Why pubs really matter

Forget the arguments about beer types…craft or cask doesn’t really matter in the great scheme of things. It’s not world peace. Beer is merely a way of getting blokes to communicate. (The reason I only mention blokes will I hope, become clear below.)

I increasingly realise that pubs are one of the few opportunities for blokes (particularly those who are middle-aged & above and single) to provide the means to support each other. In terms of mental well-being, I realise that there are organisations such as the nascent men’s sheds movement and the bowls & golf clubs and their ilk, but men’s social networks in retirement are notoriously poor compared to women. At its best the pub offers the opportunity to talk if you want to, or remain silent, but yet be part of a community.


We were in a rural pub recently and started to chatting to a group of old mates in for an unhurried lunchtime of a couple of pints. Eventually one of the chaps started telling us of his wife who had moved into a care home with severe dementia. The pub was a place where he could bring her in the early stages of her illness without worrying about what people would think. As we chatted, he felt able to talk freely about the issues of being a carer and the hole in his life after she had to move out.

We found out, when another left early, that he was a Falklands’ veteran who didn’t like to talk about his experiences of lost comrades. Of course his mates respected his silence, but they were there to talk about other stuff and ready to support him.

Another chap was recovering from a stroke and slowly sipping his pint, safe in the company of his friends…people who would judge him on what he said rather than the manner of his speech.

As the first chap said, as we left, “this isn’t so much a pub to us, as a way of life.”


The best of pubs don’t judge, don’t ask who you are, or the value of your house. You’ll be given quiet space if you want, or friendly chat if that’s your choice.

In these days of limited public spending let’s remember the importance of pubs, the listeners behind the bar, and our fellow customers. We live in a rapidly ageing society and more and more people will live alone. Whilst I applaud CAMRA’s Community Pubs Month, there is much more to be done as the pub comes under more pressure, both economic and legislative.

Alcohol is subject to increasing scrutiny by health professionals and legislators. Pubs as outlets for alcohol products will inevitably come under the microscope. For some the pub will be seen as a means to breach government alcohol guidelines. We need more effort from the industry and CAMRA to improve recognition of the community, social and mental health benefits of the pub. A ‘public house’ is just that for many people.

We can all help each other, but let’s recognise the role of the pub in opening those doors to all.



Completely Howgilled

My favourite walk in England beckoned. Sedbergh to Ravenstonedale across the Howgill Fells. Always a slog out of Sedbergh and rucsacs loaded with vittels.

Hills that look like pale green ghostly pillows lobbed randomly but perfectly. Up on to the Calf and views of Morecambe Bay, Lakeland hills (is that Great Gable and so on), and Ingleborough peering out again. There can be few more remote and silent places in England that offer so much with so few people about.


We look down on valley bottoms with distant meandering streams and wonder how many people have ever been there.

In sunny weather it is a complete joy, we think back to days in Summer when poor visibility has led us to abandon the idea of walking up here.

After many miles of ridges, the long downward slope leads us off the fells and we wend our way through small upland farms, a tree nursery and boggy meadows.  Better field paths and minor roads lead us to the edge of Ravenstonedale to be lifted by the sight of the King’s Head.


Obviously doing business with Marston’s…61 Deep and Mansfield Cask on offer. Why no local Jennings’? Out of curiosity I rehydrate on Mansfield. The blandest bitter I’ve had in a very long time. Not kept badly, it just seemed as if they’d used the cheapest ingredients in the beer factory and not much of them.

We wander on through the churchyard to arrive at our billet for the night, the Black Swan. A wonderful country pub hotel if ever there was.

A GBG regular, they seem to have a clever strategy on the beer front to keep their place. Black Sheep to keep the non-CAMRA punters happy and a couple of changing obscure local micros to meet the ‘needs’ of local CAMRA folk. Is this how it’s done?

The beer is fine and we rest our Howgilled bones and joints in preparation for a trip tomorrow on the Settle to Carlisle and a wander round Skipton. The Woolly Sheep beckons.


Dented but not broken

Today was a planned lazy day before we head over the Howgill Fells tomorrow. Four miles from Cowgill to Dent back on the Dales Way. Zigzagging between fields and the River Dee we managed to add a few diversions with a lack of concentration.

