Friday, 16 October 2015

Wetherspoons International Real Ale Festival Autumn 2015

Yes it is that time of year again.  In the past I have spent two weeks going to my local Spoons drinking mediocre beer and writing about it.  Well sod that.  I've decided that life really is too short to waste time on the crappy things in life.  In the past six months I have really enjoyed going to some fabulous pubs along the south coast and drinking some top class beers.  For that reason alone I will not be trying to pack in as many of the 50 beers Spoons are offering this time around.  This lunchtime I did go to the Dolphin & Anchor in Chichester and picked up the beer list.  For a start they only had three festival beers for sale.  One was by Greene King and one was by Wadworths so I opted for a pint of the Exmoor Gold Export (5.5% ABV).  After buying the pint (which  took a ridiculous amount of time) I tried to find a table as my wife was due to join me.  The tables that were not taken were full of debris from departed diners.  It really was a squalid environment in which to sit down for a pint.  I moved some plates onto another table that was equally plate-laden and sat down.  The pint was pretty dreadful.  By the time my wife had arrived I had sunk half of it and I told her I was ready to leave.  Exmoor Gold is a decent pint but this was malty, sweet and sickly.  Looking through the festival list you get the usual international brewers visiting some of the worst breweries in the UK where they try in vain to recreate their beers.  You also get the usual UK brewers creating one-offs exclusively for Spoons.  This presumably means a beer they can produce cheaply enough for Spoons to flog at their low price.  There are one or two beers I wouldn't mind trying as is often the case but the chance of finding them on without popping in every day is slim.

In the past I have been pretty neutral about Spoons.  They can be useful in towns that have a poor selection of pubs.  However, when I got to thinking about it, the only Spoons I regularly go in is the Hatters in Bognor Regis.  Is it any better or worse than any other Spoons?  Probably not.  But it is the only pub in Bognor where you can get a decent pint.  Go along the coast to Worthing, Brighton or Portsmouth and they serve no purpose at all because these places are awash with excellent pubs where you can sit and enjoy a pint in pleasant surroundings.  In fact I have never been in any of the Spoons in these places and that's my point really.  It is interesting that Tim Martin constantly rants about the tax advantages that supermarkets have because sitting in a Spoons is about as pleasant as a trip to Lidl so perhaps they should be treated the same.  The difference though is that you go to a supermarket for the sole purpose of buying what you want to enjoy at home and so buying things at the cheapest possible price makes sense.  If Spoons want to compete with that they really should make their pubs more inviting but I would rather drink at home than sit in one of their pubs.

This has become a bit of a rant against Spoons and that wasn't really the intention.  They are what they are and some people like them and that's fine.  I don't and I can't change that.  We're all different and we all like different things.  What I really wanted to say was how my outlook on life has changed in the past year.  There are some things I no longer want to put up with and Spoons is one of these things.  Believe it or not there are still plenty of excellent pubs around.  Warm inviting places where the landlord will serve you a pint that has been looked after rather than having to wait in line to be served by someone who knows nothing about what they are selling.  Where you don't have to clear away dirty dishes to sit down at a table that is still filthy once you have removed the unwanted items yourself.  Where they don't advertise the world's biggest real ale festival which in reality consists of three different beers on launch day.              

That's it then for my review of this particular beer festival.  Go and enjoy these fifty beers if you wish but I will go to other pubs and find better beer,  It won't be difficult.



  1. Couldn't have said it better myself, Glenn - you've echoed my view of 'Spoons perfectly. While 'Spoons has a place in the drinking lives of many, to me they are the antithesis of the unique institution that is the British pub. (Or perhaps I should say a good British pub.) I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people say that, "Yeah, okay, it may be a bit rough, but you can get a pint for £2", but like you I’d much rather pay more to be able to enjoy it in comfortable, convivial surroundings, served by a landlord or staff member that shares my passion for great beer. And on that note, the sun is well past the yardarm, so time for a pint!

  2. It's "the usual international brewers" because this is a "best-of" festival where they've re-invited the visiting brewers whose beers were most popular in the past. Sadly, I've not been able to get to it yet, so I don't know how clearly stated this is in the promo material (guide booklet, etc.).

    Thankfully, my several local Spoons in West London are rarely in the state you describe, and many of the staff know and care about the beer they sell. I've been to a few that /were/ in that state, so I know what you're talking about; however they are the minority in my experience.

    But hey, feel free to slag off 950-odd pubs on a sample of two or three.

    "You also get the usual UK brewers creating one-offs exclusively for Spoons. This presumably means a beer they can produce cheaply enough..."

    None of the brewers I've spoken to make a profit on the festival ales they do for Spoons. However, as one of them added, "It keeps my mash tuns full, and it all adds to my purchasing volumes," so it's good business nonetheless. They wouldn't do it if it wasn't - plenty of brewers don't.


    1. I would not slag off a chain of 950 pubs on the evidence of two or three. I've been to more Wetherspoons than I care to remember and I find them to be very similar and I quite understand why some people enjoy them. I still use them occasionally bnut I find the locales they sell to be much more appealing than the festival beers ever are. As for brewers not making a profit from what they 'give' to Spoons I can quite believe it as I also know brewers who do not sell to Spoons for that very reason. I feel uncomfortable drinking a beer for which I know the brewer has not made a penny from quite frankly. Brewers should also be aware how it can harm their business because I know publicans who won't deal with brewers who sell to Spoons for the reason that they are paying over the odds. If brewers are giving beer away to Spoon then they have to charge more to others to balance it out.

  3. well tbf it is stated clearly in the booklet the international brewers have been invited back because their beers were the most popular...but its notably something I had completely missed either by not paying close enough attention or its not really hitting you on the head with neon signs being advertised as such, though had been wondering why I felt Id some of the beers were familiar.

    but overall I agree with both points of view, Wetherspoons at their worst can be the least pleasant places you want to spend any time drinking in,and Ive encountered some pretty poor ones of late where Ive found myself rushing through the drink Id ordered, just to get back out of there to go find somewhere nicer or just anywhere else, they were that bad.

    and yet I know thats not how all Wetherspoons are like, there are some very decent well run examples, with decent enthusiastic staff serving decent good beer in nice surroundings that Id be happy to spend time visiting, and Im sure its that model Tim Martin hopes all those pubs aspire to be.

    ultimately I think they are like any pub, in that its the bar manager who sets the tone for how well or not they turn out to be.

    I would recommend though if you do get the chance in this festival to try the Minagof Smoked Porter, I was totally blown away by how good that tasted,for a Wetherspoons beer, and it is seriously one of the best beers Ive tried this year.

    1. After all this I went in a Spoons on Saturday, the Giddy Bridge in Southampton (one of the better ones). Yes I was hoping to find the smoked porter but sadly not. However, I can recommend the Brewsters Et Citra and the Moorhouses was above average too. My favourite Spoons ever is the Golden Bee in Stratford upon Avon. Excellent staff and a quiet area to sit and relax in.

  4. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post. beer tables and chairs set