Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Plea To Pubs

Imagine the scene.

The wife has plans, you have finished everything you wanted to achieve with your day already and thus have a couple of hours spare. What could be nicer than spending said couple of hours in the pub? More specifically the pub where you spend a large amount of your drinking time. Pulling up at the bar, because that's where you sit as a rule, you survey the beers being tapped that day. The list is overwhelmingly stuck in a single beer style. A style which has come to define the beer culture in the country where you find yourself.

You sigh. There are times when you just want something different, something with flavours other than those in pretty much every other beer. You sigh again, after all this is a pub where you not only spend an inordinate amount of time, but also has a reputation for having a broader selection of beer than anywhere else in your town. The barman notices your inability to make a decision and offers you a sample, sure enough the culture defining beer placed in front of you tastes exactly as you expect. Those hops, that malt, it all feels so predictable.

As well as a larger than normal selection of taps, the pub has an impressive stock of bottled beers lining the walls, so you have a stroll and again nothing is really speaking to your tastebuds. You return to your seat at the bar, the food you ordered has arrived - the food is never a problem, simple, tasty and good. It is times like these that you have a fall back option, a beer which isn't sexy, isn't trendy and isn't laden with craft beer kudos, but you know what you are getting.

Now, you would be forgiven for thinking that I am describing my drinking life back in Prague, and sure there were many a day when I would go to PK or similar and 5 of the 6 taps would be pale lager, with a weizen on the other. However, that scenario has played out in many a pub here in the States since I moved over, just with pale lager replaced by pale hoppy ale, whether of the India persuasion or otherwise. Usually, when this scenario happens, the beer I end up supping happily is Guinness - occasionally fuelled with a drop of barleywine chucked in the top.

When I first wrote this post, and showed it to Mrs V she commented that it was kind of depressing. I don't want to come across as a malcontent, but there are times when I go to a pub, whether here in Charlottesville, in Columbia or wherever we happen to be and the "choice" is really a case of pick a pale ale, any pale ale. Often the non pale ale choices are high octane barleywines or imperial stouts, which don't make for good drinking by the pint, a proper pint, when you have to pick the wife up at some point.

I guess then I am making a plea to pubs that have loads of taps, let's see a little less of the hoppy pale ale world and a bit more of the dark lagers, weizens, milds and Scottish ales of this world. Heck, how about ditching the Guinness altogether and getting Wrasslers XXXX on tap, or O'Hara's, or one of the excellent American made stouts, Sierra Nevada for example, or Starr Hill's Dark Starr?


  1. I hear you. Indeed an unfortunate side effect of the open market. Craft beer drinkers in the States all want the same characteristics in their beer: big, clear, hop-forward, and pale. Oxford is like that as well just on the other end of the scale. While the tastes vary more than the usual US variety, you get a 4%, cask conditioned, British two-row and British Crystal, Fuggle dry-hopped ale served just shy of room temperature. Fortunately, all I have to do is cross the Channel for variety. I would still kill for a Pliny the Younger though.

  2. You just described my typical trip to my local! not really hard to see coming from Leeds/England but it's not seen to us to be a depressing thing, no, just another form of relaxing and being sociable. If we want something different we can always find ways of getting it :)

  3. It's not predictability you have a problem with. After all you say you have a problem with predictable beers and then you order the most predictable of them all. What you're really after is simply beer that you like. In a world like you describe in your last paragraph it'd be just as valid to ask why the heck can't this place have a hoppy beer or two?

  4. Dan,

    In my last paragraph I don't banish hoppy pale ales, I just have fewer.

  5. Velky- If you ever get to Richmond again; I highly advise a visit to Commercial Taphouse in the Fan. I think this would be a pub that you would not have a the above mentioned problem. However, I have noticed a similar trend in American "craft centric" pubs. Naz dravi!-Geaux T

  6. Hear hear! Especially at the end of a night, I would love to be able to order a well made lager or something less fatiguing than an IPA. I'm not a huge fan of the funkier Belgian beers, but I think any respectable bad should also have some offerings from the continent on tap. Saison Dupont from the keg is divine and well worth its usually high price tag.

  7. I think Al is yearning for the Irish craft beer pubs. Plenty of hoppy pale ales if you want them (and I often do) but there are just as many, if not more, stouts, red ales/bitters, wheat beers and golden ales waiting to be had. Not to mention no shortage of Lagers. Wherever there is craft beer you are likely to find a Budvar tap and usually bottles too.

    Our problem these days is we don't have enough proper craft beer pubs around the country yet. They are mostly concentrated in the larger cities of Dublin, Cork & Galway but things are changing and in each one a good balance of session beers versus strong beers and hoppy beers is struck making us very happy indeed.

    I think if I walked in to a pub with 10 taps, 8 of them being some form of hoppy pale ale I was at first light up in glee only to be followed by "Ah Jaysus.... "

    Come back Al.

  8. Is that the lovely Kocour IPA in the B&W image by any chance?

  9. It is indeed, it was Kocour Samurai IPA - a gorgeous, gorgeous hoppy pale ale that I drank copious amounts of.

  10. I'm lucky enough to have the Marble Beerhouse as my local. Lately, though, all I ever seem to see there is pale hoppy ale - their own & a wide and interesting selection of other people's, but almost all in the same couple of styles. These days I quite often go to the next pub down the road, where cask stouts and porters are served alongside milds, IPAs and old-style malty bitters (plus a few of the pale hoppy kind for those who like them).

    So there's your answer: you need a Wetherspoon's!


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