Posts Tagged ‘wetherspoon’

Wetherspoons in Aylesbury Are Like Buses…

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

…you wait twenty years (well, seven in my case) for one to turn up, then two arrive at once.

For about ten years now Aylesbury has probably been the biggest town (pop nearly 80,000 in the 2001 census) without a branch of J.D.Wetherspoon. In June the company opened two pubs — both conversions. The Bell Hotel in the Market Square became The Bell and Chicago’s Rock Cafe (or whatever it was) on Exchange Street was converted into the White Hart, which is the more Lloyd’s No 1 of the two.

The White Hart is in a clever location it currently sits apparently forlornly looking out over what passes for an inner ring-road with just a closed-down furniture shop for company (at least the last time I remembered that’s what it was). But come November the new Aylesbury Waterside theatre is opening over the road and when all the barricades come down then hordes of intellectuals will come flocking down to the new cultural quarter down by the canal. Perhaps. But the White Hart shares the same development as the Odeon multi-screen and there’s going to be, eventually, a new shopping centre in the area and, we’re told, Waitrose is definitely on its way. So Wetherspoons might have been pretty shrewd in getting into this particular piece of real estate.

Inside the White Hart, Aylesbury

Inside the White Hart, Aylesbury

Wetherspoons gets a hell of a lot of flack from the bloody-minded, anal retentive wing of CAMRA types — almost all of it unjustified. The only thing they do that gets my back up is their policy of pretending there are more real ales available at any one time than there really are — the notoriously tiny ‘Coming Soon’ sign that perches on the pump clips of what are inevitably the most interesting beers.

I also admit that they can be chronically understaffed and if you’re unlucky you’ll have an infuriating delay in being served — something I’ve found at the Falcon in High Wycombe. But this is a corollary of their pricing — a bit like how Aldi and Lidl might trade off queueing time against discount pricing. It would be pretty churlish to complain about less than instant service if you get a good pint of real ale for £1.89 — or 5op less if you use one of your £20 of CAMRA members’ discount vouchers.

Wetherspoons do vary — the Falcon in Wycombe is now looking very shabby and in need of serious refurbishment — but they do put something of an objective quality reference point in an area’s pub stock. Put simply, if the best pubs in your area are Wetherspoons then the other pubs aren’t really up to much.

To take Aylesbury as an example. A few years ago there were no Aylesbury town centre pubs in the Good Beer Guide. Then Chiltern Brewery took over the King’s Head and Vale Brewery transformed the Hop Pole. Suddenly there were two destination pubs for ale drinkers and many of the other pubs raised their game.

Yet both the King’s Head and the Hop Pole aren’t cheap and so aren’t particularly threatening the trade of their rivals. The same can’t be said of Wetherspoon’s arrival. With really cheap real ale now consistently available it would be a shame if established pubs were undercut. The Queen’s Head is currently closed but this pre-dates the Wetherspoon arrival.

But it could be argued that, like the Hop Pole and King’s Head, Wetherspoons is also expanding the market, rather than cannibalising it. For example, I was in Aylesbury on Friday lunchtime and had a quick drink in the White Hart (surprisingly, it was non-alcoholic). I’d anticipated probably buying a sandwich from M&S for lunch, or similar, but at £3.10 the Wetherspoon ham, (free range) egg and chips (not many of them though!) was much better value for money.

Prices for beer are so high in pubs that people tend to binge on cheap supermarket beer before going on a night out to save money. If Wetherspoons, with cheap real ale, gets people into the pub rather than boozing on bland stuff at home then what’s not to like?

Haggis and Kangaroo Crisps for Tickers?

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Seems like Walker’s Crisps have learned something from many microbreweries — give the same old product a new, gimmicky name and people will queue up to buy it for the novelty value.

For the World Cup Walker’s has introduced a national range of crisps based on World Cup qualifying nations (mostly!). They are listen on Wikipedia but also listed below:

  • England-Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding
  • America-Cheeseburger
  • Argentinean-Flame Grilled Streak
  • Australia-BBQ Kangaroo
  • Brazil-Salsa
  • Dutch-Edam Cheese
  • France-Garlic Bread
  • Germany-Bratwurst Sausage
  • Ireland-Stew
  • Italy-Spaghetti Bolognese
  • Japan-Teriyaki Chicken
  • Scotland-Haggis
  • South Africa-Sweet Chutney
  • Spain-Chicken Paella
  • Wales-Rarebit
  • While these flavours may be completely honed to resemble their inspiration dishes, there’s a certain similarity between various ingredients — a few cheese (Rarebit, Edam, the cheeseburger, etc,). Also the meaty flavours: English Roast beef, Flame-Grilled Steak, Spaghetti Bolognese, Haggis, Kangaroo and so on aren’t probably very different from each other.

