Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - May 2004

* Sold Down the Forth? *

Will Caledonian go the same way as Ruddles?

IF THERE was one beer that defined the real ale revival of the 1970s, it was Ruddles County. This powerful, rich, malty brew was a stark contrast to the insipid kegs of the day, and it became a cult beer that people would travel well out of their way to drink. But, almost inevitably, this success went to the heads of the owners of the brewery. First they entered into a national distribution deal with Grand Metropolitan, who were desperate to restore some credibility to their pubs after the Watneys brand had become a laughing stock. After this, it wasn’t too long before GrandMet bought the company, and the quality of the beers went into a spiral of decline. Eventually the brewery was sold off and closed, and Ruddles County is now a much weaker shadow of its former self produced many miles from its original home by Greene King.

One of the greatest real ale success stories of the last ten years was Edinburgh’s Caledonian Brewery. Their flagship brand, Deuchars IPA, because almost a national beer in Scotland, and its distinctive, fresh character and citric hoppiness attracted many new, younger drinkers to real ale. But now, in a complex deal, Scottish & Newcastle have decided to close their giant Fountain Brewery in Edinburgh, and to buy Caledonian’s physical plant. The existing Caledonian management will continue to own and run the brewing business, but S&N will market their products within the UK. While on the face of it this may seem to provide new distribution opportunities for Caledonian’s portfolio of excellent beers, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that, once the dead hand of the big brewers has touched it, in ten years’ time Deuchars will have gone the way of County.

* Turn It Off! *

Mobile phones have become a major distraction from the enjoyment of a quiet pint

LIKE MANY people, for a long time I was sceptical about mobile phones, but, again, like most of us, I grudgingly succumbed to their lure in the end. It comes in handy ordering cabs home from the pub, and I suppose it might be useful in an emergency, but apart from that I still think it’s a gross invasion of privacy. How can you escape down the pub if people are still able to track you down when you’re there?

But even if you do manage to take refuge for what you hope will be a quiet pint, it’s still impossible to get away from the damn things. Every few minutes you’re interrupted by the teeth-grating trill of the latest ringtone, followed by which people proceed to hold half-witted conversations at the tops of their voices which seem to consist of nothing more than “I’m in the pub”, “Yeah” and “I know”. Worst of all is when they decide to change all the settings on their phones accompanied by a maddening ten-minute symphony of beeps and warbles.

I’ve heard of some pubs with a scheme whereby anyone allowing a phone to ring in the pub has to pay a forfeit, although I’ve never come across this personally. But surely even better would be a withering stare from the dictatorial landlord of old, with an unmistakeable one-word instruction of “Outside!”

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