SevenStreets was enjoying a pleasant day off work with the parents, touring the Williamson Tunnels and the Albert Dock, taking in the Object One locomotive being delivered to the new Museum of Liverpool along the way. And we’d worked up a hunger. And a thirst, naturally.
Being of good Northern stock, the family fancies a pint of foaming nut brown ale and a pie, or something similar. SevenStreets knows just the case, Thomas Rigby’s on Dale Street.
Dale Street and Tithebarn Street are havens for the real-ale drinker in Liverpool, with The Lion, The Railway, The Vernon and the Ship and Mitre among the many excellent pubs in the area. Rigby’s can generally be relied upon to pull some real humdingers out of the bag though, so that’s where we go.
Heading right into the Rigby’s lounge, SevenStreets’ Dad heads to the bar to peruse the fine beers the pub is known for. Only he can’t decide which one to have and, having never, been here before, as far as he’s concerned, he doesn’t know how the beer is kept.
So, being a knowledgeable beer drinker, he asks for a taste of one the Leeds Brewery Monsoon, sups and asks for a taste of Okells.
This is where this story takes a bit of a strange twist, because at this point a lady behind the bar arrives on the scene and tells Father SevenStreets that he can’t have a second taste, as there’s a limit to one per customer.
This is clearly nonsensical, but Mother SevenStreets – she knows her beer too – asks for a taste of the second beer, figuring that under the new ‘one taste per customer’ rule, the SevenStreets family can choose the best beer the public house has to offer.
Trouble is, there’s been a bit of a rule change. Now there aren’t any samples, for anyone, ever. Rigby’s is losing too much money (frequent patrons may raise an eyebrow at this claim). Or the brewery has laid down a ‘no tasting’ rule.
Either way, no more tasting is allowed. A hapless barman gets an earful from the landlady for indulging our Dad – who is distinctly nonplussed by the way he has been addressed – in the first place.
SevenStreets is perusing a menu in the lounge while all of this is going on, in preparation for some food. Poppa SevenStreets sits down with a pint rather pointedly an inch or so short of the mark – a detail that renders the entire episode even more farcical – and explains that they would rather go elsewhere, and I don’t blame them.
So, we drink our drinks and go to the Lion, which is as excellent as it usually is. They get the £30-odd that Rigby’s would have got, for the sake of ten pence worth of beer (reclaimed in the short pint anyway).
Now, all of this strikes us a bit odd for a pub known so well for its real ale, where people must often want to sample beer in order select the best of the varied and delicious ales the pub frequently has to offer.
Especially when a 2004 report from real ale obsessives CAMRA recommended giving free samples as the most likely way to attract younger customers to real ale.
The Real Cask Beer – A Route To Success report stated:
A useful marketing tactic to increase trial among under 35-year olds such as offering free tasting samples, was considered most important among ideas tested and would appear highly worthwhile.
But not by certain Liverpool pubs, apparently. We did a spot of research into this, and it turns out there are one or two other pubs in the city – including another Okells pub, the Fly In The Loaf – who apparently have a flexible policy on whether they’ll allow patrons to taste their beer before buying it.
So we spoke to the local branch of CAMRA to see what their take on the matter was. They told us that the Cask Marque accreditation – a scheme that guarantees ‘a great pint of cask ale’ from a pub that has not been widely adopted – was supposed to include the giving of samples.
The CAMRA spokesman also told us that the tasting system is open to abuse, allowing unscrupulous characters to tick off several beers as tasted, before ordering a measly half; something that, with strict stock controls and tough market conditions for local boozers, understandably irks landlords. But this, in turn leads to other problems:
“The temptation in Liverpool is to sell slops, which is a far bigger issue with pubs around here,” the spokesman told SevenStreets.
“Then the importance of a sample is to check if the beer is any good before paying out, as saying beer’s gone off is not always taken very well.”
Another valid reason to ask for a sample before shelling out your three quid, though there’s no suggestion that selling slops happens at any of the pubs mentioned in this article. So, what should the discerning beer drinker do?
“Personally, I often get offered a sample but by enquiring about the characteristics of a new beer which I am genuinely interested in, rather than demanding a free sample,” we were told.
Sage advice, but we’re still left scratching our heads by this episode and the attitude in certain Liverpool pubs.
A friend of SevenStreets told us that he was once met with the retort: “Real ale costs money,” when asking for a taster of an ale in a Liverpool pub.
Real ale does cost money. But good manners, and a spot of retail nous, cost nothing.
• Rigbys did not return our calls
• Image by Gene Hunt, Flickr