    It reminds me of the microbreweries that produce a differently named brew every month which are so beloved of the CAMRA ticker tendency. Surely their beers are not that radically different from each other once around half a dozen styles have been covered. I’ve never understood why the novelty seekers are so easily taken in by a gimmicky name or pump clip design. If I drink a decent beer I’d like to be able to go out and find it again — not for it to disappear into the oblivion of a few tickers’ notebooks.

    It might be a good business opportunity for Walker’s to get the kind of multiple hand pump pubs beloved of tickers to stock the full range of these crisps — perhaps rotating them through the run up to the World Cup — and see if the beer lovers start ticking them off too.

    Talking of beer that’s worth seeking out again, ‘Trashy Blonde’ from Brewdog was on at ‘The Angel’ — a Wetherspoons opposite the eponymous tube station in Islington. I would have had a pint but I’d already ordered a ‘Dark Rider’ from Kelham Island — which was strong and rather nice so I had another pint.

    Beer Better for You Than Food?

    Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

    Well, in this particular case, I picked up a leaflet from the Moon on the Square in Feltham last night with the nutritional breakdown of everything on Wetherspoons’ menu (there’s a version on line). The large mixed grill Dave Roe had in Shrewsbury was 1885 calories, 168% GDA of fat, 211% GDA of Saturated Fat. It was the most fatty and second most calorific item on the whole menu. So in his case all the beer that he consumed throughout the day probably had less calories than the food. My ham, egg and chips was 683 calories.

    Thornbridge Pioneer

    Friday, November 20th, 2009

    I’ve always rated Thornbridge Brewery for its superb Jaipur IPA but last night I tasted another superb beer from the brewery — Pioneer. This was in the Wetherspoons in High Wycombe (the Falcon) which usually has interesting beer but not always at its best. However, the Pioneer was absolutely stunning — an incredible hop intensity for a beer that was 4.5%. The aroma was exactly the same as one gets in brewery tours when the hop cones are handed out for visitors to smell. It was in superb condition as well. (Unfortunately I had to drink the pint in about 10 minutes as I had to walk all the way round Wycombe to the bus station to get the bus as there was some Christmas lights funfair on in the centre of town.) Sadly the beer is a one-off as it was brewed specially for Wetherspoons and their 30th anniversary. I found this out as I just phoned the brewery to ask if I could buy any.

    One thing I didn’t know is that one of the founders of Thornbridge left the brewery a couple of years ago to found another of my favourite new breweries — yes, Brewdog!

    Credit Crunch Carries On

    Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

    I ventured out into High Wycombe on Monday in search of using up my J.D. Wetherspoon 50p off a pint vouchers that were due to expire on 30th September. The pubs were so quiet that I got served straight away in the Falcon — which is unheard of even on a slow night. Like cut-price supermarkets, Wetherspoons seem to pass on the low prices on their products in the form of less staff than their competitors. The manager even had chance to chat away to the two of us for five minutes about real ale. Shame that he didn’t notice that the Titanic Triple Screw that we had in our glasses at the time was as cloudy as soup. It was drinkable but probably only because it had a lot of roasted or chocolate malt (I think) in and that gave it a very bitter edge.

    Up the road at the William Robert Loosely there was a Bateman’s special ale on that had a pump clip that seemed to be confusing itself with a packet of Weetabix — lots of picture of ‘good for you’ grains. I’ve forgotten what it was called. This was served almost frozen but that didn’t stop a whiff of diacetyl rising up from the glass. I know that some brewers actually think diacetyl (the ‘butterscotch’ aroma) is pleasurable but most of their customers don’t. I find that holding my breath when I’m drinking helps — but, of course, this disguises most other flavours. The superchilled temperature meant that I may as well have been drinking lager in that case but, I shouldn’t complain, using the vouchers two pints cost the princely sum of £2.78! Round the corner at The Bell, a mediocre pint of Pride was more than 30p dearer.

    Walking through Wycombe I was struck at how few people were out in any pub or restuarant — Pizza Express was deserted. A Monday I suppose but it’s anecdotal evidence that people still seem to be holding on to their cash and I was only there to buy beer at £1.39 a pint myself.