Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - April 2005

* The Third Way *

Will smaller measures persuade more women to drink beer?

IN AN ATTEMPT to encourage more women to drink beer, the British Beer and Pub Association is spending £1 million on a “Beautiful Beer” advertising campaign. To get away from the macho, pint-swilling image, they are planning to promote the serving of “female friendly” measures of a third of a pint, using glassware similar to wine glasses. This is permitted under current legislation, but very rarely seen nowadays.

It seems a strange move in an era when it isn’t uncommon to see women drinking pints, and the amount of alcohol provided will be dismissed by many as paltry. Even with a 5% beer, a third of a pint would only contain 0.9 units of alcohol, compared with 2.3 for a typical 175 ml glass of wine. I suspect many women will see the campaign as patronising.

The only thing wrong with half-pints is the name, with its connotations of half measures, and a half will provide a much more satisfying amount of liquid. Surely what is needed to improve the image of beer is to produce distinctive half-pint branded glasses, and make them oversize rather than brim measures. One aspect of drinking beer that women must find offputting is that it tends to be served in brim measure glasses where spillage is all too easy – but will the pub companies shy away from that idea for fear of undermining their margins?

* No More Room at the Inn *

The traditional coaching inn is a fast-vanishing part of our drinking heritage

A FEW WEEKS AGO I was in Knutsford and noticed that the former Royal George Hotel in the town centre, which has been closed for several years, was in the process of being converted into a “retail and leisure development”. This made me think how many historic coaching inns have been lost over the years, another fairly local example being the Lamb in Nantwich where I remember drinking Wem Best Bitter many years ago.

All too often nowadays, in market towns the length and breadth of the country, you come upon a development of bijou shops and wine bars called “Red Lion Court” or “White Hart Close” where an old-fashioned hotel once stood. These places often had fascinating histories going back hundreds of years and were social centres for the local area. Regrettably they have fallen victim to the greed of developers and the modern trend towards bland, homogenised chain hotels. One or two, such as the King’s Head in Monmouth, live on in the shape of a Wetherspoon’s, but that is a poor substitute.

Many also had characterful, traditional bars, and in the early days of the real ale revival were often the only place you could find a decent pint locally. For example, in 1977, according to the Good Beer Guide, you could drink Donnington SBA in the Froth & Elbow Bar of the Shakespeare in Stratford, and Wadworth’s 6X in the long-closed Swan in Ross-on-Wye, both areas where otherwise at the time you would find little but pressurised Whitbread beers.

One memory that particularly sticks in the mind is drinking Yates’s Bitter in the surprisingly basic, stone-flagged bar of the George Hotel in Keswick, which fortunately is still with us, although nowadays it is a Jennings tied house. Give it a try if you’re up in that part of the world and you’ll understand why such places are worth preserving.

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