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Many happy returns?

JDW Beer FestivalIt’s JD Wetherspoon’s 30th birthday, and to celebrate they are having a real ale and cider festival – it started on October 28th, and runs until 15th November, so you’ve still got a few days to sample a few good beers.  Their bars will be offering a range of guest beers, and some beers specially brewed for the festival, including some produced by overseas brewers (using facilities borrowed from UK brewers).  There’s quite a range of different styles, so there’s scope to experiment a bit – and to encourage that, JDW have produced a 1/3 pint tasting glass, so you can try more beers without getting too smashed.  Of course not all the bars will have all the beers, so you might have to visit a number of JDWs if you’re after something specific.  Also, it’s not that expensive to try a few of the beers, as they are selling some of them for as little as £1.69 a pint.

We popped into Reading to the Hope Tap last Sunday to see what they had – and to meet up with some friends for a meal.  I tried 3 of the festival beers, plus a pint of Loddon Hoppit (3.5%) – a lovely local beer brewed just to the north of Reading.  The festival beers I tried were:  Greene King Boss Hogg Bitter (4.1%), brewed specially for the festival, a very tasty golden ale; Adnams Pale Champion Ale (3.4%), another beer brewed specially for the festival – I think this suffered from following a more full-flavoured beer – I’m sure it’s a very nice drink, but after the Boss Hogg, it tasted a bit thin; Bath Hefewiezen Hare (4.7%) from Bath Ales in Bristol, another special brew for the festival, and absolutely delicious – a wheat beer with fruity, spicy tastes – definitely the best of the session.  The full list of beers, complete with tasting notes, is on the JD Wetherspoon website, along with a lot of other useful information.

I have mixed views about JD Wetherspoon.  They do a lot to promote good beer, and support local breweries, and that is brilliant.  Their pubs are usually quite clean and presentable, and serve a good range of reasonably priced food.  What bothers me a bit is that they are so ubiquitous, and they are such good value, that the smaller, more traditional pubs find it hard to compete, and I’m sure that JDWs, along with other similar chains of bars, contribute in no small way to the rapid rate of pub closures.  What confuses me greatly is the closeness of JDWs and CAMRA.  On the one hand CAMRA are bemoaning the closure of so many traditional pubs, but on the other hand are giving JDW money-off vouchers when you join or renew your CAMRA membership – doesn’t anybody else see the contradiction here?  CAMRA seem intent on blaming the supermarkets selling cheap booze for the demise of the pub – perhaps they should be looking a bit closer to home.

This doesn’t mean that I’m anti-JDW – you know what you’re going to get when you go into one of their bars, so if you’re in a strange town and looking for a decent pint, they are the safe bet.  They do champion the cause of proper beer, and of local small brewers (though I believe they screw them down on their prices – they clearly have the clout that independent pubs don’t have).  Maybe we get the pubs we deserve, and maybe the places we want to drink are changing to reflect our preferences – as has always been the case.  It’s a complex issue, and one that is best discussed over a pint.

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