Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - February 2003

* Divided We Fall *

Ironically, real ale could benefit from encouraging drinkers to choose Budweiser

There’s a strapping young chap in my office who you can’t really picture drinking real ale, but you can easily imagine getting through a few Stellas or Buds on a Friday night out with his mates. But he says he doesn’t like the taste of beer, and prefers Bacardi Breezers, WKD and Smirnoff Ice. This underlines the problem facing the brewing industry as a whole, that their traditional product, which even in its blandest forms is something of an acquired taste, is losing ground to sickly manufactured rubbish.

To combat this, various interested parties, including CAMRA, are considering launching a generic publicity campaign to promote beer. No doubt some diehards who have spent thirty years fighting the keg menace will throw their hands up in horror at this prospect. But, with wine and spirits, the other traditional forms of alcoholic drinks, producers and consumers of high-quality products have no problem coexisting with the bland mass market, and take the view that an overall healthy level of sales is likely to encourage trading up. So why shouldn’t the same happen with beer?

On the other side of the coin, the major brewers will have to accept that, to distinguish it from pre-packaged spirits, they can’t present beer as just another bland alcoholic liquid supported by a large marketing budget. To enhance its appeal they need to put the emphasis on quality and authenticity, something that rules out pretending that a beer produced in Manchester is going to taste anything like one from Munich, even if it has the same label on it.

* Seen but not Heard *

The pursuit of an illusory family market will deter adult pubgoers

On three separate occasions recently, my drinking pleasure in pubs has been spoilt by noisy, badly behaved children. These were not “family pubs”, either, but proper traditional locals, where I would have expected better. In two of the three there was even a designated family room which I had made a point of avoiding when choosing where to sit. When you talk to people about their experience of visiting pubs, annoying kids is one of the most common complaints.

Of course the days when children were expected to stay outside in the car with a bottle of pop and a packet of crisps are long gone, and plenty of establishments in town and country now do good business in catering for the family market. But an adult’s legal drinking career lasts sixty years, and, even if they are parents, they will only have children under eighteen for at most twenty or twenty-five years of that time. Most drinkers want to avoid kids when they go to the pub, and it must make commercial sense for licensees to recognise that.

The idea that all areas of all pubs must be family-friendly is a dangerous illusion. Except when they're on holiday, how many families are going to want to take their children to the pub more than once a week? And if they did, would it be good for the children anyway? What pubs need is regular adult customers, and if licensees are too indulgent towards children, many potential pubgoers are likely to reach the conclusion they'll have a quieter and more pleasant time staying at home.

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