varieties to contend with, for example.

After our enlightening visit to the CoriTap, we made a pitstop at a nearby bar where we tried Orchard Pig – the Camden Hells of cider? You wouldn’t know from the branding that it’s owned by the same people who produce Magners and, to be fair, it is a very different, more enjoyable drink – fizzy, sweet, with an accessible ABV, but definitely still a touch funky.

The Apple

Finally, last night, we made it to The Apple, a cider bar on a boat that we’ve visited several times before between us.

It seemed right to circle back to the cidermakers we started with: Rich’s (medium) and Kingston Black from Heck’s (medium-dry). Rich’s, the standard cider of family gatherings in Ray’s childhood, tasted quite sugary and fairly straightforward, with almost a touch of Tizer about it. The Heck’s seemed too sweet for the designation and had something dusty and cork-like about it.

The very last cider of cider season was Taunton Dry (‘clear-dry’ as the menu had it) which was Champagne-pale, relatively weak at 4% ABV. This one really confused us: definitely sweet but also, somehow, dry. Let’s try this again: it tasted sweet but felt dry. Or started sweet and finished dry. Or… Ah, who knows. It also seemed a bit watery as in literally watered down. Still, a wisp of countryside character gave it a bit of added appeal.

So, all in all we achieved what we set out to do – we revisited Bristol pubs known for their cider offer identified some makers that we like and would look out for in future, Iford in particular being a name that crops up all over the place.

We’ve learned that the traditional dry-medium-sweet descriptors aren’t really that helpful indicators for us in deciding whether we’re going to like a cider or not. What we want to know is how intense the apple flavour might be and how much acid to expect.

Has this month turned us into cider drinkers? Probably not. While we have much more appreciation for the variety that is out there, and will definitely continue to have the occasional cider session, it’s difficult to conceive of us choosing cider when beer is available. We find it hard to session on and hard work rather than refreshing.

Shame we didn’t get round to visiting The Long Bar or having those cans of Natch, though.

Cider Season 2019: The Coronation Tap

The Coronation Tap in Clifton is something special: it calls itself a ciderhouse rather than a pub and is famous for Exhibition, its 8.4% house cider.

Also called the Cori or the Cori Tap, it’s best known as a student hangout and every time we’ve been, we’ve felt like decrepit intruders. A 24-year-old acquaintance told us recently that they used to go all the time but felt they’d outgrown it.

Which is odd, in some ways, because it’s so… brown. Dark and old-fashioned. The place it most reminds us of is The Old Ale House in Truro and it’s supposedly been trading since at least the early 19th century.

And when you hear that young people like cider, you picture something fizzy or fruit-flavoured, not halves of fairly flat, faintly funky, scrumpyish stuff.

Oh, yes: Exhibition is not served in pints. That’s why on a recent visit we saw a young Scot stop another drinker in their tracks. With a look of sheer panic on his face he asked, “Why is everybody here drinking halves!?”

Outside the Coronation Tap.

What savvy students do, of course, having shuffled their way through the wall to the bar, is order two halves at a time, buying a round in which the other party is themselves.

We’re only a few weeks into paying cider the slightest bit of attention but we reckon we get Exhibition: it’s strong but one-dimensional, all sweetness, with the kind of apple flavour you get in pasteurised supermarket apple juice. Which is not to say it’s bad – it’s easy to knock back, offers a sugar rush to counteract the booze downer, and doesn’t demand a lot of attention.

Perfect, in other words, for teenagers trying to get loaded on a big night out.

The Cori definitely has an air of naughtiness as if chaos is only ever a moment away. Waves of shouted song break out. People stumble. Drinks spill. Lanky lads, only months out of their school blazers, stalk about in groups of seven or eight, both nervous and excited. There is frequent, loud, wild laughter.

“When I lived nearby in about 1979,” someone in The Drapers told us, “it was famous for its lock-ins. The landlord would leave the upstairs toilet light on so locals would know to knock on the door.”

It still feels like the kind of place where that might happen.

Why not make cider?

It all began with a big sign on the window of our local home-brewing shop, the unfortunately named Brewer’s Droop: ‘It’s Cider season! Borrow our cider press!’

