It's rare when I leave a pub after not spending a penny and even rarer when that pub has 8 different cask beers available. Yet somehow I couldn't bring myself to spend any money to support an establishment that hasn't thought to sell anything that caters to my taste.
I want to get one thing said. I am a beer ticker and enjoy trying new beers. The chance to experience new smell and taste combinations excites me and I will almost always opt for something new if available or failing that something rarely found locally. I also know what styles of beer I enjoy drinking as well as which of the national beers I prefer.
It's fair to say that I visit far more pubs in a year than the average drinker. In that time I experience any number of different beer line ups and find that they speak volumes not only about the kind of pub you're visiting, their understanding towards ale drinkers and also on the type of customer that they are catering for.
With careful consideration a beer range can actually become part of a pubs brand. A potential customer will know exactly what they are likely to expect from a visit and when done well, is something that can cause customers to become loyal to a brand to the point where some actively seek out their establishments when in new places.
The local Mitchel & Butler "Ember Inns" pubs appear to have done this as each offer the same three core beers as well as stocking a number of guests. The guest range appears to vary greatly across the franchise, with some having no apparent thought to provide a balanced choice and seemingly basing it on picking the most well-known labels.
While this will be attractive to the infrequent drinker where stocking the familiar is likely to result in a sale, any pub offering 8 hand pumps (as well as regular Cask Nights) must be at least attempting to target beer drinkers. That said, I'm confused as to why they would only be stocking a selection of national beers. On my last trip the 8 ales available were:
- · Thwaites: Wainwright
- · Brakspear: Bitter
- · Liverpool Organic: 24 Carat Cold
- · Sharps: Doom Bar
- · St Austell: Tribute
- · Brains: The Rev James
- · Timothy Taylors: Landlord
- · Black sheep: Bitter
Each of these beers is award winning and all are perfectly fine. I'd like to point out that this criticism is not directed towards them or their products, however due to effective promotion making them the most well-known labels, I can easily obtain them in a large number of more convenient pubs. If I wanted to drink a particular national beer then I know where to obtain it, which pubs offer best value for money and which offer the best quality. I have found through experience that the latter two are rarely the same establishment.
I also know that each of these beers (with the exception of Liverpool organic) is available by the bottle from any number of local supermarkets. CAMRA frequently cites supermarkets as being direct competition for many public houses, so why would a pub put itself into the position as competing directly.
Regarding brand loyalty what am I meant to assume from this beer line up? Am I meant to assume that all Ember Inns offer only national beer from now on? Do I risk visiting again to see if there is interesting selection of real ale? Just what should I now expect from the brand?
In an industry which relies on regular footfall, both new and repeat customers are going to come expecting the service already established from your brand. Sadly my last couple of visits were not a particularly positive and since available beer is rarely shared proactively the only way to establish just what beer is available is visit usually to visit, when an unbalanced line up is likely to lead to dissatisfied customers.
All I want a valid choice between the large national chain beers (available everywhere and in all good supermarkets) and smaller microbrewery beers. By all means offer large number ales but please make sure that your line-up is balanced, appeals to all drinkers and can be consumed within its lifespan. Speak to your customers, talk to your local beer campaigners or CAMRA group and consider regularly and proactively advertising your beers on social media.
Let me put it another way. How would you feel if you turned up at an 8 screen cinema where all the films being shown are Westerns? It’s great if you like that genre, but very disappointing if you don’t. The customers are likely to leave annoyed at wasting their time or will simply visit another cinema. Likewise most customers would have been able to find out online what films were actually on.