Real Ale – Not Just for Special Occasions

Now that I have finished work on The Story of Gloucester’s Pubs <start plug> available at a book shop near you from the end of May <end plug> I clearly need to find a different excuse for going out drinking. This week an excuse presented itself in the form of the CAMRA Availability and Prices Survey.

CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale) conduct this survey annually. Members volunteer to visit specific pubs to check basic facts like who the licensee and owner is as well as what beers they sell and how much they cost. This allows CAMRA to produce interesting statistics on the number of pubs selling ale, the average ABV of beers sold and the average cost of a pint in different parts of the country. Clearly a good use of my time and, killing two birds with one stone, also a good opportunity whilst I’m there to plug my forthcoming book.

The area that I undertook to visit was Kingsholm and I set off on Thursday evening with my friend and colleagues Geoff to visit the Old Pelican, the Dean’s Walk, the Coach & Horses (sadly closed again), the Kingsholm, Teague’s Bar and the Queen’s Head. Quite a full evening, but I also added the Imperial as I wanted to speak to the landlord about my book.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well the evening went. With a couple of notable exceptions, the pubs in the Kingsholm area aren’t particularly real ale oriented, so I feared a disinterested, if not outright hostile, reception from some. However, as has been my experience with almost all of Gloucester’s landlords, they couldn’t have been friendlier and more welcoming.

All of the pubs are good and worth a visit. None were particularly busy on a mid-week evening, but all had a number of customers who appeared to be regulars. They had a very social atmosphere, like walking into your local – which I guess is because for most of them it was their local.

From a real ale drinker’s point of view, the Kingsholm and Pelican are the best as they always sell real ale, but on speaking to the landlords it transpired that they nearly all stocked at least one real ale on match days, and they all reported that on these occasions it was extremely popular. One of the landlords asked whether real ale was really still popular and, of course, we responded in the affirmative, but it does depend on the clientele.

Something that I have noticed throughout my travels around Gloucester’s pubs is that local community pubs rarely sell real ale. Clearly this makes sense for pubs with a low turn-over: keg beer is nasty and fizzy, but it is pretty bullet proof; it requires no cellar skills, and keeps for ages. Real ale does not. But from my experience, these types of pubs tend to have fairly regular clientele who must get through a reasonable amount of beer, so why don’t they drink real ale? Why, if they are so keen to drink beer, do they prefer the rubbish stuff? In fact, often they seem to have some kind of inverse snobbery against real ale. It’s a mystery to me.

So, the message of this blog is if you drink real ale on match days, ask for it on the other days too – real ale is for life, not just special occasions.


About Darrel Kirby

I am what I am.
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