I enjoy my real ale and craft beers, so far this year I have tried approximately 40 different brews, of those stouts and porters make up over a quarter.  The split between bottled and draught beer is roughly half.    Sampling 12 different beers this past weekend helped add to this total.   There is a definite consistency in the quality of real ale, in that, although many of those beers have been a decent pint, but not outstanding, at least 10 have really impressed me, and not one of the others was objectionable.

But doing this on an individual basis is easy, all it involves is an investment of about £2.60 per beer and if you don’t like it, that is the limit of your loss.  When you are the pub selling this beer to me, you are committing to buying a 36 pint Pin or 72 pint Firkin at minimum.  Cask Ale has a relatively short shelf life, so if the beer is not popular with the customers, you could be left with a product which is off and unsellable, with the associated loss of stock and potential profit on the sales.  Having a bad run of poor choices has longer term affects on trade.

This is why the selection of beer is so important.  As a bar manager you don’t personally have to like every beer that you sell, but that enough people on the other side of the bar like those beers enough to empty a barrel is key.  I’ve written before about the balance of regular cask, mainstream keg and guest beers to cater for as many people as possible, and this is maybe the main role when managing a wet sales focused business, people won’t come to a pub when they can’t get the beer they like.

In many pubs around Halifax and in other parts of the country you see walls adorned with pump clips from the beers it has served, some of our long standing ale joints practically have them as wallpaper, but for a young pub, the 100th different beer to be served is worth celebrating, especially when the customers return again and again on the back of the selections.  Lewins in Halifax town centre has just reached that landmark, with a good number of those having been sampled by myself.

Having 5 hand pumps, they have averaged 4 different ales per week in the last 6 months, with the current turnover being closer to 6 per week, the balance between beer styles being essential to allow customers to sample a new beer of their chosen variety.  The pub has taken on the “Yorkshire born only” selection policy of the county cricket club from 1968-1992, only taking beers that are brewed within the boundaries of England’s largest county, a move which hardly limits its selection of beers and brewers, given the estimate of 115 active brewing businesses in the area.

The manager Karl Sanders is a professional relief manager by trade, aided by his small team Graham, Kevin & newly appointed Oliver, Lewins being his 39th pub in the role.   On the art of maintaining a good regular rotation of beers he says “When I first got asked to manage Lewins Ale House I was disappointed to walk into the pub & only find one mainstream & over produced cask on offer that due to the venue being owned by a pub company it had been travelling from depot to depot, bouncing from van to van until it finally gets to its lonely wicket of one in five.  It’s not rocket science if a place is called an Ale House you need to sell good ale & lots of it. The Yorkshire only rule was a simple choice as they are close enough to deliver the beer themselves & the dreymen are not only proud of the beer they deliver but they have also tasted if not brewed it themselves. As we have 5 hand pulls so we will always try to offer 5 styles of Ale, you get to know your customers so you can recommend the right beer for them. As for keeping our beer tip top we have a very small team of staff who follow the same rules of racking, venting & settling the beer, consistency is very important to Lewins & that shows in the customers we attract.”

The pub has had an interesting history, for over 240 years there has been a public house on the site, with the name Lewins, taking over the original Hare and Hounds monkier in 1960, being taken from the family which ran it from 1881 to 1941.  During World War One, the pub went men only due to the shortage of beer, however the rule lasted over 50 years before being revoked in 1969.  The pub became a member of the O’Neill Irish chain for 4 years until the millennium, after which it reverted back.

As with many town centre pubs, 2005-2010 saw a steady decline in its fortunes due to the many factors I’ve covered in columns before, but as I said last year, 2010 and 2011 has seen the regeneration of Halifax as an ale venue with Dirty Dicks, Ring O’Bells and Lewins all doing well, and success can only breed success.

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