One practice that is becoming increasingly more prevalent is that of pubs offering what is known as a “house beer”. This is a beer that is branded as being exclusive to the pub in question, and may be named after the pub itself, the landlord or a feature of local interest.
Unfortunately the term “house beer” covers a multitude of sins, ranging from a beer brewed to a certain recipe and then made available to any pub interested in taking it, through to a beer that is genuinely brewed specifically for a particular pub. However, when one examines the matter logically, it becomes self evident that it would need a combination of a very small micro and a pub with a very large turnover to make the brewing of a genuine “house beer” worthwhile. The smallest sized plant normally chosen by micro-brewers is five barrels (180 gallons), which amounts to an awful lot of beer for any pub to shift in one go! Admittedly the beer can be stored for a while, but it is likely to change in character during the storage period, which is why I am certain that very few so-called “house beers” are the genuine article.
I like to count myself as something of a beer connoisseur. To me there is nothing finer than a carefully crafted pint of beer, brewed to the highest standards from the highest quality ingredients. When I come across a beer I haven’t seen before, then I will invariably give it a try. Unfortunately I have learnt from bitter experience that many so called “house beers” do not match up to the standards described above. This is especially true when a brewery chooses to mix two or three different beers, and then pass them off as a “house beer”. They are the result of blending rather than brewing, and whilst they may be good for the landlord’s ego, they do the cause of the small independent brewer no good at all.
Even worse than pubs selling brewery mixes, are pubs that sell a brewer’s bog-standard beer under their own name. I have come across several examples of this form of deception, and to my mind it stinks. Several years ago I was nearly thrown out of a local free house for asking too many questions about the beer they were calling “Our Own”. “Where does it come from?” I enquired. “Is it a local brew, or do you bring it in from elsewhere?”
All these questions were met with a stony silence, so I then asked mine host if he brewed the beer “out the back” - knowing full well that he didn’t. I was told, in no uncertain terms that the beer was “Our Own” and if I couldn’t accept that then I should take my custom elsewhere. As I was with company, I ignored this suggestion and settled for a pint of Fullers London Pride instead - I like to know what I am drinking. I later discovered that the landlord had been prosecuted for passing off Fremlins Bitter as his own brew.
My message to landlords, and also to micro-brewers, is a simple one. I appreciate that times are hard and that you need to drum up sales and increase trade. However, please don’t do it in such a way that deceives the drinking public, and which in the end does your reputation no good at all. By all means offer a genuine “house beer”, but please don’t try and insult our intelligence, or our taste buds with half-measures or out and out fakes.