In search of Keg
For the #Pubman, pubs matter. Do they matter more than life? Pubs are life. Do pubs exist because of #pubmen or do #pubmen exist because of pubs? A question that was at the heart of René Descartes’ first principle, but being French and what with France having bistros and not pubs he decided to alter his principle to “cogito, ergo sum”, or "I think, therefore I am". He thought he was being clever, he wasn’t, he was only being French and denying himself the true understanding of the #pubman way. Either way, we think, pubs exist, we think pubs exist, and #pubmen pub. To pub, as in to go to pubs.
Many #pubmen stick to visiting pubs that sell an obscure and occasionally pleasant drink called “real” ale. Books have been written about this “real” ale and even one that purports to guide you to pubs where the “real” ale is more likely to be pleasant enough to actually drink as opposed to pour into the nearest plant pot. Some #pubmen stalk the wilderness in search of these pubs, ticking them, scoring them and compiling new books all about “real” ale and their quest for a pub that serves a pint of it that is drinkable.
This day’s quest was, however, into the heart of pubmanship. A journey to explore the very meaning of being for a #pubman. A walk among the pubs that are never written about in beer books, in beer blogs, in beer magazines. The keg pubs. Regular pubs that serve keg beer, usually a smooth nitro bitter, a cooking lager, a wife beater lout & Guinness. A proper pub. A distillation of all a pub really is. The heart of pubs. A pub in its truest and purest form. Unsullied by beer fanatics, enthusiasts, campaigners, influencers, signifiers or advocates. The pub in its true form. The keg boozer.
We begin in Edgeley, a tatty declining suburb of the northern former industrial town of Stockport, near a train station that can take you anywhere. The sunshine of the day flattered Castle Street, a street of shops where the main attractions are pound shops, charity shops, discount shops, a Greggs, takeaways and most exciting of all KEG PUBS!
We begin with a £2.90 pint of Stella Artois. Ice cold. Delicious. Fizzy. This 4.5% lager can no longer be considered proper authentic wife beater lout, falling below the minimum criteria of 5%. It is still a lovely refreshing easy going pint that can only be described as like a massage for your throat. In the National Lout Scoring System (NLSS) it would be a 5. A smallish pub with 2 rooms. Trade is starting up for the afternoon in a friendly environment where people appear to know each other and greet each other as regulars. A pub it would be difficult not to like. A minor design flaw places a dart board in one side of the pub reducing the seating choices if people chose to play darts. I leave as regulars enjoying the superior consistency of smooth bitter discuss the days racing.
I am asked to photo the Home Bargains by the folk on twitter that live inside my phone. Looking resplendent in the fine weather it is worth commenting this humble discount store is the one of the towns go to craft beer destinations for those that like that sort of thing but prefer a price level more in line of normal beer. I did not go in to say hello to the hipsters in the beer aisle filling a basket with hazy chocolate mango triple IPA at 50p a can (use by the end of the month) or whatever the kids disguising a drink problem with a hobby are fetishizing this month.
Instead, I stepped into the more foreboding environs of The Pineapple. A pub that does its best to discourage you from entering by its outward appearance and a warning you wish you had heeded if you are foolish enough to ignore it. My first instinct was to turn on my heels and leave but I had decided to do all the pubs of the strip. To what extent do we as human have free will? Do we make our choices freely and in doing so create the universe of our existence? Or are we programmed to play out our parts, making choices based on previously established biases and tastes, ensuring the set outcomes of fate, under the illusion of free will? I had time to ponder this question as my choice of Carlsberg required a barrel change that allowed me to appreciate the full grotty awfulness of the shithole that defied all established laws of the hospitality trade. A shithole is the only description required of the pub. If someone tells you another pub is also a shithole, then maybe add an adjective or two for emphasis so it is clear that by comparison that pub isn’t anywhere near as much a shithole when compared to this pub as this pub defined the word shithole. Yet despite this there were customers. Old boys near the window on the smooth bitter. Why were they here? Everybody has to be somewhere was the only answer I could muster. My Carlberg arrived. Cold, Delicious, fizzy. £2.60 A lovely cooking lager. No wife beater lout option here, only cooking lagers. NLLS score 4. The smart clean glass in stark contrast to the bomb that presumably hit the pub earlier. Many years of wear and tear, many years of grime and grot. Pictures leaning against walls and not put up. Seats you do not wish to sit on. How on earth does such a dump maintain the trade to remain open? Answers in the comments.
