Is Family Friendly "Craft" any different from, say, Wetherspoons?
This is not an angry rant, nor an aggressive opinion piece. It is merely a recent ponder that came to the forefront during an inaugural visit to Hawkshead Brewery Beer Hall over the weekend.
Let us make it clear, I really enjoyed Hawkshead Beer Hall. In the lovely Cumbrian village of Staveley, it's set across two floors with (what would be) ample seating, a long bar, huge windows and a terrific number of Hawkshead Brewery pumps. Large sections of the brewery itself are visible and free to walk around via viewing platforms. Even free brewery tours are announced every now and then across the Hall to anybody who'd like one. We stayed for hours and I consider it a beer-must-visit, especially for those in North-West England.
It should also be noted that our visit was on Easter Saturday, which could well be a huge factor in the context of this post. There will have been more families out and about, especially those who had the Bank Holiday weekend away in the Lake District.
Whilst my following takings didn't dampen our day (though it was raining heavily,) they did collaborate thoughts I've had for a number of months.
On our arrival slightly after half past one, we found all of the numerous seats at the Beer Hall occupied. Not too unusual; the place is possibly this busy every Saturday. After buying our drinks though I noticed that the vast majority of seats were taken by people having food. Again, not too unusual, except these weren't just thirsty Beer drinkers who also found themselves hungry - these were families of four generations on reserved tables here specifically for the food. Okay... perhaps the food is excellent here... so still not too unusual... and it was still regular lunchtime...
But as our long afternoon passed, the trend continued. The first seats we found were on a long bench sat next to a family of four eating dinner. I wasn't comfortable. They looked uncomfortable. We were four guys out for the afternoon talking animatedly whilst drinking. Whilst we are not intentionally loud people, one of us has a laugh that would make a lion cower. I wouldn't want to be sat next to us whilst trying to enjoy food either.
We moved at the next chance and soon the long bench was occupied by a family of sixteen. Eight were children. Five of the adults were drinking soft drinks or wine. Out of a group of sixteen in the tap room of one of our best breweries, THREE people were drinking Hawkshead beer.
Family friendly, food, beer - in a brewery tap, Beer seemed to be the third most important thing to, what felt like, 90% of the patriots.
It's a theme I've noticed particularly popular with Brewery Taps; whether these be the permanent bar sort or monthly events. They are very family welcoming and family attracting. This is great and I do not begrudge or judge any parent at all. Some of my own friends do it. A flying visit, so as not to miss out, whilst seeing friends and not needing to struggle with a babysitter is fine.
When I was younger we had the Charlie Chalk Fun Factory pubs (now seemingly Dennis the Menace themed.) We had the huge estate pubs with various themes, big menus and playground areas outside. If ever our parents took us to the pub, it was to one of these family welcoming hell holes where the kids were more than happy and all the adults were in the same boat. Sure, it wouldn't have been their first choice for a drink, but they were parents. I don't feel guilty that those were the sort of places they had to take us.
Because, when sitting for hours in a beer-focused environment, inevitably people get merrier. The profanities start to slip into the conversation. The voices become louder. The singing starts unexpectedly. These are places where people are drinking.
So, my point is this, how are these Tap situations different from those who compare drinking in Wetherspoons to "being in a Nursery?" How is it different to the grumpy regulars who complained when their favourite local turned more restaurant and they were surrounded by families all of a sudden? How are these different to the people who judge "chavs who sit in beer gardens all day, prams in tow?" How does it differ from the sort of place that made Dave Spikey ask "Don't you think kids would look better with a fork sticking in their head?"
I've never come across any disruptive children at these events. I've never had to cast a disapproving glare at parents because my pint is at risk of being floored by a passing minor. My day wasn't overly affected at the Hawkshead Tap. I just felt like I wanted to be in an area away from food and families so we could enjoy the different focus' of our visit, without worrying I'll ruin a peaceful meal or accidentally blaspheme.
Perhaps in that sort of environment designated areas for dining would be appropriate. Perhaps the old pub system of lounges and tap rooms isn't such a bad idea all the time. Perhaps I've already become a cynical old soak before I reach thirty.
It would have just been nice to strike up a conversation about NZPA or such with somebody else who was there for the beer at Hawkshead. I know the next Tap event I go to will involve a familiar face sardonically saying to me "I don't want to upset you, but I've brought my child with me. Hope I don't ruin your day." It won't ruin my day. But if I see an older fella leave muttering under his breath 'It's like a bloody Crèche in here' I might be inclined to agree with him.