Although I've been served many indifferent pints over the years, the occasions where I've actually had to return a pint as undrinkable are, thankfully, few and far between. Unfortunately last weekend I had just one of those experiences; as did the friends I was with at the time.
The incident happened in a Shepherd Neame pub, in a nearby town. I was the only member of our group who had not drank there before; the others had, albeit quite a few years ago. I am not a great fan of Shep's these days, as to my mind they appear to have changed the recipe of their beers some time around the late 1980's. Prior to this Shep's Bitter had a wonderful, almost floral hoppiness that when served in tip-top condition was one of the finest beers around. Nowadays, that taste seems to have been replaced by a harsh bitterness, which I find particularly unpleasant, especially as the beer seems to be fermented right out to dryness, with very little residual malt sweetness remaining. I may be a fussy old so and so, but there are plenty of other drinkers who share my views on Sheps.
This aside, having previously visited two other nearby pubs and enjoyed beers of the highest quality, I went with the flow and decided to give this attractive looking Sheps pub a try. On entering we were surprised to see four cask Shepherd Neame ales on sale.
My friends and I all plumped for the seasonal offering, which I believe was called "Dragon's Fire" (I'm not 100% certain of this, and the beer is not listed on the company's website). We retired to a comfortable corner of the pub and sat down to enjoy our beer, only to find to a man (plus a woman) that it was pure malt vinegar. Undeterred, we returned to the bar and pointed out this unfortunate fact to the lady behind the bar. She may have been the landlady, or she may just have been a barmaid, but when she ventured the old chestnut that she had been serving that beer all day, without complaint, then the alarm bells started ringing.
She asked if we wanted a different beer. My friend and his wife opted for Bishop's Finger. Myself, plus our other companion decided to play safe and go for the Master Brew. Surely the pub must sell enough of Shep's bog-standard bitter to avoid it sitting around and turning sour we surmised. Wrong! It too tasted like the stuff you put on your chips, as did the Bishop's Finger. My friend's wife had already asked for her half of Bishop's Finger to be changed, as it was the first glass pulled from the pumps, so when her replacement beer came back tasting equally vile it was the final straw. The barmaid/landlady was viewing us now with outright hostility, as were some of the lager-swilling locals.
We should have course demanded our money back, but up until that point had had an excellent day out and really did not want to spoil it with a slanging match. We decided to cut our losses, plonked our glasses down on the table, and without saying a word turned round and walked out.
Hopefully this action was not lost on the bar-person, but as she was "quids in" on the transaction I don't suppose she really cared.
I ought to name and shame the pub concerned, but a letter to the brewery might be a better idea. I can accept that a pub with a slow turn-over of cask beer might have trouble keeping it in good nick; if so why have four on sale? The only beer we didn't try was the Spitfire, but if three out of four were bad I wouldn't want to take the risk.
To restore our faith in Sheps, we enjoyed a couple of well-kept pints of Master Brew in the Nelson Arms, when we returned to Tonbridge. This back-street pub, where again many of the locals were drinking lager, sensibly had just the one cask beer on sale - I rest my case.