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Beer or Pub?

               My three favourite pubs are not my favourites for beer. And vice versa. But is it possible to have both? A debate for another time, perhaps, but it got me wondering about certain chain pubs.

                I assume, perhaps wrongly, that most regions have their versions of Hydes and Thwaites. They are the big brewer boys that control a lot of your real-ale-serving local pubs. They have their own brews, they are nationally renowned, and on the whole you accept them and expect them to be good putatively.

                I should start by saying that this blog stems from a tale of success for a local Hydes pub of mine – The White House in Stalybridge – that recently won a CAMRA pub of the season award. It was thoroughly deserved. The pub now has a good range of 8 cask beers on and has sourced many away from Hydes brewery. The décor is nice and has become the cynosure of the town.

                I congratulate the pub on achieving all this through, presumably, a lot of hard work. But then again, isn’t this the least I expect from a pub owned by a big brewery such as Hydes?

The White House is a pub that went as low as it could go. I mean it really went low. It was for stories like the White House that the phrase “rock bottom” is associated.  It was no longer a pub, it barely resembled a bar. It was just a saturnine establishment with a licensee’s name above the door that was permitted to sell some variety of alcoholic beverage. But it was all under the name of Hydes. And I could never find any reason why a brewery such as this would allow this desecration. Why would Hydes find this acceptable? Look at the contrast between that horrible, money burning shit hole and the pub of the season.

                Thwaites, on the other hand, are trying their best to pull their finger out. After years of featuring the same, regular guest real ales, they have, starting with last year, introduced a new line. And some – especially the brilliant 13 guns, Crafty Devil and Our Boys – have deserved mention around Real Ale circuits. I had the Logan’s Run at Wetherspoons festival just over the weekend and found it excellent.

                But then my local, The Stamford Arms in Carrbrook, is Thwaites run and went through a phase almost to rival The White House. For two years they allowed a landlord to run the pub without bothering with any real ale. Sometimes he didn’t even bother to sell anything. A few times he just sold cans he’d purchased from the local shop. Many complained, especially the local neighbours about the noise.  But it seems that as long as the landlord is paying the rent then the lack of customer satisfaction is secondary and not worth addressing. Only when this particular landlord stopped paying the rent did Thwaites chuck him out.

                Heck, I’m sure Hydes and Thwaites make more than enough money and I know that finding landlords is difficult and that having fifty crap pubs open is better than having none open at all. But if I was allowing people to trade under my banner, I’d be making surprise visits to check on the quality of customer service, the way the pub is being run and then, hopefully, the quality of the beer. Maybe I’m mad. Maybe just optimistic. Yet, in these times of licensed crisis where every other pub seems to shut each week, it seems prudent to realise that the only pubs in my area that have never been under any threat are the ones that do, and always have, sold an excellent variety of quality real ale. I don’t need to be a marketing mogul to understand the sector.

                And are Hydes and Thwaites, themselves, not proud of their brewing heritage?

                I could easily turn this into an 8,000 word debate, but for my sake I’ll leave my rant here. Congratulations to the White House. If you ever happen upon Stalybridge be sure to seek it out. And well done to Thwaites for extensively re-imagining their ale range. But trust me when I say, there is so much more you could be doing with your pubs. Don’t get left behind.


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