Picture your ideal bar. Take a few steps up to the counter and think about the pump clips and keg fonts. What would you like to see on offer? Who are the other customers? Is the beer choice influenced by the preferences of others?
For me, the final question is the most interesting. When I walk into a pub and see frosted over macro lager fonts, does it reflect badly on me if I turn heel and leave immediately? What if there’s something from a local, independent brewery on cask? Or an import from the USA on keg next to the Carling?
When discussing certain pubs in the past, it seems the presence of anything remotely mainstream is a red flag for some. Even a non ‘craft’ lager on the bar raises suspicions as to the dedication of the owners to all things noble and true in the world of beer.
Conversely, I have also witnessed punters walk into bars where there is every variant of Beer available under the sun and grimace when offered what some of us might see as a ‘gateway’ beer, as it’s not something they’ve encountered before. Friends of mine steadfastly refuse to enter some of my favourite places as they don’t want ‘pretentious’ drinks.
Too often, both attitudes are reinforced by a perceived sense of them vs us, pretentious vs normal, craft vs traditional. Neither party is willing to concede that the next is happier with their choice. Craft drinkers don’t want to be associated with the bland brands, ‘regular’ drinkers (for wont of a better term) don’t want to be forced to make an unfamiliar choice. A few broad strokes there but ones I see and recognise in myself and others.
What I would like to see is some change, mostly more of the beer I like in places I don’t often visit, which is quite a selfish and possibly condescending thing to say, but I’m not advocating pouring the Kronenbourg down the pisser, just increasing the balance in what is a changing market. It’s not unhealthy to have bars that only cater to macro or craft drinkers, but I don’t see why there can’t be a middle ground. Certainly Whitelocks, one of the oldest pubs in the country, is giving it a go, and successfully it seems.
My ideal bar doesn’t pit drinkers into separate camps, embraces the traditional alongside the modern, stocks familiar brands alongside micro brewed beer, and gives customers enough info without evangelising. Because ultimately we’re all just there for a drink, aren’t we?