The sun breaks through, shining on hedgerows, packed with bluebells and wild garlic at its pungent best. ( BTW great for pesto with ground almonds, parmesan and olive oil.)


Tea shop stops in Dent, and then the boys guiltily decide to add a few more miles in the afternoon sunshine. Out of Dent and upwards on a SW bearing alongside the beck to the Green Lane hugging the contours.


Beautiful views from high above Dent to the other side of the dale where the Settle to Carlisle trains shuffle along, and to the west, the Howgill Fells saying try it if you’re hard enough.


From Little Combe Hill we head down to Nun House Outrake, then back along the minor road to Howgill Bridge and more tea and cake…it’s that kind of day.


We’re staying in the Sun Inn with its Kirkby Lonsdale brewery beers plus Farne Island and a few yards up the road is the George and Dragon, the Dent Brewery tap. Pubs buzzing on a Wednesday evening and locals advising on the best beers. For a small village we’re lined up for a good night.


Dipping and wagging

As we walked out on a warm sunny morning life felt good. A spring in our step and Ed and Jackie’s best wishes beckoning us on round Hubberholme churchyard.

A 15 miler is today’s effort and there’s some consternation in the female ranks. Concerns disappear when you walk alongside the upper reaches of the Wharfe in Langstrothdale. To my mind it is the most beautiful of the river walks in the Dales.


We hear Cuckoos and see Grey and Pied Wagtails and juvenile Dippers cavorting in the river. One moment the young Wharfe is dashing along and suddenly it’s gone to reappear later.

The sign at Nethergill invites us in for flapjacks and coffee. A farm with fine eco credentials bringing in school parties to experience rural life. We chat to the owner and hear how urban kids often come in with drooping shoulders and limited interest. After a few hours they are transformed.

I hope the Nethergill folk see a world famous botanist on the TV in 30 years time. Talking about how as a poor kid in Bradford he or she was inspired by a day at Nethergill. That would be deserved.

The landscape now gets bleaker and boggy underfoot despite the sunny weather. Massive deciduous reforestation is going on to restore the landscape. It’ll take time but already the Red Squirrel are back. The flat top of Ingleborough looms in the background reminding me of that vicious ‘up’ for the last peak of the Yorkshire Three.


At Cam Houses we turn off the Dales Way and a friendly farmer offers water bottle refills. A small gesture that means so much on a hot day. Lunch on the limestone outcrop at Cold Keld Gate on the Pennine Way.


We leave the road for the Pennine Bridleway cum Ribble Way. A grassy track then gravel that wends it way twisting and turning until meeting the road near Newby Head.


Descending rapidly we have fine views of Dent Head viaduct on the Settle to Carlisle. Steam train at 6pm…we’ll press on. Welcome to Dentdale says the sign. A private garden kindly welcomes Dales Way walkers and offers them the chance to rest their weary bones. Time for the last of the water rations to be shared out and flapjacks to be scoffed.

On to tonight’s billet, the Sportsman’s Inn. A simple place but we are but ordinary folk seeking simple victuals. Pub grub and ever changing beers mainly from small micros.

A golden Citra fuelled creation and a standard malty bitter. Can’t help but think this is Brewing by Numbers by companies subsidised by tax relief. Nothing special and well below the standards of, say,  a combination of Wainwright and Jennings’s Cumberland, or the impressive brews of Dark Horse yesterday.


Good Companions

A night in Grassington, before a few days walking in the Yorkshire Dales.  Dales Way to Hubberholme, thence to Cow Gill, a half-day stroll to Dent and then up and down over the Howgills to Ravenstonedale. Good walks and good pubs. Best crack on.

A night of guilt, no mileage in our boots but a few pints to set ourselves up in Grassington. A first taste of the new Tetley Pale brewed in Leeds. The Foresters is a fine pub with well-kept beer but the new Tetley was little more than a light ale, a bit thin and not much flavour. Wolverhampton’s finest Tetley’s Cask and Landlord were doing fine.

Next morning the sun shone as we emerged from the Black Horse. We bumped into Mark Reid of the Inn Way walks. A chap who’s done good work for rural pubs and walkers who like a beer. We swap tales of yesteryear about the Falcon at Arncliffe. For us, the time an American asked if the cider was chilled. I don’t even know if it’s got any bloody apples in it, came the response as the landlord blew the dust off a bottle.