We’ve been blessed with apples this year. Or rather, with some extensive YouTube study and a five hour pruning session in February, I managed to get the unproductive tree in our rented property to produce hundreds of absolute whoppers. I have hitherto been almost the opposite of green fingered, so I’m inordinately proud of this.

We had already made pies, frozen puree, made apple butter and eaten apple pancakes for breakfast every day for two weeks. But, still, we had loads.

So I wandered into the shop to find out more and came out fixated on the idea. As in, Ray asking, “What are you thinking about?” as I stared into the middle distance pondering the process. As in, drifting off to sleep with visions of sweet juice flowing freely from the press.

The shopkeeper told me I could hire a scratter (pulper) and the press on a daily rate. I didn’t need any other kit as we already had fermenting vessels and campden tablets. That just left a couple of issues to sort before pressing day.

Firstly, it turned out that, though we were trying to deal with an apple surplus, we’d actually need more apples – “at least five 20 litre buckets to make it worthwhile,” said the helpful chap in the shop.

The poster I put up in the Drapers.

Fine, no problem: I contacted a couple of friends who also have apple trees and then had the bright idea of putting a sign up in The Drapers Arms. This turned out to be wildly successful and mildly stressful.

We had to get them from the pub to home on foot. Garvan, landlord of The Drapers, lent us his sack truck but, still, we still end up scattering apples around the pub and Hansel and Gretel style along the Gloucester Road.

It all worked out, though, and without any planning at all we hit upon a good mix for cider – mostly eating apples, a few cookers and some actual cider apples.

Unfortunately, not many people left their details so I have no way to say thanks to lots of the donors apart from here, and perhaps another sign in the Drapers. So, thank you all, it is really appreciated.

Next, I had to work out what processes to follow and how to use the kit.

Cider production, even more than brewing beer, seems to be a field full of contradictory advice and inconsistencies, with reputable sources disagreeing on methods.

“You don’t need muslin”, said the bloke at the shop – not much of a salesman, with hindsight.

“You definitely need a straining sock or something similar,” said two Drapers regulars, referring to a system for lifting the crushed apple out of the press when it’s done.

“You’ll need Campden tablets and a cider yeast,” said one; “I never use yeast, just let it do its thing,” said another.

I eventually settled on no straining sock but decided I would do the Campden tablet plus yeast thing.

The press in action.

I learned a few things in the thick of it:

> You need at least one other person, and preferably three or four. That way, you can be scratting while someone is emptying the previous pressing, or putting more pressure on the press, or making a round of tea without a break in production.

> Pulping apples in a hand cranked scratter is incredibly satisfying but the juice and pips will fly several metres as the fruit disappears into the maw, so either do it outside or cover everything.

> Yes, you definitely need a bloody straining sock. Digging out compacted apple cheese from a press is a lot harder work than digging out a mash tun, and you have to repeat it several times.

> The press can always be turned one more time, though it might not be worth the effort after a while.

> Size of apple really matters in estimating yield. “About five buckets of apples to one bucket of juice” said the chap in the shop. “About three times as many apples as volume of liquid,” said a cider making expert in the Drapers. I think my yield was more like one bucket of juice from six buckets of apples. I think that’s partly because a lot of our apples were huge – the bloke in the Drapers has a tree that produces lovely little red apples, hence, I reckon, his much better yield.

We learned afterwards, from books:

> As well as size of apple, amount of juice is dependent on when you pick the apples and press them. We don’t really have the room to do what most sources suggest, which is to pick the apples and leave them for up to four weeks before pressing, so we probably couldn’t have done this differently.

> We should have aimed for a balance of sweetness, acidity and tannin in the juice, and should have made adjustments to achieve it. Well, the juice we got was absolutely beautiful, but I’m not sure if it will have enough acid or tannin to make good cider.

We got 30 litres of juice in the end after about 17 hours of hard labour, mostly me but with Ray’s help in the evening.

That juice is, at present, still juice, as fermentation does not seem to be quite kicking off as it ought to.

The fermenting vessel full of juice.

One of the smaller carboys is going fairly well, though not spraying foam everywhere as promised; the other is more sluggish. Our massive 20 litre jar seems to be going nowhere, at the time of writing.

It’s all the same yeast so perhaps I used too many Campden tablets and killed it? We will probably mix up the one that is going with the one that isn’t and see what happens.

