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Out Here in the Sticks - The Darwin Link: where keg doesn't sell

I imagine people are bored of me writing about Stalybridge Buffet Bar now. I imagine the staff there are very bored of me. But it’s my regular haunt. I’m not a city dweller because of it, like many of my blogging compatriots, and because of that I see a very different side to the modern beer scene. 

For those that don’t know, Stalybridge is a town approximately 10 miles from Manchester City Centre and the Buffet Bar is the long standing pub on the train station. 

Stalybridge Buffet Bar is well known for its cask beer. After a bit of a decline (beer-wise) a few years ago, it has found improvement by joining the Beerhouses company around 2012. It is the ideal, what some might call, “CAMRA” pub in many ways. It permanently has 8 cask ale pumps and 2 real cider pumps.  One cask ale pump is always devoted to a stout, one to a mild and one to Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. One is also devoted to local unsung hero brewery Millstone – a favourite of mine since I first started drinking. Four pumps are dedicated to rotation and the manager regularly tries to get in such modern favourites as Thornbridge, Magic Rock, Mallinson’s, Ticketybrew (which is just a few hundred yards away,) Red Willow, Rooster’s and Buxton, among many, many others. The arrival of Siren on cask this week was a huge thing for me. 

At present, though, Stalybridge Buffet Bar has ONE dedicated rotating keg line. The entire keg selection tends to stay away from the usual suspect beers, with Budvar and Joseph Holt’s Crystal being their two available keg lagers, Aspall’s Suffolk the fizzy cider and Outstanding Stout being the Guinness of the roster. A permanent place for Fruli sits next to the only devoted rotating keg line, even though the manager tells me frequently she would like more. I’m positive and all for it, but realistically could the Buffet Bar use another? The answer is in the daily customer reactions I hear in this pub, that we are all familiar with but don’t hear so much in “Craft” bars. 

“I’ll have a pint of that.” “It’s £5.50 a pint, just so you know.” “Pfftt, fuck that then.” 

“7.4%? Loopy Juice, that. One to end the night on.” 

“What is it? A lager?” 

“I’ll just have half a Cannonball.” “Half? Fuck that. I’ll get you a pint, you fanny.” 

It was best summed up by a conversation I had with a regular last year, whilst we both supped Marble Brewery’s Pint. On the keg pump at the time was Earl Grey IPA (by Marble). “I’ve told the manager,” the guy said, “I’ve told her that that’s a delicious beer, but I won’t drink it from keg. Cask – it’s wonderful. Keg – it’s fizzy.” Have you actually tried it on keg, I obviously ask. “No. I won’t.” he predictably replies. 

We’ve all heard it. We’ve all probably had this conversation. It’s a one in a hundred examples I could come up with from personal experience. I’m not debating whether the attitude of can’t try won’t try is childish. You like what you like and I’ll do the same. It's just this attitude is much more prevalent outside the city centre now in places where keg beer is less familiar to some. 

This entire post derives from the emergence of two sought after beers at the buffet bar over the last few weeks. 

First, we had the highly praised Magic Rock Cannonball on keg. This is a frequent sight in many of my favourite city centre bars but here at the Buffet Bar this is a rare treat. I was there almost every day it was on enjoying its freshness and near perfection. It was on, as they say, terrific form. I was lapping it up. 

Yet it stayed. I imagined this keg in a more – for want of a better phrase – “craft beer” bar and pictured it selling in less than two days. Especially on this form. But nearly a fortnight later I was still drinking the Cannonball – to my fortune yet dismay. It was a similar story with a formidably brilliant tasting Axe Edge late last year. 

Then came Jaipur X.

We’re immune to big beers. Thornbridge are releasing a special big version of Jaipur for the beer’s 10 year anniversary and it isn’t a surprise to any beer geek that it’s something huge. It isn’t a surprise to us that it’s 10%. And we’re desperate to try it all the same. But the facebook reaction to it on Stalybridge Buffet Bar’s page was one of disbelief. “10%???” was a fairly regular reaction, as if a beer THAT big couldn’t possibly exist – and never has. 

It came on keg and in bottles and sold at a better rate than the Cannonball – as could be expected. But the reaction to those I spoke to wasn’t one of critique or review; it was of the face-pulling and noise making akin to drinking your first Tennant’s Super. They were drinking it for status rather than celebration of a British brewing icon.

It should make me sad, as I see a friend of mine who doesn’t even like drinking regular Jaipur quaffing Jaipur X because they know it’s “special.” But it doesn’t. It doesn’t because this is a different environment. It’s one where Timothy Taylor’s Landlord is still the best selling cask. It’s one where the hand pumps are always perused by beer lovers and the kegs never seen. Yet we still get tremendous breweries. And the beers are still kept terrifically. This is the Darwin link between the two worlds. This is why I am happy for it to be my pub. I am happy to be here in the suburbs with a half of Cannonball or a pint of Millstone. 

Keg Vs Cask? Bleurgh. Tired, boring debate. If people are still happy with a Landlord then I’m happy to drink ALL THE CANNONBALL. Of course I’d like to see more keg lines here, but if it won’t sell then I’ll have to traipse to one of those fancy Craft beer bars in the city centre for that sort of beer. Out here in the sticks, that city centre fad hasn’t reached us yet. It doesn’t bother me that it hasn’t. The cask here is still excellent.  

On a side note, I coincidentally came across this quote from Brewdog’s James Watt today (made in 2011.) 

It made me smile, thinking of the Buffet Bar's location on a train station and how it's a fantastic pub doing great cask beer. For the first time ever, as a bit of a Brewdog apologiser in the past, I found myself hating their ethos. Often, after work, I love nothing more than a PINT of around 4% CASK in my TRAIN STATION located PUB. And, I don't know if you've met me James, but I am pretty fucking cool. 


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