Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - March 1996

* Designer Rip-Off *

CAMRA has often, and rightly, been heard to complain about the ever-increasing price of beer in the pub. We shouldn't let this blind our eyes, though, to the fact that, despite price rises, real ale is still by far the best-value alcoholic drink on the bar. Draught lager, for example, is normally at least 20p a pint more than ale of the same strength, and Guinness, which is no stronger than many ordinary bitters, is notoriously pricey. But the most extortionate prices in the pub must be those charged for all the half-pint bottles of trendy designer lagers which fill the fridges behind the bar. You're lucky to get much, if any, change from two quid for a half-pint, twice the price of the draught equivalents, which aren't cheap to start with.

It's not as if most of them are any good, either. Some are inferior British-brewed versions of beers which might be halfway decent on their home territory, like Stella Artois or Heineken Export. Others are inferior British-brewed versions of beers which are worthless anyway, like Budweiser, while some such as Ice Beer are modern designer inventions in which the concepts of quality and authenticity have no meaning. The people who drink this stuff really must have more money than sense. Does anyone honestly believe that it impresses others to be seen drinking overpriced rubbish?

Often, the only drinkable thing in the fridge is Beck's Bier - not, maybe, the best German beer, but nevertheless a very decent product, brewed according to the German "Reinheitsgebot" pure beer law, and every bottle imported rather than licence-brewed in Britain. It's no cheaper than all the rest, but if the only alternative is badly-kept Websters or Worthington, I can occasionally be tempted to splash out.

* Serious and Silly Brewers *

Following my piece on beer exhibition pubs a few months ago, some people have asked where the micro-breweries would be without them.

Well, there might be rather fewer brewing four different beers with silly flavours every month, which would probably be no bad thing. But I don't believe that serious breweries can be happy to depend for their survival on selling inconsistently-kept beer hundreds of miles from home, where the punters don't get the chance of a repeat purchase.

Those micros which enjoy more than fleeting success build up a core of regular, loyal trade in their home regions. No decent micro has anything to fear from a few less handpumps - in fact they should encourage it as offering a better showcase for their products.

* Three-Minute Pop *

I'm informed by a beermat that Caffrey's takes an average of three minutes to settle. "What else this good only takes three minutes?" it asks. Well, for a start, how about any classic Motown song from the sixties?

Or indeed, moving from the sublime to the ridiculous, more or less anything else that isn't actively unpleasant and doesn't involve Caffrey's. Compiling a full list could easily take up a long and absorbing evening in the pub, over a few pints of proper beer like Holts, Hydes or Robinsons.

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