At the moment, then, we don’t know if all the hassle was worth it, and by all accounts, even if we do get cider, it won’t be drinkable for another year. Still, we’ve already gone from “Never again!” at one o’clock on Friday morning to “When we do this again next year…”

What we’re up to in October: Cider Season

We’ve decided it’s time to make a concerted effort to get our heads round cider which is why we’re declaring it the drink for us in October.

We reached this decision at The Orchard, one of Bristol’s best cider pubs with a long menu of examples of farmhouse scrumpy.

It frustrates us to be presented with so much choice and have so little clue.

We order almost at random and sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn’t.

So, that’s our aim for the next few weeks: to try different makers, different styles, and form some Opinions.

We could read books – and maybe we will dip into the odd one – but this isn’t about hunting down world classics, it’s about knowing which of the products we’re likely to encounter in Bristol and around are worth ordering twice.

By way of a baseline, we’re going to make an effort to try and think about some of the big brands, too.

It also gives us a great excuse to visit or revisit all of Bristol’s cider pubs and understand better their traditions, rituals and history.

And who knows, we might even finally try a tin of Natch.

Mass Observation Strikes Again: (No) Village Inn, 1947

It’s worth asking next time you read an impassioned piece about villages without pubs whether they even had one in the first place.

In Tavistock last week we picked up a tatty copy of Exmoor Village, a 1947 book by W.J. Turner ‘based on factual information from Mass Observation’. It features a chapter on pubs and socialising called ‘Gardens, Pubs and Small Talk’. But our hopes of 20 pages of glorious detail on beer and boozers were shattered with the opening line:

There is no inn in Luccombe [in Somerset], nor anywhere on the Acland Estate. The nearest is at Wootton Courtney. There is virtually no social centre in Luccombe beyond the doorstep and the village street.

Some of the men in the village, the author says, were in the habit of going to pubs in nearby Wootton or Porlock ‘on Saturday or Sunday — seldom both’:

Mr Gould remembers brown ale at threepence a pint, and says he used to go every evening, wet or fine, to Wootton. To-day, on an old-age pension, his visits are rare. His son is a teetotaller, and Bill Tame is another… Although Somerset is famous for its cyder, and home-brewed cyder is found at many small farms and drunk by young and old alike, Mr Partridge is the only Luccombe person who has it. Another farmer, Mr Staddon, prefers beer.

The true Mass Observation touch, more literary than objective in tone despite its scientific pretensions, comes through in a description of the men at their usual haunt, the bar at a posh hotel in Wootton Courtney known as the ‘Dunkery’:

The public bar like most country bars is small, with two tables, two benches, and not enough chairs… A visitor at about seven o’clock in the evening would find Bob Prescott, looking tired and weather-beaten, slumped up in a chair next to the bar; Mr Hales, who has cycled from Luccombe, sitting in a chair by the window; a man of forty-five not from Luccombe in the next-door chair; Mr Keal, who has walked in, standing leaning on his cane. Talk centres on horses. One or two more men come in and join the talk… Ten men are present now, and conversation round the bar is about a stony field. ‘Ay, that’s the stoniest one you got, George, bain’t it?’ … ‘Big stones’ … ‘One along of Dunkery be stonier’ …

We assume the hotel in question is the Dunkery Beacon Hotel which fits the description — ‘a white building with a verandah’ — but it doesn’t seem likely the bar is still there in anything like its original form. The walk from Luccombe to Wootton Courtney (or Courtenay) is about 45 minutes according to Google Maps. And, for what it’s worth, Bailey recalls hearing people in Somerset genuinely, un-ironically saying ‘bain’t’ when he was a kid, though younger people had gone over to ‘ain’t’.

The men in the pub take snuff, smoke a lot, and talk about root crops, the pub in Porlock, the threat of invasion, German airmen and the Home Guard, chocolate rationing and other then hot topics. (The observations on which the book was based were from 1944.) When two Americans turn up (GIs, presumably) they dominate the conversation with talk of farming back home.

If the men were only occasional pub-goers, the women of Luccombe hardly ever went, and the young men of the village aren’t big drinkers. Meryn Arscott, an 18-year-old, is the case study and wasn’t a frequent drinker because he couldn’t afford it.

