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22-04-2016, 16:16
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A recent beer list at the
Magnet freehouse, Stockport

In recent years I’ve heard a few reports of people going into pubs, scanning the row of pumps on the bar, and then asking “have you got anything that isn’t pale’n’hoppy?” I recently found myself on the point of asking that at the local CAMRA branch meeting in the Magnet in Stockport. I’m not for a minute knocking the pub – it’s a beer-focused pub that does extremely well by giving its customers what they want. And that is, overwhelmingly, new and unfamiliar beers at the pale and hoppy end of the spectrum.
So I’m confronted with a long list of cask beers, most of which are marked as “pale”, and virtually none of which I’ve drunk before. So I have a Fernandes Session IPA, which I suppose does what it says on the pumpclip, but turns out to be so enamel-strippingly bitter that it’s hard work to finish. Someone recommends another beer which turns out to be more mellow but not at all memorable.
Then I look again at the beer list and choose about the only beer shown as “medium” – Kennet and Avon Dundas (http://www.kennetandavonbrewery.co.uk/our-beer/dundas/) – which turns out to be a pleasant enough traditional best bitter, although not that different from many others. And I’m left wondering why an evening out in the pub has to be a game of Russian roulette, why there are so many beers but so little stylistic choice, and why there’s nothing available that I’ve ever had before.
The picture of the beer list, taken I think a few days later illustrates the point – of 13 cask beers, 11 come into the “pale” category. As I said, this is absolutely not a criticism of the pub – it’s a very well-run, successful establishment that offers a wide range of well-kept beers at reasonable prices, with plenty under £3 a pint. It’s more a lament for the state of our beer culture.
I’m certainly not averse to pale and hoppy beers as such, and a Marble Manchester Bitter or Kelham Island Pale Rider would have leapt off the bar in my direction. And I’m quite happy to try new beers in moderation. But I might have felt happier if I’d also encountered a Caledonian Edinburgh Castle, Hop Back Summer Lightning or Brains SA. So I ended up with a pint of Paulaner Hefeweizen and a very nice half of some craft keg that I don’t remember the name of (although John Clarke might remind me). It may have been the Thornbridge Halcyon with Belgian yeast shown on the board.
“Why didn’t you ask for a taster?” someone will inevitably ask. Well, as a rule I’m happy to take pot luck. If I don’t like it, I’ve lost nothing more than the price of a pint. And anyone asking for tasters when they’re three deep at the bar is, to be honest, a bit of a knob.
So, from a personal point of view, it would be nice to be offered a wider choice of beer styles by beer-focused pubs, and also sometimes to see beers that I’m actually likely to have drunk before. If I have to choose from unfamiliar beers, then an indication of colour is always helpful, and rather than being a 3-point scale it should be a five-point one of Straw – Gold – Copper – Chestnut – Ebony. It would also be useful to provide a similar bitter-sweet scale.

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