Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - May 2005

* Another One Bites the Dust *

The loss of Jennings is bad news for choice and diversity in the beer market

AS I WRITE, it has just been announced that Jennings of Cockermouth have agreed to be taken over by Wolverhampton and Dudley, and we are about to lose yet another of the dwindling number of independent family brewers. Of course W&D have given assurances that they have no plans to close the brewery, and they aim to develop the brands and the pub estate, but we have heard all these promises before, and they are not worth the paper they are written on. I would be amazed if the brewery is still operating in five years’ time, and by then Wolves will probably have sold off most of the smaller local pubs and rationalised the brand portfolio to a handful of best sellers.

Some may say “they ought to pass a law against it!” But you cannot compel the owners of private businesses to continue operating them if they want to sell up, and in this case, as Wolves have little presence in the area, there are no real competition concerns.

Others may argue that it is all part of the inevitable churning of the brewing industry, and there are plenty of micro-brewers entering the market producing excellent, distinctive beers. However, most micros operate on a tiny scale, and few have succeeded in getting their beers into mainstream pubs as regular offerings, while their track record in building up tied estates has been very poor – remember Trough and Smiles, and even today Porter’s and Beartown are retrenching. Twenty micros don’t have the impact on the general pubgoer of one sizeable independent like Jennings.

The only realistic way to promote the long-term survival of companies such as Jennings is to encourage people to drink their beers, which hopefully will persuade the owners that their business has a long-term future. And, while companies like Jennings may have their faults, those people who are constantly whingeing that their beers (or Robinsons’s, or Young’s, or whoever’s) are bland and disappointing, can really have no cause for complaint at their demise, and indeed could be held partly to blame.

* Pale and Uninteresting *

The current wave of “blonde” real ales is distinctly underwhelming

FULLERS have recently launched a new cask beer called “Discovery” as a permanent addition to their range. This follows what seems to be the current fashion for pale, “blonde” beers intended to win over women and lager drinkers.

Now these beers are not the assertively hoppy strong pale ales such as Summer Lightning and Pale Rider that have won so many fans. If they are hoppy at all, it is in a gentle, floral style, and any malt character is subdued too. Although some can be pleasant enough, particularly on a warm day, by and large they are a most insipid bunch of beers. They also seem less capable than other brews of standing up to indifferent cellarmanship, and more than once I’ve ordered one as a guest beer, not quite sure of what it was like, and ended up with a pint of pale, tasteless, tepid liquid that I really didn’t fancy finishing.

Perhaps it is high time for a revival of the traditional robust English bitter with generous helpings of both malt and hops and a rich, inviting copper hue.

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