by Steve Renshaw
A few weeks ago, I took part in a radio discussion. Apparently, there are now almost as many coffee shops in the city centre as pubs. The question was whether a coffee shop was now the place of choice to meet up with friends for a chinwag.
It was a fairly light-hearted exchange, but it did start me thinking. CAMRA is always banging on about the number of pubs closing but, actually, why do we bother going to pubs at all?
The price of a pint in many Lincoln pubs is now well over £3. So why don’t we all just sit at home with our cheap supermarket beer and let pubs go the way of high street record shops?
Well, for real ale drinkers, the answer is simple. We can’t get our favourite tipple anywhere else. However, not everyone who goes to the pub is a real ale enthusiast, so there must be other reasons.
Food – there’s one. Lots of pubs do excellent meals, and eating out remains popular, despite the recession. But there’s more to it than that. There are all the intangibles that contribute to the local community. There are the games’ teams hosted, the football teams sponsored, the meeting places provided for special interest groups, the charities benefitting from money raised, the village services provided, the local musicians showcased. And, of course, there’s the controlled environment in which to enjoy alcohol and, on occasions, a barmaid’s shoulder on which to cry.
That’s why, this April, CAMRA is celebrating Community Pubs Month again. We want to raise the profile of pub-going and increase the number of people using pubs regularly. It’s all about reaffirming the vital importance of local pubs, and the essential role they play in many people’s lives.
There are lots of locals I could have visited to illustrate my points, but I decided on the Dog and Bone on John Street. This little gem was voted Best Community Pub in Great Britain in 2009. That was under the previous landlady, so I went along to see how Sarah and Chris Sorrel are settling in.
As soon as I walked through the door, I could tell that the changeover had been seamless. The gentle background music was almost drowned out by the conversations of groups of drinkers at the tables clustered round the real fire. And it was clear that this traditional back-street pub has something to offer to all age groups.
Sarah and Chris had fallen in love with the pub as customers and were desperate to take it on when the tenancy came up. There are no major changes planned – why change a winning formula? But they’re not resting on their laurels. They have music events booked and a summer beer festival planned.
Sarah summed up their initial feelings, “On Sundays we look round to see groups of friends playing board games by the fire, enjoying the simple pleasures of good ale and good company. There really is a place for a traditional community pub where people can meet to form friendships and enjoy companionship.”
I’ll drink to that!
And what about the beer? Batemans introduced Yella Belly Gold (3.9% ABV) last year to tap into the popularity of golden ales and try to win over lager drinkers. I find XB and XXXB a bit too sweet, but Yella Belly Gold is much more to my taste. The Chinook hops give it a dry, citrus flavour initially, with the typical Batemans maltiness coming through.
Let’s all celebrate the great British pub this April.