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Great British Beer Hunt - Further Reason to not be in the Pub

It’s the third annual Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt and the third year I have not raced to my “local” orange store to pick up bottles of the North’s regional finalists. Last week, some writer’s bloggers and tweeters took to a Twitter tasting session – with the witty hashtag of #Sainsbeerys – to taste some of the finalists from their area. I am certainly not criticising this in any shape of form, but it gave me time to attribute some of my own thoughts about this yearly event.
I know that as a beer enthusiast I should be grateful and supportive of this mass company making a stride in the right direction of good beer promotion  I’m not so stubborn as to not see the appeal and the positives from it. There is the chance to improve the woeful selection all supermarkets provide. I would say, out of all the corporate, high-street mauling machines, Sainsbury’s do offer the widest range of decent beer in my area, though this doesn’t persuade me to shop there. It is obviously pleasing to see some groups taking a larger interest in the neglected world of live beers and bottled conditioned ales. Yet much of the idea of the Great British Beer Hunt goes against what I, as an adult-long great beer lover ,have stood for.
This isn’t a beer blogger’s longing to keep the passion niche and exclusive. This isn’t based on a fear that, God forbid, a member of Joe public might taste something I inherently believe is mine. But hasn’t there been a campaign for some time to increase the price of beer in supermarkets to force us all back into the pub? Isn’t it the drinkers of beer that can’t be found in the supermarkets keeping the pub business alive? I do, of course, buy bottled beer to drink at home, but this is stuff that I can’t find down the local pub, that I have to purchase from specialist beer retailers. I see this as supporting part of the beer trade. I’d much rather be picking up a Hardknott beer at Beer Ritz than in a Corporate Market. Why don’t I pick up a crate of Carslberg whilst I’m there?
Thwaites’ Brewery have managed to get a beer into the regional finals of this year’s hunt in the form of Crafty Dan. I’ve never had Crafty Dan, but my local pub, the Stamford Arms, is run by Thwaites. I thoroughly expect Crafty Dan to be sold in this pub. Why shouldn’t it be? It has four cask pumps. I want to keep this pub alive and support it and when I hear that a new guest ale has hit the pumps I usually have a walk down that evening to sample it. This is how it should be. I’ve no intention of going to Sainsbury’s for a beer I should be able to find 400 yards from my doorstep on cask.
Sainsbury’s themselves are a rather detestable company; marketed as some form of working man’s Waitrose when the quality is more akin to Spar. A company whose clientele are happier to pay more than they would at Asda, for the same brands, to avoid shopping alongside the council estate riff raff. Good marketing. Repugnant slaves. I’d be more inclined to get involved with the GBBH if it took place at Lidl. At least they don't use billboards to advertise the sale of Spinach for £1 as if this is an impressive sales pitch.
Then there is the question of sustainability from the breweries. I remember a conversation I had around four or five years ago with a group of CAMRA members about either Kelham Island's Pale Rider or Easy Rider. I didn’t note the exact details at the time so forgive my lack of exact detail. As I remember though, this beer had recently entered and won an award that required the brewery to provide the beer to a number of large pubs (possibly Wetherspoons) for a year. The brewery seemed to struggle with this commitment at the time as the beer that was being sold in that period after winning the award was, in the words of one of the group I was speaking with, “a pale imitation of the brew that won the competition.” Looking down at some of the breweries involved in GBBH, I worry they wouldn’t be able to consistently deliver the same quality with each batch, if they were overnight providing to 300 Sainsbury’s. Didn’t the quality and reliability issues in Brewdog’s Punk IPA begin when they took on the same supermarket? What good will trying to broaden people’s beer horizons do if they pick up a bottle at their supermarket which contains an inferior product?
I joined in the #sainsbeerys Twitter tasting with beers that represented part of the GBBH to me but weren’t actually in it. Really, it was a ridiculous and stubborn motion to make a point. This post was originally going to feature tasting of those beers, but I now realise that there is no benefit to their inclusion. One of the beers I drank was Ticketybrew’s Pale Ale; a local beer to me and brewery that only opened this year. I was using them as an example of a brewery that have done well to get their beer into so many retailers in a short space of time – I found them in Harvey Nichols just this week – but have already had bottling issues. I’m pleased they have started off successfully but would still hope they are not pushing to do too much too soon.
I don’t take issue with the smaller breweries getting involved with GBBH and I applaud their efforts to try and increase their business. I hope that the real micros amongst the competition have the equipment to cope if they are to win.  I wish them the best of luck. But I shan’t be involved again as I feel there is more to damage the trade in this competition than there is benefit. 


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