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Returning Cask Vinegar: How far we need to reach - the Darwin Link pt III

Rememeber that Natwest advert (if you don't then that's the link) that recalls how your local bank has now turned into a trendy wine bar. Feel free to make a new advert where your local bank, fishmongers, newsagents, PUB is now a "trendy craft beer bar" and we are in modern city centres. Don't forget the overpriced pulled pork and burgers that, if we're honest, aren't actually as good as a McDonald's Big Tasty.

This has developed into an accidental but interesting series on experiences away from the city centre modern scene and with time spent in traditional local pubs. First I spoke about the keg appeal outside of the city centre before speaking about a reunion with my uncle and our different ideals

At least one of those posts talked about the experiences that the "kid" beer reviewers, who only discovered beer's existence two years ago, just don't seem to get. They are the sort that might think good beer is everywhere because a Guardian blog told them where to go, but don't seem to have spent an evening drinking 12 pints of Thwaite's Lancaster Bomber in a struggling local for fun. 

I think of them on an evening where I am an subject to a rare occurrence these days. I am in a local pub, one of the few that I always drink the same cask beer in, and where they know my order as soon as I walk through the door. On this day I am presented with a beer that is unquestionably "off." I say unquestionably with humour because as soon as I realise this beer is off I know that returning this beer is going to be an utter pain in the arse that involves many questions, most rhetorical. 

I don't go in this pub much anymore, but I used to drink there so frequently that they know that this permanent cask ale of there's is all I have. They know me, they know what beer I drink and they know that in all the many times I've put money behind that bar that I have never once complained or returned a beer because there has never been a need to. But neither the landlord or landlady here drink cask ale and, as many others who have had to return that first pint will know, sometimes familiarity in these situations counts for nothing. 

I gently call the landlady who served me the beer over and explain the situation. I immediately know what to expect. I'm so well versed in the reaction I just let her speak before repeating the same words, "You know I drink this all the time so you know that I know something isn't right." Her words were the typical, "Everybody else has been fine with it," "somebody earlier told me it was the best pint they'd ever had," "I can check if somebody has knocked the barrel," "maybe it's a new barrel," "maybe it's an old barrel," "I can't smell anything wrong with it but I don't drink the stuff," "Paul, Paul, Paul? Is your pint okay?" "well, if you say there's a problem..." Despite the beer smelling and tasting like vinegar and despite knowing that I would definitely have my beer replaced, the pub wasn't going to let me take my replacement without first letting the whole pub know that I'm a nitpicking wanker. It says a lot about my frequent state of disillusionment with modern beer trends that, rather than feeling the shame or anger I once would have, my initial thoughts on the situation made me smile in a throwback to my early days of beer drinking, when it wasn't endanger of becoming a fad. 

Yet, even with that beautiful and grotesque nostalgia, I suddenly yearned for a bar person with a love of great beer to apologise profusely, as I imagine they would in those new city centre beer houses, and offer me something else without hesitation. This old school reaction may be endearing to an extent but now I expect better. Beer still has a long way to go to affect us so far from the city centre. 

It is testament to the quality served in most "craft" beer houses that I've never had to return a cask beer in one. Sure, the odd pint has tasted "too soon" and I've let them know but I've never had that vinegar taste. That said, that shouldn't happen in a place that advertises on it's quality of beer.

It's just my eternal struggle between the love of the local small-town local PUB and desire for the latest, tastiest city-centre-only-but-probably-just-London based good BEER. Quality local beer of that standard seems to be focused in the city. Outside, we're still facing the hunt for non-vinegar of uninteresting levels wherever we can get it. When does the "revolution" pass the city walls? 

It is another stark reminder in a time when good beer seems too accessible that there is still a long way to go and a lot of places to reach. I said in that first Darwin Link post how "It doesn't bother me" that the craft fad hasn't reached us, but Beer shouldn't just be for the city centres, nor should it ever be a bandwagon. It shouldn't ALWAYS involve a £12 train fare, a 45 minute commute or a £6 pint. Out here in the sticks we are harshly reminded how much work remains. And if we don't want it to go this far, if we are happy for it to remain tied to those city centres, then we are no better than the "trendy wine bars" from ten years ago.

(I should note the picture is not from the offending pub, shuld somebody recognise it)


KevHead said…
Good post, made me smile. Been there many times myself and, to be honest, it kind of depends on how badly it's turned as to whether or not I take the beer back... I like to think I'm a kind of forgiving guy, but maybe I just have low standards.

Think you probably hit the nail on the head with the whole 'the pub wasn't going to let me take my replacement without first letting the whole pub know that I'm a nitpicking wanker' thing. Not that I'm saying you're a nitpicking wanker, of course :-)

TonyTaff said…
You could ask all the other customers if they are drinking the same as you, and is it as bad as yours.

This gets the landlord's attention remarkably quickly!
Curmudgeon said…
I can't say I've had that kind of experience recently, and I'd say in general pubs are much more willing to change duff pints than they used to be. "It's real ale, it's meant to be cloudy" is another old favourite, and I once heard "But you've drunk some of it!" Wetherspoons never seem to quibble about changing beer - possibly as a matter of policy to retain goodwill.

Obviously in specialist beer pubs the people running them are more likely to care, and also a much higher proportion of their customers will be cask/craft keg drinkers than usual, so they won't suffer from slow turnover. The worst pubs for off beer tend to be more mainstream ones that think it's a good idea to put on more beers than they can sell.

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