Mark responded with the occasion a vegetarian asked about the menu. Pie and peas said the venerable Robin, the owner of the Falcon. What do you have for vegetarians? Peas, was the joyfully irascible response.

We battled our way out of the village past the film set of Dr Doolittle. It was me or Robert Downey Jnr. in the lead role but I preferred the hike. He probably needs the money…expensive habits, my only rider is Draught Bass.

Up onto the grassy tracks and limestone pavement northwards to Kettlewell. Curlews, and Oyster Catchers crying and Lapwings aggresively circling, this was a perfect morning. Orchids on the edge of the pavement as we spy Kettlewell for a late morning cuppa, this is the perfect day with good companions, as the great JB Priestley might have said.

We leave Kettlewell over the bridge and follow the riverside path stopping only for a bank side feast whilst watching a Stoat scoot up a tree with its black tipped tail behind it. Not a weasel as the old joke goes…

Q. What’s the difference between a stoat and weasel?
A. A Weasel is weasily wecognised and a stoat is stoataly different

We bravely ignore the calls of the much improved pub at Starbotton with its new friendly owners and press on to Buckden. Ice lollies and fizzy drinks on the green and a nod to the brave Polish airmen of the 2nd WW and their memorial high above on the Pike.


The last gentle stretch into Langstrothdale, my favourite of them all. Home to Hubberholme, the resting place of JB and for us tonight. The George is the perfect pub…it just is, great beer, great food and the best of welcomes with fellow walkers swopping war stories. Ed, Jackie and George the dog busying themselves outside as we arrive. George is well known around these parts, the ladies at the YDNP information centre in Grassington had told me he’d settled down these days.


That’s a view


I’m easily persuaded to have a Dark Horse bitter, malty and rich..northern to its core. Two other Dark Horse on the bar (partly outside for the summer), plus Wharfedale Blonde, Theakston Best and Black Sheep. I’m of the view that there are too many beers on most bars, but with Ed’s cellaring skills and a throughput of middle aged walkers everything is in top condition. The GBG gets it right.

A wonderful pie night in a wonderful place. All is good in this part of the world.


Mirror, Mirror on the pub wall, where can I drink Draught Bass?

[Please note for the updated Bass pubs directory click here. ]

It all started in the Queen Anne in Great Hucklow in the Peak District. A lovely pint of unexpected Draught Bass. I thanked the landlord for his well-kept beer and he told me it was the most popular on the bar. Simple pleasures savoured.


Who could say no to a true icon?

As I left, I imagined a conversation in a pub with my grandson, 10 years hence…

“Grandad, do Bass make mirrors?” He spots my puzzled look and explains that the only time we see the name in a pub, it’s on a mirror. Draught Bass no longer exists. My heritage as a Burton-born lad is gone.

Prior to the Beer Orders of 1989, Draught Bass was available in most of the Bass tied estate of 9,000 pubs. By 2011, Interbrew (as Bass owner, AB InBev was then known) reportedly had 3,000 Draught Bass stockists. It’s unlikely it has more than 750 UK outlets these days. That exceeds the closure rate of UK pubs by some way…quite an achievement.

In response to the ‘mirror issue’, I decided it was time to help folks find my beer of choice. Where are those pubs, often ‘perfect pubs’, is the question the Draught Bass Pub Directory seeks to answer. This is not a lament for Britain’s most famous beer brand. It’s a small effort to resuscitate…to enable more people to find Draught Bass, permanently on the bar, and to celebrate the work of those landlords who nurture a classic English ale. It might even spur the brand owner to support their beer (or sell it to someone else).

The listing of some 500 pubs in Britain that serve Draught Bass on a permanent basis is attached later (now updated to September 2019 but other updates welcome) in the article, but first a few thoughts from me and others.

Where can I get a pint?

Imagine a small red-brick pub in Staffordshire, Leicestershire or Derbyshire, ordinary in its perfection. The chances are there’ll be little choice in the real ale department and maybe lagers and Guinness on the keg fonts. Open the door and you may well find the magical red triangle calling to you from a hand pump clip. You might even be offered the beer from a jug or by gravity. Draught Bass is probably served from the cask or jug in more pubs than any other beer.

