Some people aren’t fans of Wetherspoon’s but from a drinker’s point of view the chain has much to offer – especially if you live in a small town not yet reached by the ‘craft beer revolution’. Here’s why I think of JDW as my local and a look at its latest International Real Ale Festival.
I’ve always liked hoppy beers and the more I’ve learned about beer the more I don’t want to drink a pint of Doom Bar, Bombardier, Greene King IPA or similar – although there was I time I happily drank all of these (‘sure they had more hops in then, but that’s another story). But the thing is – even though we are in this new, exciting age of beer these beers (and/or others like them) are still huge sellers beloved of many drinkers and in a small town you might struggle to find much else. Unless there is a Wetherspoon’s pub nearby. Here, the flavour-seeking beer fan and the lover of malty, brown blandness can happily co-exist! And who knows, the latter may even develop into the former.
There are two pubs within three minutes walk of my house. I visit them occasionally as I want to do my bit to support backstreet locals but mostly when Beer Husband and I go out for a few beers we head into town to The Isaac Merritt one of two Wetherspoon’s pubs. We wish they would stock more dark beers or put Adnams Broadside on permanently but other than that we enjoy going there and it’s never long till we return – unlike the locals where months can pass between us popping in for a pint.
The other day we took a trip to Brixham to walk around the harbour and hopefully have some lunch. We called in at several pubs. One had no cask ale (that hasn’t happened to me for a while!), staff in another ignored my husband for so long without serving him that he walked out, one had two beers on but lacked atmosphere – we stopped for a half but didn’t stay … guess where we ended up?
Again we were fed up at the lack of dark beer but nevertheless I found a beer that husband was happy to drink and I was overjoyed to smack my lips round a couple of pints of Black Sheep Reaper (4.1%) which was on as part of the Festival. It was a red rye style beer – which so often doesn’t float my boat – but this time did. It was a properly bitter, packed with zesty hops and rocking a rich fruity aftertaste. We stayed for something to eat and settled in for a couple of hours with our chess board. The only downside was that we’d made the effort to go to Brixham and we could have saved the £10 bus fare and gone to the local Wetherspoon’s! The Harbour Walk was great though – if a little expensive.
Before too long we were back at The Isaac Merritt so I could partake of more festival beers. I confused the bar staff a little by asking if they did flights (the barman thought I wanted a trip on an aeroplane) but soon had three thirds of beer stowed in a paddle and ready to be sampled. The only fly in the ointment was the 7.5% beer could not apparently be included in the flight as it was more expensive than the others – a shame as being able to order stronger beers in smaller measures is only ever a good thing. I ordered a half to go with my flight and flew back to my table.
Like some other beer writers who have blogged on the subject I found some of the festival beers disappointing and lacking depth of flavour, the Two Birds Golden Ale (4.4%) lacked body to the point of being watery and the hops used created a synthetic orange squash type flavour that I’ve come across in a number of beers recently – such as another Festival beer Birrificio Lambrate’s Ligera (4.8%) and although Caledonian Brewery Trojan Horse (5.5%) was a wittily named attempt at combining two beer styles (an IPA within a schwarzbier) and included some decent hoppiness it was drowned by milk chocolate flavours that – for me – spoiled it. But this is what beer festivals are all about. A variety of beers, offering more of a chance of there being something for everyone with even the beers you don’t like providing something to talk about (Beer Husband and I spent quite a while discussing the flavour explosion that was Wicked Weed Freak of Nature (7.5%) although I still can’t tell you if I liked it or not!
Two beers I enjoyed though were Bateman’s Colonel’s Whiskers (4.3%) a hybrid mild/stout – which proves to me Bateman’s should play to their strengths and stay traditional rather than tarting about with dessert-style beers – and Sixpoint’s Bklyn Bitter (5.5%) which despite the apparent inclusion of American hops tasted pleasingly like a traditonal British Bitter.
JDW selects 50 beers for its International Real Ale Festival; 40 from the UK and 10 from overseas – albeit brewed in Britain which is another thing some criticise them for. (Why not import the beers instead of bringing the brewers over?) But with permanent offerings including the Sixpoint cans and Lagunitas IPA, and always some interesting cask ale on, any trip to The Isaac Merritt has an air of beer festival about it – but with the added bonus that there’ll definitely be a decent selection of honestly priced food on offer.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is I like Wetherspoon’s pubs. If I’m in a big city, or somewhere with a beer-led bar or pub scene – or even just one pub or bar with a reputation for great beer – then I’ll be there instead but the reality is not everywhere has that.
The (beer) revolution has come and although some seem keen to put them first against the wall I find J D Wetherspoon pubs offer a variety of excellent pints in locations otherwise, or nearly, devoid of good beer. It’s almost as if they were part of the revolution…
Beer Husband’s Top Three Reasons for Liking Wetherspoon’s
1. Hearing human voices instead of music.
2. Honesty – does what you’d expect.
3. Professional – rarely get bad service and if they do get something wrong they put it right.
… and mine
1. Beer range (although more dark beers would be appreciated!).
2.Nice staff, esp at our local where they also have good beer knowledge.
3.Food. It may not be gourmet but it’s reasonably priced and you know what you’re getting.
Wetherspoon’s latest International Real Ale Festival continues until Sunday 2 November.