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03-12-2013, 12:51
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Sam Smith’s are probably unique in the entire history of British brewing in the extent to which everything sold in their pubs, even down to the crisps and peanuts, carries their own branding. In the past, when tied houses were the norm, there was much more branding than at present, but even then most pubs would have some bought-in products. Now, when the idea of selling an own-brand lager or keg stout is highly unusual, they really stand out from the herd.
They have recently produced an elaborate four-page laminated “Drinks Menu” to display in their pubs, and I have managed to obtain a copy. I don’t have a working scanner, but these two photos – Page 1 (http://www.pubcurmudgeon.org.uk/images/beer_menu1.jpg) and Pages 2 and 3 (http://www.pubcurmudgeon.org.uk/images/beer_menu2.jpg) – are readable enough. The fourth page deals with wines, liqueurs and spirits.
In total it lists twelve different draught products (only one of which is cask) and fifteen bottled. I have to say I wasn’t even aware they brewed a 3.7% ABV keg Best Bitter until I saw this document, and the 4% Double Four Lager is a relatively new addition, presumably to bridge the gap between the 2.8% Alpine and the 4.5% Taddy. They must be the only brewery producing three different keg beers at 2.8% to take advantage of the lower strength duty relief.
While steering well clear of the C-word, great emphasis is put on authenticity and tradition, stressing that all of the beers are “brewed solely from authentic natural ingredients without any chemical additives, raw material adjuncts, artificial sweeteners, colourings, flavourings or preservatives”. No “chemical fizz” here, then. Most are fermented in Yorkshire squares and most are suitable for vegans.
Sam’s are often criticised for only producing the one cask beer – Old Brewery Bitter. I remember them also offering two more – Tadcaster Bitter, which suffered from the perennial difficult of selling a weaker bitter alongside a standard one, and Museum Ale, which some liked but most drinkers found hard work. In the past they have also sold cask 4X Best Ale (i.e. light mild) and Old Samson strong ale, but I don’t recall either of them.
They might improve their image if they produced a second cask beer, and many of their pubs certainly have the throughput to sustain it, but it’s difficult to see what would prove a strong seller with their predominantly traditionalist clientele. I’d like to see the return of Tadcaster Bitter, but I fear it would suffer the same fate as before. Maybe the best option would be a premium bitter of around 4.5% ABV that was a little paler and hoppier than OBB and would fill an obvious gap in their range.

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