Monday, 16 April 2012

Range Lust


     Range Lust - (Colloquial; Et: Bloggers, Eng.) - the desire by publicans and drinkers alike to see ever increasing numbers of beers in pubs irrespective of consumer demand or beer quality.

Above is a definition that despite its professional looking template does not in fact come from the dictionary. I'm sure that if enough printed media types started referencing it there may eventually be a begrudging reference in the OED and some exploration of what it actually means, but for now I'll attempt to provide an example of how range lust presents itself...

I visited a pub in the North East last year, which made several boasts about its extensive beer range. There were probably 16 handpumps all in use - on a Tuesday lunch. Christ, I thought, they must have some throughput, yet there weren't many punters in to keep the ale flowing, with inevitable consequences.

Me and Wee Fatha tasted 6 beers before we found one that was palatable. In the end, of the three tried halves we bought and the two we recklessly purchased untried, only two ended up being good throughout the drink. Of the others, two were OK, and one was tired and about to be taken off (hopefully). Really they could have just had 4 beers on and we could have chosen a pint each of one of the two decent ales.

The above may seem like a good example of range lust, if not its epitome. It may also seem like it isn't a major issue, given that few pubs even have that much bar space. Except, there's another manifestation of this problem.

When new isn't new enough

There are now, using childish exaggerations, 147 million different breweries in the UK, producing an average of 20 beers each, meaning that there are approximately 3 billion different brews available in the UK at any one time! This is brilliant of course, (not least because I made it up) since it means that all styles imaginable are covered (and some you perhaps can't imagine) and generally, the huge diversity of breweries affords free houses the opportunity to stock an astonishing array of beers.

This sounds like a familiar rallying cry. And yet the above uUtopian beerscape is precisely the problem.

Recently I found myself becoming very picky about the breweries who's beers I was interested in drinking. More than that, I was regularly finding myself faced with banks of new breweries beers that seemed to be on sale for no reason other than their embryonic status. And worst of all, I found that I had no faith in the likelihood that any of these new breweries would deliver.

As a result, I have regularly eschewed the pleasures of numerous CAMRA vaunted real ale oases with hundreds of years GBG inclusion between them, to go to Dada, The Sheffield Tap, Shakespeares, and The Rutland Arms. All of them sell new brewery beers, of course, but they tend to be good ones, even those I've not heard of, and crucially the newer beers are supplementing established, quality beers.

Granted, these aren't the only pubs I've been to recently by any means, and they aren't the only places I've enjoyed visiting. However, they have consistently provided beers from breweries that I trust and who's beers I enjoy. They have also, excepting the small (but by no means bad) range at Dada, managed to offer a large range of well kept and interesting beers, and crucially most of my absolute favourite pints this year.

Why this matters is because I believe that the sheer mass of available brews in the UK is the reason why I find all too many new and often deservedly rare beers from brewers guilty of running before they can walk - lets face it, some pubs seem obsessed with selling only the newest beers over reliable favourites, often from breweries who only welded the last pipe to the fermenting tank the weekend before. 

That so many pubs seem to favour this beer selection policy shows that "range lust" is not just about numbers of pumps. Its about the clamour to sell (or taste) a beer before anyone else.

The problem is, this market force then creates its own momentum - so many pubs striving to always have the newest or the highest number of different beers on (perhaps to sate the desires of tickers, or scoopers, or chronic(a)lers, or whatever they are called) drives the unchecked and unsustainable expansion seen in microbrewing, whilst creating a demand for beers from frankly average or crap breweries.

Essentially, pubs want newer beers, newer beers means newer breweries, newer breweries means....more newer beers, and  in my experience, less good quality beers. If pubs are desperate to sell new or rare average beers, then (some) breweries will oblige, to the point where in the end, the benefit of extensive beer ranges becomes its very antithesis.  It seems the more beers there are, the less of them you want to taste.

 I am not suggesting that there should only be established breweries on the bar, but a better mix of established, reliable and quality new brewers represented equally. Seeing overly familiar tat like Greedy King IPA makes me sigh, but seeing their XX Mild, next to Fullers ESB, Jaipur and Brodies Citra would be far better than some of the nonsensically named homebrew that makes up the majority of beers in some real ale pub's range.

No-one wants there to be no outlets for smaller more groundbreaking breweries, but ultimately, less range lust will cut off the air supply to the more rubbish beer producers and improve the beer drinking experience for everyone.

Avoid lust at all costs!

Wee Beefy


  1. In my experience, the dedicated "beer exhibition" pub with 16 handpumps will probably serve you a decent pint whenever you go in - the problem is with the pub company outlet with 5 or 6.

    I am very wary of choosing a beer that I suspect isn't being sufficiently "pulled through".

    It's a bit ironic - and ultimately self-defeating - that as overall beer volume decreases, the choice increases.

    1. It is ironic indeed. Although, am sure you've had many a beer where you have wondered why someone bothered brewing it at all.

      I originally put in the caveat (quel surprise) that in Sheffield and Derby, where I most often drink, the exhibition pubs are actually fine, as you have pointed out. And the beers in that NE pub were really, truly grim....