In some locations Draught Bass is a rarity, in others such as Stoke-on-Trent and Derby it’s much more frequent. There are beacons of excellence, well-known to the Bass drinker, such as the iconic Coopers Tavern in Burton (once the Bass tap and now lovingly cared for by Joule’s), the Tynemouth Lodge Hotel and the Star Inn at Bath.

As well, there are wonderful oddities like The Sun in Stockton-on-Tees, famous for its banked Bass. Half-filled glasses ready to be be topped up to give a mighty head beloved of the locals. And the Express Tavern in Brentford is literally a beacon to Draught Bass with its illuminated signage paying homage to the name and the Red Triangle. All heroes of their beer-keeping craft and rightly proud of their beer quality.

There is a Draught Bass ‘home counties’ with Staffordshire (146 pubs), Derbyshire (87) and Leicestershire (63) leading the way in terms of numbers of pubs with Bass as a permanent beer. Leicestershire includes my personal favourite, the New Inn at Peggs Green, because of their welcome to a long distance walker on a very wet day.

For lovers of geography, there are hints of the old delivery routes by road, canal and rail in the modern-day loyalties to Draught Bass. The A38 to Derby and the South-West , the old A50 towards Leicester and Stoke and the A444 to Coventry, all links to pockets of relative strength for the beer. As Boak & Bailey say, “there’s a lingering sense out west, of Bass as a premium brand”.

Elsewhere there are swathes of Draught Bass deserts with only the occasional oasis to quench the thirst. In Manchester, the Unicorn holds sway as a unique city centre Bass boozer (see Tandleman’s reports below), Birmingham city centre is empty of Bass pubs, with Liverpool, London, Edinburgh and Glasgow also short-changed.

In Wales, there are a few opportunities to drink Draught Bass and the locals are proud of their traditional Bass pubs. As the GBG entries for the Borough Arms in Neath and the Pen & Wig in Newport respectively report, “this is probably the best back-street pub in Wales, much to the delight of the locals” and “a pub like they used to be”. Stirring stuff indeed.

And uniquely in Cornwall at the New Inn in Tywardreath, they love their Draught Bass so much that the pub is covenanted to sell it in perpetuity.

What’s happened to Bass

When a beer is better known for pub mirrors than the beer itself, the brand has a problem. It has suffered at the hand of government and brand owners alike.

It has become a beer brand that is so damaged by neglect it would make an excellent case study for a MBA. It’s no coincidence that the beer is all too occasionally listed on CAMRA’s  WhatPub database, as Marston’s Other (Bass) or Molson Coors Burton – Other (Bass). Its brand profile as a draught beer is desperately weak.

The changes of ownership and brewer that have progressively weakened Draught Bass are not entirely the fault of the owners. The decline in beer sales was likely to cause structural changes in the UK brewing industry, but the ‘Beer Orders’ laid waste to Draught Bass, and what followed can be traced back to the chaos created in 1989.

The ‘Orders’ placed a limit of 2,000 pubs for each brewery’s tied estate. This was the catalyst for a merry-go-round of corporate disposals and the creation of the non-brewing pubcos. Bass had one of the largest tied estates and the repercussions were immense.

As Pat Saunders described it in the Brewery History journal,

“By February 2000 Bass had decided to quit the brewing business.”…”By June 2000, Bass agreed a sale of its brewing division for £2.3 billion to Belgium rival Interbrew. With the sale went the Bass name and red triangle trademark.”

“The deal though, like the failed attempt with Carlsberg, was fraught with difficulties. Brussels agreed the UK probe in to the Bass deal and its referral to the European Commission….In February the matter was taken to the courts. In the interim Interbrew could retain Bass Brewers until a ruling on the enforced sale of the brewing interests. Interbrew wanted some freedom of choice over how it could make the disposals. In May the High Court overturned the Government ruling.”

With the Competition Commission forced to reconsider its position, various options were developed by the OFT. Eventually Patricia Hewitt (Secretary of State for Trade and Industry) decided that Interbrew should be required to dispose of either Bass Brewers or Carling Brewers to a buyer approved by the OFT.

