Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - June 1997
* Passport to Oblivion *
John Willie Lees are currently running a "Passport Trail" which offers an assortment of goodies if you visit certain numbers of their pubs. No doubt this sort of thing is a good way of getting people to go in pubs they otherwise might never try, but in this case there is a significant drawback - they insist on you drinking at least a pint or two halves in each one.
Surely this discriminates against women, who may nowadays be more likely than before to drink pints, but still in general are more happy with halves. Why should they have to have two drinks to their menfolk's one? And I'm sure that plenty of men, faced with the prospect of going in a hundred and fifty pubs, might feel happier with the option of sticking to a half in at least a few of them. Also, despite Lees' pious words in the booklet, in real life the insistence on pints could act as an encouragement to drivers to exceed the legal limit.
Taking it a step further, if the aim is to tempt people to try new pubs, why should they have to have an alcoholic drink at all? Strange as it may seem, some non-drinkers do enjoy pubs, and the profit margin on soft drinks is often much greater than that on beer, so licensees wouldn't lose out. But at the very least, Lees should allow people doing their passport trail to be able to drink the smallest measure of beer normally available in their pubs, and the same should apply to any other brewery running a similar scheme.
* Cool the Line *
Now that the warmer weather is supposed to be on its way, the problem of beer temperature begins to rear its ugly head again, particular in multi-beer alehouses. Going into a pub of this type at a quiet time of day, the best policy is often to see what someone else has just ordered, and have a pint of that. Otherwise, there's a good chance you'll get beer that has been simmering in the pipes for hours. For example, on a hot day last summer, in a Good Beer Guide listed pub, I bought a round of three pints of the same beer. The first was murky and so warm it was barely drinkable, but the third was cool, clear and delicious.
In-line coolers have a bad reputation as devices used to chill down lagers which have not been stored in a proper temperature-controlled environment, but isn't there a good case for alehouses to use them to ensure that all their real ale is served at cellar temperature? And isn't it time we punters were a bit more assertive in returning beer to the bar if it's served up at seventy-plus degrees?
* Traffic Enraging *
Not too long ago, a licensee was complaining to me how his lunchtime trade from nearby offices and factories had fallen away after the local council had installed a particularly obstructive set of road humps on the road leading to his pub. What is described as "traffic calming" often in reality ends up having the opposite effect of "traffic enraging". There must be a better way of curbing the odd case of excess speed than littering the roads with crude, unsightly and dangerous obstacles. It is yet another example of the trend so prevalent in society today of penalising the law-abiding majority for the actions of the irresponsible minority.