Back in 2008, I wrote a post titled, “House Beers.” It was one of the very first articles I posted on this blog but after viewing a thread, on the Beer Socials Whats App group I belong to, I felt inclined to re-post my 13-year-old piece, as the points raised seem just as relevant today, then they were back then.
News broke, that come pub re-opening, a well-known local free house will be offering not just one, but two “house beers.” This seemed to spark much excitement, but not from my direction, so before going any further, what exactly is a “house beer?”
The answer is it is a beer that is branded as being exclusive to the pub in question. It may be named after the pub itself, the landlord or a feature of local interest, but if the publicity and spin behind the beer is to be believed, the beers is produced exclusively for the pub. But is it?
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. So far so good, but if we discard the first “mass circulation” house beer type, and concentrate on the accepted use of the term, it becomes self-evident that it would need a combination of a very small micro-brewery 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 have learnt from years of experience that many so called “house beers” do not tick the “exclusivity box,” and neither do they meet the “carefully crafted pint of beer, brewed to the highest standards, from the highest quality ingredients,” criteria either.
This is especially true when a brewery chooses to mix two or three
different beers, and then pass them off as a “house beer”. This is blending
rather than brewing, and whilst these beers might 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. Over the years I have come across several examples of this form of deception, and whilst its prevalence is nowhere near as wide as it once was, I still think it is dishonest.
Many years ago, when I was much more of CAMRA zealot than I am today, I
annoyed the owner of a local free house, by asking too many questions about the
beer the pub was calling “Our Own”. “Where does the beer come from?” I inquired. “Is it a local brew, or do you bring it in from elsewhere?”
All these questions were met with a stony silence so, perhaps rather foolishly, I then asked mine host if he brewed the beer “out the back.” I knew full well that he didn’t as, back then, word would soon have got around that the pub in question had started brewing it own beer.
Obviously rattled, the landlord told me, 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 work colleagues at the time, I ignored this suggestion and settled for a pint of Fullers London Pride instead. I like to know what I am drinking, so had to chuckle when I later discovered that the cantankerous old landlord had been prosecuted, by Trading Standards, for passing off Fremlin’s Bitter as his own brew. Talk about karma!
My message to landlords, and also to micro-brewers, remains the same as it was 13 years ago. 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.
I remain unconvinced, especially as when I come across a beer I haven’t seen before, I like to give it a try. I won’t be pleased if I discover that what I have been drinking, is just a re-badged beer, or a blend of two or more different brews. Equally, if I do spot a pump clip advertising what purports to be a beer brewed specially for the pub itself, I am likely to give it a wide birth.
Am I being snobbish? Probably yes, fussy too, and downright picky, but I remember the days of “badge brewing” when the likes of Archers and Cottage Brewery were churning out a never-ending number of allegedly different beers, all based on a small handful of basic recipes.
The beer tickers might have been delighted, but those of us who could see through this, and view it for what it was, were less than impressed. Personally, I can’t see it catching on again, but who knows?
Competition Time (no prizes).
First, the attractive building in the third photo down, is a former West Kent pub. Not only that, it was THE pub where I had the "discussion," mentioned in the post above, about "Own Ale." Can anyone name it?
Second, can anyone name the pioneering establishment which served "Own Ale," back in the early 1970's, thereby reviving the practice of pubs brewing their own beer? This was at a time when there were only four, home-brewpubs left in the country.