By 2002, Coors bought most of the brewing business and created Coors Brewers Limited, the UK’s second largest brewer with more than 20% market share. However Interbrew retained the rights to the Bass beer brand.

After the deal, Draught Bass was initially brewed by Coors and in 2005 production was moved to Marston’s brewery in Burton. So for the past 16 years, AB InBev hasn’t brewed a drop of Draught Bass in the UK. (Kegs, cans and bottles are brewed in Salmesbury in Lancashire.)

Staffordshire Day was celebrated recently with a Michael Arthur Bass look-a-like leading the way and Burton’s MP and former Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group , Andrew Griffiths, lauding Bass as one of the UK’s leading brands. Mr Bass must have been ranting from the grave given the current state of the brand and the decline in the numbers of pubs stocking one of England’s great traditional ales.

Can Draught Bass be saved?

It’s difficult for me to be unemotional about Draught Bass. It was part of growing up in Burton. But what are the facts.

The EU AB InBev careers’ website accurately describes the relative importance of their brands to the company.

“The UK has a strong portfolio of AB InBev brands. This includes, global brands, Stella Artois and Budweiser, international brands, Beck’s, Leffe and Hoegaarden, as well as local brands, including Boddingtons and Bass.”

Boddies and Draught Bass…as I’ve described before, the awkward clever kids in the class for AB InBev.

A search for Draught Bass on the main AB InBev website, illustrates the problem further.

“Results For: Draught Bass

No results were found.”

You get the feeling it just doesn’t matter any more to the brand owner. When did you last see any press coverage driven by AB InBev, for what was once one of the world’s leading brands?

Could anyone else do better?

Carlsberg has recently announced a revamp of their Tetley brands including cask, with promises of investment. In response to questions from the Morning Advertiser, Carlsberg gave their thoughts.

“Tetley’s is a bit of a sleeping giant in the portfolio, in that we have perhaps not done much with it in the last five years….It’s a brand that we have probably underestimated in terms of its potential within our business, but we feel it deserves more love – it’s about trying to breathe new life into it”

Whilst some Tetley lovers will not be happy until it’s once again brewed in Leeds, the plans of Carlsberg shows that some brand owners are willing to invest in a premium ale. And Tetley’s Cask is only a minor regional classic. (Obviously since I wrote the original post, Carlsberg have announced that Leeds Brewery will be brewing some old recipe Tetley beers in Leeds. Tetley’s Cask will continue to be brewed in Wolverhampton.)

Imagine what might be done with a world-leading brand like Draught Bass.

So that’s Carlsberg sorted on the premium cask front. Are there any other large brewers/pub estates that ought to consider acquiring and investing in Bass?

Marston’s from a technical viewpoint might seem an obvious choice, but I suspect in their eyes they would be merely diverting funds from their established brands, principally Pedigree. In my view, Greene King for similar reasons would prefer to stick with GK IPA. Molson Coors have put their marketing muscle and sales distribution behind Doom Bar and why should they switch from a very successful brand (in commercial terms) that they acquired only recently.

For me there’s only one player in town who should be interested. In the UK, Heineken have a substantial estate (Star Pubs and Bars) but they don’t have a strong premium cask ale, with only Deuchars and John Smith’s in the pack. They have experience of Draught Bass in their leased estate and could do so much with the brand.

‘Great stuff, this Bass’, or just a BBB that’s not what it was?

Boak and Bailey in All About Beer magazine describe the problems with some old beer brands, in their case with regard to Guinness.

“…beers that are around for a long time often come to be be perceived as Not What They Used to Be…Sometimes that is due to jaded palates or is the result of a counter-cultural bias against big brands and big business”…Both of these might apply to Guinness but there is also objective evidence of a drop in quality, or at least essential changes to the product.”

The loss of the Burton Union system of brewing Draught Bass and the move to contract brewing by Marston’s are significant changes in my eyes. Some say that it might even be partly brewed in Wolverhampton. However at its best it remains a fine beer of subtle qualities.

The Drinker’s Tale

Tandleman expressed similar concerns in a blogpost about a trip to the Unicorn in Manchester in 2014.