And that’s pubs done, in a page and half because ‘for the most part the men stay at home because they don’t want to go anywhere else.’ That’s a thread that come out very clearly in various bits of post-WWII writing on pubs — the idea that men were abandoning the pub not because it was bad but because home, family, gardens and allotments had become so pleasant.

If you’re interested in country life more generally, Somerset in particular, or Mass Observation (this project was controversial), then this book is worth getting. The 29 colour and 22 black-and-white photos by John Hinde are also lovely to look at, as are the charmingly period charts and illustrations. We paid £4.99 for our copy of this book; Amazon lists a couple for around £6.

Main image: a detail from a chart at the back of the book showing distances from Luccombe to key amenities.

Craft Cider, 1946

While we’ve lost the will to debate the meaning of ‘craft’ in relation to beer we remain on the look out for evidence of how the term took hold.

In 1946, Batsford (as in the pub guides) published a book called English Country Crafts by Norman Wymer. Most of it concerns, e.g., woodworking but there is a brief mention of cider-making:

Maybe it can hardly be called a craft in the strict sense, but cider-making is an interesting old country work… and is, I think, worth a mention… Modern methods of processing and bottling have caused cider, as sold in most parts, to deprecate in taste, while the large firms now buy up the farmers’ apples in such huge quantities that the old-style cider-making has almost died out… There is as much difference between the machine- and the home-made cider as between mass-produced and hand-made articles. If you doubt it, try a glass of each and judge for yourself. Then you will see why cider-making is regarded as a country craft.

Craft, modern methods, old-style, machine-made, home-made,hand-made, mass-produced… How do you like them apples? (Ahem… sorry…)

On the other side of the coin, Paul Jennings’s The Local (2007) quotes Charles Barclay of Barclay Perkins describing himself and his peers, in 1830, rather wonderfully, as ‘power-loom brewers’.

Main image source.

After Craft Beer, Craft Cider

Coates's Cider mat -- detail.

We’ve often wondered what might replace ‘craft beer’ in the affections of the trend-chasing young folk. and, though there is now ‘craft gin’, and we’ve joked about when we can expect ‘craft mead’, it was always cider which looked most likely to lure their attention. And it looks as if that change is underway.

Let’s look at the omens.

Attempting to trace the progress of this trend it looks very similar to what’s happened in beer, with some slight differences in timing:

  1. 1950: a working person’s day-to-day drink.
  2. 1965: a commercial commodity dominated by national brands.
  3. 1970s: rediscovered by the middle-classes in its ‘real’ form.
  4. 2000s: ‘premiumised’ by big producers. (Magner’s.)

Next? Perhaps ‘craft’ connoisseurism, experimentation and ‘extremifying’; yeast experiments, barrel-aging and new ‘styles’; craft keg’? We certainly look forward to trying a blackened, imperialised scrumpy… (Someone who knows about cider will no doubt tell us all of this is already happening.)

We’ve been saying for ages that certain lambic beers share flavours with the more rough-and-ready ciders — ‘barnyard’, ‘horse blanket’, ‘old wellies’, etc.. — and it won’t be much of a leap from beer to cider for those who’ve trained their tastebuds on hip ‘sours’ from breweries such as Brodie’s.

For now, at least, cider also has another great appeal: it isn’t taxed as heavily as beer and is therefore cheaper.

Don’t worry — this won’t be becoming Boak and Bailey’s Cider Blog, but then we wouldn’t be surprised to see a rash of them soon.

Green scrumpy and prat falls

Somerset Levels from Burrow Mump
Picture by Steve Bridger from Flickr Creative Commons.

By Bailey

This morning, a question on Twitter from Jeff Pickthall about whether cider should smell of manure prompted a vivid flashback to an incident from my childhood.

In, I think, the summer of 1988, during a heat wave, my parents decided to have a barbecue and invite a few people round for a session on the deck chairs in the back garden.

My family was living in a council house in Bridgwater, not because of the charming architecture (prefab concrete) or community atmosphere (the local kids used to throw stones at our house and our shed got burgled twenty or so times), but because we were on our uppers. As a result, bang for buck, when it came to the purchase of alcohol, was a significant consideration for my parents.

