Chain Vs Freehouse

I'm a big fan of supporting local pubs. I go to independent local pubs all the time, more frequently than chain pubs, because they're clearly better, but I've been doing some thinking.

You see, the question is... who can you trust to get the beer right?

So you've got a Wetherspoons which guarantees to have a decent selection of cask ales, and in my experience, it's always kept well. I mean, the two I frequent in Norwich I can't fault. They always have a selection of beer that's better than 80% of pubs in Norwich (in my opinion) and they both keep their beers very well. On the rare occasion that I've ordered a pint and I've found it be off, they've taken it off sale. They don't know who I am but because of the amount of times I've been in there drinking their beer, they know that I know what I'm talking about. Generally though, the beer is good, and cheap. It's somewhere you can always trust.

And then you've got Freehouses. Unregulated freehouses. Let's all support our local freehouse, right? That'd be a good idea if they fucking cared. I find that a lot of freehouses seem to brag about the fact that they're a freehouse and can have any beer they want, but although they may be a award winning and whatnot, they don't care about the beer. It leads me to think that these awards are purely based on the atmosphere. You may get a good selection but does it even matter when the beer is of such an awful quality that a pint of Guinness is Ambrosia?

With all this in mind, my question to you is this: If you go to a town or city you've never been before and you don't know anyone who's ever been to a pub there, what do you choose? Do you risk the freehouse that may be selling expensive poorly kept beer or do you go to the Wetherspoons that you know will have a reasonably priced good selection that's kept well?

I know what I'd choose.



  1. Part of the joy of twitter, of course, is never having to worry about being somewhere where you've not been before. It would be very rare for *no one* to have a suggestion, or not have a mate who has a suggestion.

    'Spoonses still have their place, of course, particularly in beer deserts [cough]west brom[cough] and would definitely take one over a set of scary looking high st pubs...

    1. aha! yes, that's it! We really don't need to care... we can find out instantly because we have all the people!

      But yeah, I've been in weird places before that seem to don't be on the radar of any regular person and it has to be a chain!

  2. Hmm, Spoons can vary widely and in my experience the beer can often be a bit of a lottery. So in a strange town I might well go to Spoons, especially if looking for pub food, but I'd also give local freehouses a try. I don't think there's anywhere in the UK where it would be difficult to get some local recommendations.

    In Stockport I would say the beer in the Crown and Magnet is consistently better than that in Spoons in terms of both choice and quality, but not everywhere is so lucky.

    1. I agree, in the age of the internet it is incredibly difficult to somewhere that you can't find someone who at least knows the area vaguely, but it's more of a hypothetical thing. What if?

      The food is shit but always edible in 'Spoons though, which as you say is safe.

      I dunno though, sometimes I don't like going in strange freehouses as you can't judge what the locals are going tbe like.

    2. If you stick to pubs listed in the GBG or obvious contenders I'd be surprised if you found any with an unpleasant atmosphere. Over the years I've been in a fair number of pubs from the GBG that I didn't like, but I struggle to remember any that I felt threatening.

    3. To be honest, I've never even looked at the GBG. Obviously, they wouldn't be in there if it had a threatening atmposhere etc. Maybe I'll give it a shot.

  3. A spoons is always a safe bet and you can gauge the local prices by noticing the price of the Spoons and adding a quid.

  4. Great post Nate although I very rarely go to my local 'Spoons because I don't think they keep the beer any better than my Crouch End locals which have had to become a lot more competitive with their beer range because their customers are demanding more. I like going to a pub for enjoyment and atmosphere is a key factor, my local 'Spoons have bright lights, no music and the beer I want to order is nearly always 'coming soon'.

    1. See, that's the thing with Norwich - the locals seem perfectly happy drinking the same beers that you can get basically anywhere in Norwich. Very few pubs have a very exciting beer selection and we're guaranteed to find something decent in Spoons - even if it's something that's not total mega craft or highly hopped or whatever, we find gems that we don't see elsewhere.

      Also, my local spoons keeps beer better than most pubs that are within a mile radius, which is sad when you think about it!

  5. As with anywhere, it depends on whether their cellar manager can do their job properly. I've been to Spoons where they keep their beer beautifully, and Spoons where it's all been really poor. I must say though, over the last year or so I feel like I've noticed that more and more of them are in fact keeping their beer well. A push from Head Office to ensure that their staff are trained better, perhaps?

    If I'm going to a new area I'll generally give the local pubs a quick google. If a pub doesn't seem to have any sort of online presence at all - no website, no reviews, no Twitter mentions - I generally assume that it's not going to be my sort of place and avoid it like the plague.

    I suppose even if you do end up in a Spoons where the beer is kept badly, you can always plump for a bottle of something safe.

    1. I absolutely agree, and online presence is another topic I have lined up for the future! Maybe next week!

      'Spoons really have upped their game. They want all of their pubs to be cask marque accredited meaning you know the beers are going to be kept well.

      If I'm in a Spoons with crap cask, I'll always go for a bottle of Budvar or Erdinger!


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