“We brought our pints into the the back room and surveyed the beer. Served in Bass glasses, the beer was a mid brown and served Northern style. It smelled sweet and malty with just a hint of hops. And that’s how it tasted too. It was in great nick and I could have drank a few. We all enjoyed it, but to me it wasn’t the Bass of yesteryear, but that was hardly a surprise.

Is Bass part of the present or the past. It is a ghost of its former self, so the past I’d say, but it was nice to drink it again nonetheless.”

Two years later he recounts a slightly different tale of the same pub,

“I caught a barman’s eye and shouted out that rarely heard order “Two pints of Draught Bass please. Not only was the Bass on, it was superb. In this time capsule, it seemed just the thing to drink. We had two pints each. The Unicorn was a Bass House and Bass is still one of the permanent beers. The presence of Worthington Smooth is another clue. I wrote about it and Bass here a couple of years ago, but I liked the Bass less then. I wonder why?”

That’s my experience too, well-conditioned and in a pub of good sales volumes it is a still a wonderful beer. Could it be better, probably.

The Landlord’s Tale

Hughie Price, host of the Tynemouth Lodge Hotel conveys his passion about Draught Bass and a few wistful thoughts on how ‘things ain’t what they used to be, or could be’.

“The first time I drank a pint of proper beer in a pub, it came straight out of a wooden barrel on the end of the bar and it was Draught Bass, otherwise known as Bass Pale Ale (4.4% ABV)….Draught Bass is the No 1 selling ale at my pub. Bass drinkers are surprisingly loyal to their product, as it still one of the finest beers brewed in the UK. It’s all down to the flavour, as well-kept Bass is in a class of its own…

When Bass ceased to be brewed using the Unions, there was a marked change in the character of the ale, which was lamented by devotees of the beer, myself included…. The Burton Union System is a brilliant system for separating the yeast from the wort, but far from being just a yeast-clarification mechanism, the Unions also deliver more robust and flavoursome beers than other real ale brewing plant…

Marstons-brewed Bass has a superb if slightly modified flavour, but is brighter in character and with a much lighter sediment in the barrel, which bodes easier on the stomach. It is still brewed to the old Bass recipe using two unique strains of brewers’ yeast, which contributes greatly to the flavour of the ale along with Burton water and finest English hops and malted barley…

Although Marstons are now brewing Bass in Yorkshire Squares, it is now the only brewery left in the UK that still uses the Burton Union System for brewing some of its own beers. Marstons are to be applauded for keeping their Burton Unions intact. It is just a shame that Marstons do not brew Bass in their Unions, as this would regenerate a huge amount of interest in Draught Bass and return the character of the beer to its former glory.”

He finishes with, “the future for Draught Bass is uncertain.” Indeed so.


What can you do to help? Drink Draught Bass. Get out to one of these pubs and savour a pint of Draught Bass and if it’s good, tell the landlord. If he or she doesn’t have it – ask why? And if you’re really brave ask AB InBev about their plans for Draught Bass and ask CAMRA what they are doing to put pressure on the brand owner.

Of course you might still think it’s just a bland old BBB and that’s why it’s disappearing. In that case I’ll leave the last word to Roger Protz. In a recent tweet, he summed up why I hope my grandson won’t need to ask his ‘mirror, mirror on the pub wall’ question.

“If Timothy Taylor’s Landlord or Boltmaker… or Draught Bass are bland beers, I am a banana sandwich.”

He’s not, it isn’t.

Thank you

Whilst I lay claim to all the errors and omissions (BTW, comments and additions welcome below or by PM to my twitter account), the listing couldn’t have been put together without others’ sterling efforts. The CAMRA volunteers who produce the GBG and WhatPub entries for a start. My fellow Bass obsessives – RetiredMartin, PubCurmudgeon and Britainbeermat who were willing to sit next to the strange bloke on the Bass social media bus. And everyone else amongst the twitterati who contributed their favourite Draught Bass haunts.

Please note that the text above has not been updated but the database of permanent Bass pubs is updated regularly. As a result the text mentions pubs that sadly no longer sell Bass. The number of pubs is lower in the database than the numbers mentioned in the text. Whilst there has been a decline in the numbers of Bass pubs the major element of the fall is due to increased checking of outdated WhatPub descriptions using pub websites and photos on the web. (May 2019)]

Commercial use of this post and the Draught Bass Pub Directory is not permitted.