Despite feeling I needed a shower after that boozer I went on to the Sir Robert Peel, or Bobby Peel as the association football fans refer to it. A relief. Spacious, clean, bright, a bit corporate rather than pubby and lots of wood. The friendly lady served me with a smile and took £3.85 for my pint of Heineken. NLSS 5. Delicious. Cold. Fizzy. The attributes all discerning connoisseurs of beer should look for. The 1st proper 5% wife beater lout of the day. I remember when all proper lout was 5%, I want to tell the regulars who all appear to prefer the Fosters for which I gather there is an offer. The pub is mainly lone blokes drinking Fosters and watching the Sky telly as I sit and relax and enjoy the 80s music piped through the pub. Are we going to be lucky and get Peter Cetera or Starship? They would have me at Spandau Ballet. Such is the joy of proper 5% or above lager. It is happiness in a glass. Andy Warhol once described McDonalds as reminding him of what a good hamburger was. Sub 5% lager reminds you of the joy of lager. 5% lager is the joy of lager.
With my faith in Lager and Keg pubs restored it was off to The Prince Albert and the opportunity to mention cock rings. The Prince, Queen Victoria’s husband, brought pierced cock rings to Britain just like he did Christmas trees, many Christmas traditions and the values of a contemporary middle-class monarchy reflecting an ideal Britain back to its own people. Cock rings are now as traditionally British as fish and chips, and no one thinks of them a strange German perversion anymore. I ponder what new British traditions may emerge with future monarchs and conclude the best chance of a previously frowned upon niche sexual practice becoming respectable would most likely occur with Queen Camilla. Whilst wishing our current Queen nothing but good health and continued reign, that might be something to look forward to. A fine pint of Staropramen was had for £3.35 Delicious NLSS score 5. Felt like being back on proper pub territory with proper 5% lout. Bit like the Jolly Crofter earlier. A nice, smart pub with couples enjoying a drink. “Real” ale is present here in the form of Doom Bar but thankfully no one is drinking it and it doesn’t appear to be spoiling the pub. Has a Manchester City theme which may not be everyone’s cup of tea. This and the Crofter would be my 2 favourite pubs of the afternoon by my own arbitrary preferences.
To the last pub on my jaunt. The Royal Oak. Another fine pint of Staropramen for £3.35 Delicious NLSS score 5. A much-altered pub, being now one room rather than two. Felt smaller and more a bar than a pub. What is a bar? What is a pub? I could discuss what I consider the differences but by my own entirely arbitrary and personal definition I declare it a bar. Nothing wrong with bars. This is a nice enough bar. Once more an offer on the Fosters seems to be popular. A couple of “real” ales are present in the form of Doom Bar and Tim Taylor and sadly in this case it seems to result in the presence of a real ale drinker. Dressed to climb a mountain, an odd hobbit like chap sits near the window sniffing his pint of bitter and holding it to the light. If only the pub had kept it keg. Honest working-class folk need their own spaces, safe from the sanctimonious judgement of middle-class drinkers in Berghaus trying to drag places to meet their own needs for social status. The single best way of achieving this is to keep it keg. Keep out the “real” ale drinkers and you secure those spaces. KEEP IT KEG!
On that note one can only conclude my favourites of the afternoon were the Crofter & Albert. The pub to avoid, The Pineapple. Unless you fancy attempting to answer how and why it exists, then venture in and see if you can discover that. Other boozers were decent enough. A nice afternoon, nice pubs, nice lager, nice locals. The keg pubs are the beating heart of Castle Street. KEEP IT KEG ! KEEP IT LOUT! Pubs are great, aren’t they?