At around lunchtime, my Dad’s mate — a mumbling Chewbacca of a man my brother and I nicknamed ‘Womble’ — turned up to accompany my dad on a mission: the booze run. Womble, it seemed, had a hot lead on some farmhouse cider being sold at about half the price of posh stuff like Rich’s. When I say farmhouse, I don’t mean rustic, boutique Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall territory: this was a Farmer Palmer asbestos barn out on the Levels whose owner had a ‘relaxed’ attitude to taxation and the law.

When they returned, it was with a plastic gallon jerry can of what looked, for all the world, like the urine of a very dehydrated tramp.

“It’s bloody green,” said my Dad, inspecting it against the light.

“There were dead rats floating in the tank,” said Womble. (I’m not sure if he was trying to wind me up but suspect not.)

My Dad’s older brother, as I’ve mentioned before, drank a lot of rough cider in the sixties and seventies and, even now, can barely string a sentence together and has no short term memory to speak of. As a result, my Dad, to this day, is very wary of scrumpy. He and Womble took tentative tasters. Steam blew out their ears. Their faces went through contortions. They stamped their feet.

“How is it?” asked Mum.

“Bloody awful,” said Dad, before he and Womble set about drinking in earnest.

After two pints or so each, they were talking in tongues, or perhaps Unwinese, and apparently regressing to childhood. Eventually, giggling, Womble keeled over sideways taking his flimsy canvas folding chair with him.

The cider was abandoned with half a gallon remaining in the jug.

This is how I remember it, but I’m sure Mum will call me later to tell me I’m wrong.

The Scariest Pub in Town

The Bristol and Exeter pub, Bridgwater.

By Bailey

When I was growing up in Bridgwater, Somerset, there were lots of pubs, and my parents took care to educate me on the merits and quirks of each one. The Bristol and Exeter, aka the B&E, was one of the few pubs that deserved a flat-out warning: I was never to go there. It was, they said, the haunt of scrumpy casualties, so addled by their constant intake of super-strength, mindbending ‘natch’ that they’d probably eat my face as soon as look at me.

The B&E certainly never looked very welcoming as nicotine-stained curtains made it impossible to see inside. Once, walking home from my waitering job after midnight, a nervous seventeen year-old, I was passing the B&E when the door flew open with a bang. I had to leap clear as two rather poorly-looking women rolled out, mid-fight, and tumbled into the gutter, where one proceeded to throttle the other, pulling at her hair and screaming and swearing in the fruitiest fashion. This was not atypical.

Now I hear from the parents that, forty-years after it began, the ‘real ale revolution’ has hit the B&E. It is under new management and so cask ales from Moles are on offer; the impenetrable screening curtains have gone; and there is even the promise of free Wi-Fi.

Next time I go home, will I be able to overcome years of fear and conditioning and actually cross the threshold? And is Bridgwater poorer for the loss of an authentic rough pub of the old school?

Picture to follow when my Mum has popped round and taken one for me. Thanks for the pic, Mum! (The pub is now pink!?)

Weird cider/beer hybrid

women_in_bar.jpg

The latest issue of Marketing magazine brings news of the launch of an appalling-sounding half-beer/half-cider chimera from one of the big international brewers. It’s made with cider, barley malt and “sparkling water”. I can’t be bothered to give this foul-sounding product any publicity by naming it… so I won’t.

The interesting thing is that they claim to have devised the product based on research which shows that a significant number of women “don’t like beer and distrust the quality of wine in bars”.

For one thing, I’m not sure that the logical conclusion from that research is: “I bet those same women would just love a weird cider-beer hybrid!”

But I’d also observe, paraphrasing their line, that there are many people of both genders who “don’t like wine, and distrust the quality of real ale in pubs”, which explains the popularity of bland lagers and Guinness in the UK. Too often, the choice is between a corporate product which is boring but consistent, and a “real” product which stinks, tastes bad and looks bad because it’s not been well looked after. You can’t blame people for going down the bland route when that’s the choice.

In both cases, the solution is probably campaigning to improve the quality of the wine, beer, cider, whisky or whatever, in bars and pubs.

One way to do that would be for CAMRA to make the criteria for getting into their Good Beer Guide slightly more strict. At the moment, as far as I can tell, it lists every pub with any kind of cask ale on offer, although they say “only pubs with a consistently high standard of real ale are considered for entry”. Sadly, my experience has been that quite a few unwelcoming, grotty, smelly pubs get in because they’ve got an old, rank cask of Greene King IPA on one pump at the bar.