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On the recent CAMRA pub crawl of Didsbury which I mentioned here, it was noticeable that there was a certain saminess to the beer range in all of the pub company pubs, and even to some extent in the Greene King tied house. While there might have been one or two other beers, the core of the range in all seemed to be a choice of four or five from a list of familiar favourities such as Taylor’s Landlord, Thwaites Wainwright, Fuller’s London Pride, Everard’s Tiger, Sharp’s Doom Bar, Wells Bombardier, Jennings Cumberland Ale, Black Sheep Best Bitter, Adnams Southwold Bitter, Morland Old Speckled Hen and Wadworth’s 6X.
Most of these beers are well worth drinking when in good condition, although I can rarely find much character in Doom Bar, but it’s got to the point where there’s little to distinguish one pub from another, and there’s no sense of local distinctiveness whatsoever. Didsbury was never a stronghold of the Greater Manchester independent family brewers, but twenty-five years ago, while there was undoubtedly less choice overall, there would have been a clear contrast between the beer offerings in the various pubs.
Would it not be an idea for some of these pubs to seek to develop a unique selling proposition on the beer front that would set them apart from their competitors and give people a specific reason to visit them beyond “this pub sells a range of beers”? For example, they could offer a core range of beers from one of the well-regarded local micro breweries such as Marble or Phoenix – a whole category that was conspicuous by its absence. And I can’t help feeling that the way to get the best out of any real ale is to stock it regularly so you learn how it matures in the cask and when to tap and serve it.
Ironically, on this particular occasion, by some way both the most interesting beer range and the best-kept beer were in the Wetherspoon’s pub, the Gateway.