Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - January 2007

* Miles More Choice? *

Is a beer better the less, or more, distance it has travelled?

GREENE KING’S recent closure of the Hardys & Hansons brewery in Nottingham has brought to the fore the issue of “beer miles”. With growing concern over global warming resulting from excessive CO2 emissions, trunking beer from Bury St Edmunds when it could be locally distributed from Kimberley seems rather questionable.

Now I must admit that I am a bit of a sceptic about predictions of imminent climate doom, but long-distance transport of beer (which is mainly water anyway) makes no environmental sense. However, even if most pubs stocked local cask beers, that would be a drop in the ocean compared with the distance kegs and lagers travel. When promoting local beers, the encouragement of local networks and local distinctiveness must be the main advantage.

And this raises some awkward questions for beer drinkers who are keen to do their bit to combat global warming. If you are really serious about cutting CO2 emissions, should you be drinking Scottish and Cornish beers in a free house rather than the products of a local independent brewer in a tied house a few doors down the road? Should you have a cupboard full of fascinating imported US bottles? And shouldn’t you be supporting brewing foreign brands under licence in the UK rather than trucking the authentic product halfway across Europe?

Nobody would claim to be indifferent to the environment, but if you want to take the principle seriously with respect to beer you may need to make some difficult decisions. Maybe in future, to demonstrate its green credentials, CAMRA should recommend that all beer festivals predominantly feature beers from no more than 20 or 30 miles around.

* A Tale of Two Pubs *

Why do designers ignore the simple design point that makes a pub feel pubby?

TWO PUBS in the Greater Cheadle area – the Griffin at Heald Green and the Queens Arms in Cheadle itself – have recently received extensive refurbishments to make them more up-market and food-oriented. While this may be a matter of regret to the lover of old-fashioned boozers, it is only a reflection of general trends in the pub trade. Outwardly the Queens Arms has a much more traditional appearance while the Griffin is not unlike Southfork Ranch. Yet go through the door and the impression is entirely reversed – the Griffin still feels like a proper pub, while the Queens doesn’t.

The reason for this is very simple – the Griffin, unlike the Queens, retains extensive fixed bench-type seating. Fixed seating is comfortable, flexible and encourages interaction with other people in the pub, while loose chairs at separate tables tend to isolate people and groups from each other. They also make the place feel more like a restaurant and less like a pub. Why this basic point continues to elude designers baffles me – but perhaps they don’t really want their interiors to have a pubby feel in the first place.

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