Saturday, 9 October 2010

Cask Report: A London Case Study?

Probably not, actually. But I've been musing on some of the commentary which followed the publication of the latest Report. Target markets for cask, premium pricing, exclusion of non-cask consumers, have all been fermenting in my noggin. To test some of these points, I thought I'd have a stroll around my neighbourhood, and see what's what in the local pubs.

I live in Kennington in South London. Really it's Central London but when you live south of the river, you're never 'central'. Kennington is like a commuter suburb. Not much in the way of local commerce or light industry any more, residents mostly work away from the area by day. Large local employers like James Burroughs (Beefeater Gin) and Naafi are long-gone. These days, estate agencies are prominent. They used to say Kennington was known for churches and pubs. I don't think too many churches have disappeared over the years, but a lot of the pubs have. Those that are left get some lunchtime trade, but tend to be busiest in the evenings.

Much of Kennington is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. Head up Kennington Lane from Vauxhall, and most of the housing on the left-hand side of the road is former Duchy estate workers' housing. MP's have had flats and houses here for as long as I've lived here, and there are also some very large council housing estates, so Kennington is quite a socially-mixed area these days. That's because in the late 80's, huge amounts of the Duchy-owned housing were put on the market. Though some of the new influx were transients, generally, they've stayed and consequently the demographic in Kennington is much more upper-middle class and professional. The type of open-minded, adventurous, young ABC1's the Cask Report talks about reaching out to.

It's had an effect. Kennington went a couple of decades without a supermarket until Tesco opened up in 2000. Dining out is a lot better. Boris has put huge numbers of his Bikes in the neighbourhood. And there are now local associations and fora, and an annual 'Village Fete' and boules (or bocce - I don't know the difference) in Cleaver Square. Amusingly (to me, anyway), when Transport For London decided Kennington Lane was the southeastern boundary of the congestion charge zone, the more well-to-do residents, horrified by the prospect of having to pay to take little Jocasta and Guido to school in Westminster or wherever, tried to stymie the plans. Cue gatherings with nibbles, all very genteel, all very Kennington.

I mentioned earlier that a lot of pubs have gone. In 1980 you could have gone from Vauxhall Street to Newington Butts and, without leaving the two main roads leading there (Kennington Lane and Kennington Park Road) very far, visit 26 pubs. Today, I think you'd be lucky to find ten. Now, I'm not one for drinking locally. I like Zeitgeist in Black Prince Road but my beer geekiness means I tend to leave the area for a pint, and that's been the case for some years. We've never had any really good pubs, but recently I've become aware that some have changed hands or changed their 'offering'. With Kennington also being a different place these days, I wondered how much the pubs had changed. Did they have cask? Did the locals still use the pubs? What was pricing like? Thus, I ventured forth to have a look...

Since I've babbled on to set the scene, I'll do the pubs in two parts. This bit will deal with the pubs around what is recognised as the 'town centre' at Kennington Cross. Our first stop is The Prince Of Wales in Cleaver Square. In the 80's this was a Courage house and had a reputation as a bit of a villains' pub. I remember they did sell cask, though. The story goes that residents got fed up with late-night noise and police vans circling the Square looking for 'faces', and got Courage to close it. Greene King had it for a bit, and now it's a Shepherd Neame pub, In fact, a plaque says it won Best Cellar for 2009. A compact space, it's clearly aimed at dining punters - where there used to be a jukebox, a small dining area has been created. I had a pint of Late Red, which was pretty good. Three beer engines - the other had Kent's Best and Spitfire was off.

Next, I popped into The Tommyfield. This was always The White Hart, in Watney's hands. It became a tapas bar in the late 80's and a few years ago was bought by the small Renaissance pubco. They put in a new kitchen and bar and restored the White Hart name (they say Kennington used to be deer-hunting grounds), although a refurb and relaunch earlier this year saw the 'offering' tweaked to a more 'gastro' food-led pub with emphasis on provenance, and a name change. They have Meantime Pale Ale on keg (sometimes), and three beer engines, which I don't remember the old White Hart having. I had a half of Sharp's Doom Bar. They also had Taylors' Landlord and another beer I'd never heard of.

Across the road is the Dog House, formerly The Roebuck (see? More ungulates). This was a Charrington House popular with the 'old git' contingent. In fact, an old git was outside having a half of lager when I popped in. I guess some regulars will hold on to their local pubs as long as they can. This was the first pub in Kennington to target the new influx. In the mid-90's it reopened with bare walls and floors, reclaimed furniture, board games and wines and spirits leading the menu. I remember they used to have a fake handpump with a keg bitter, but that's now gone and they have three beer engines. I had a half of Black Sheep Bitter, and they also had Bombardier and another beer.

Number four on my list was The Black Prince. This was a pub popular with locals off the huge Ethelred Estate. I remember it as having no cask beer in the 90's, but it's recently changed hands. Check out the bar back - it's still the original Double Diamond one that was there donkey's years ago. Ironic? The pub is now food-led and has four beer engines. I had a half of Young's London Best. Young's Ordinary, Doom Bar (again) and another beer were available.

So far? All but the Prince of Wales is free of tie, though The Tommyfield is part of small pubco. All of the pubs have cask these days but, apart from the Neame house, it was mostly in poor condition, making me wonder if these places can support three or four beer engines. Cask in these pubs was priced between £3.30 and £3.40 a pint which I'd say is premium (The Harp in the West End is £3.10), and based on the quality, not worth it.

I'll round up the rest of the pubs in my next post here, try to find where the C2DE's are doing their drinking, and draw some dodgy conclusions. Stay tuned...


EyeChartBrew said...

And you didn't get tossed out of any of `em for burping too much.

Oh. Wait. That was me, not you. Oops! ;)

Sid Boggle said...

I'll take you to a couple next time you're here. You can test your mad science out on a new audience... ;-)

dazza72 said...

You should try The Ship on Kennington Rd. Not that I'm a big fan, I think it was better several changes of management ago but, they are currently billing themselves as a cask ale pub (although that's clearly a trend) and it has always been reasonably priced. It could be a much better 'pub' particularly with a few more punters. The lack of which is mainly down to the fact that they don't serve food and Kennington like most places has given over to more gentrification and endless gastropubs. Avoid Tommyfield please, this is not Fulham!

Sid Boggle said...

Alright Dazza. I did go to The Ship - check out part 2 of the piece. I'm guessing they don't sell a lot of cask judging by the state of the Courage Best I tried. I thought they did food, though...