QUICK ONE: Tinnies in the Pub

Stella Artois advertising c.2007.

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.

Memorable Beers #14 — Guinness With Nick

By Bailey.

The only reason I started drinking was because of peer pressure from my mate Nick. I stayed at university for an extra year to do a masters and he had another year of his engineering degree to go and. Early on, the full horror dawned on him: “I can’t believe I’m stuck in this miserable city with only a teetotaller for company.”

I started drinking to keep him company and soon learned that Nick had a set of rules about pubs and beer:

1. Pubs should be dark brown up to waist height and nicotine brown above.

2. Red Stripe is the go-to beer for most situations, but especially nightclubs and picnics.

3. Beck’s tastes of blood.

4. Stella gives you headaches because it is “dirty”.

5. No-one likes Guinness, but you have to drink it on Sunday lunchtime — “It’s a rule.”

Having only been drinking for about two months, I remember vividly being bullied into getting a pint of Guinness and taking two hours to drink it. It only got worse as, sitting next to a roaring fire, it got warmer and warmer. I’d never tasted anything so bitter or so vile.

I was not reassured by Nick’s Sixth Law:

6. Guinness makes you shit treacle.

These days, of course, Nick is himself teetotal, and I’ve got way more rules about beer and pubs than he ever did.

Sales of (mostly terrible) beer down

According to advertising trade mag Marketing Week, sales of the top beer brands are down 5 per cent up to April 2008.

The biggest drops are in sales of Kronenbourg 1664, Stella Artois, Carlsberg Export and Grolsch. Sales of John Smith’s Extra Smooth and Carlsberg (ordinary) are up.

Their say that the current ‘drink-aware climate’ and England’s absence from the European Championship are the main reasons.

The first certainly sounds plausible to us. People we know seem to be much happier ordering a shandy or a ‘weak beer’ than they were a couple of years ago.

And, of course, there’s been a huge defection to cider from beer, as witnessed by booming sales of Strongbow.