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Pete’s Pub Etiquette: no.4 in a depressingly rare series

Changing the format of this series from a rip-off of Viz Top Tips to a rip-off of You Are the Ref, with apologies to Boak and Bailey who had that particular idea first.

This time, you are the beer drinker.

You’re in a pub – one of your local haunts.  You know the landlord pretty well and he knows you write about beer so he’s always keen to get your thoughts on his offering and he buys you the occasional pint.  But he’s away – he’s got to go and sort out another pub in the small group to which this one belongs.

You buy a pint of cask ale and it isn’t right.  It’s clear, but the flavour is all wrong.  You suspect the reason for this is that the beer has been put on sale before it has had time to condition fully.  You take the pint back, and the staff change it, asking you what you think is wrong.  You tell them you think it’s been put on sale before being fully conditioned, and the duty bar manager says, “You’re probably right.  We had such a busy weekend the beer’s being flying out, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re putting the cask beers on too early.”

With this information, you decide to order a pint of Pilsner Urquell instead.

Back at your table, you find the Pilsner is also undrinkable.  It’s full of acetaldehyde, the green apple flavour indicative of oxidisation.

So here’s the first question: you’ve already taken one beer back.  You’ve got another that’s undrinkable.  Do you:
a) Take the second beer back, tell the the lager’s shit as well as the ale, and make yourself a complete pain in the arse, inevitably looking like a bit of a twat even though you’re in the right?
b) Just leave it untouched on the table and go somewhere else as soon as the Beer Widow has finished her Leffe?
c) Something else I haven’t thought of?

Because I dunno.  I do know that if I didn’t know the circumstances, with the landlord being away and everything, I’d never set foot in the place again.

But there’s a part two as well.

As you’re leaving, you walk past the bar and you see the bar manager serving a customer with the same cask ale you took back, the cask ale he has admitted should not be on sale.  Now, what do you do?  He’s either calling you a pain in the arse behind your back, or he’s assuming other customers who aren’t the same sticklers as you will simply not notice.  But what if other customers do notice, and without your level of knowledge, they just assume that the beer is shit, or the pub is shit, or both, and go somewhere else next time?

You like this pub.  Again, what do you do?



Thom Farrell

It really depends on how comfortable I felt with the situation. If the barman had been genuinely apologetic the first time, rather than merely tolerant, and I was as confident that something was wrong as you clearly were then I probably would have taken the second pint back.

If the barman was aggressive or refused to change it, then I have a word with my landlord friend when he comes back, as I'm sure he'd be very interested to hear about the way his beer and customers were being treated.


Take the PU back Pete and tell him it's shite and the reason(s) why it is undrinkable. As a beer drinker you are entitled to a beer served in good condition and as a seasoned beer drinker it's pretty much your responsibility to point out defects. If your mate the manager can't suck it up then he's in the wrong business.
If you see the manager continuing to sell the shite (assuming he agreed with you it's off) then a quick call to the relevant local authority department wouldn't go amiss (or to PU's HQ, who are real sticklers for beer quality).
Great series! More please!

Beer and Brew

Leave quietly and go back and have a word to the Landlord later on.

Management is going to view you as a pain in the arse and chances are as soon as you walk out they will be serving it again anyway.

The Landlord should be more considerate of the long term implications of serving shit beer.


Perhaps my (upon reflection) rather aggressive response is due to the fact I now live in Sweden where the average cost of 500ml of PU is around 65-70 SEK (over £6 in real money). Therefore I literally can't afford to drink shite beer. At that price I always feel I'm being ripped off anyway so need little encouragement to have a go.


Here's a new strategy to avoid the problems you describe. We've managed to convince a couple of our regular pubs to provide use with a set of small tasters before we choose. Then we can tell the barman whether a beer is shit or not without wasting a pint. And if the barman doesn;t care a shit either, we don't have to tell him! Very rarely have we ended up with zero choice.

Works best with larger groups but with a bit of "training", the person behind the bar can see the advantage of this strategy too. Cheers!


This happens more than it should in fact. In the circumstances, I'd just leave it on the table and have a word with the landlord later as I know him (in the case you describe). The barman has already admitted he had no other beer – well that's what I read from this – so no change to be had out of him. You are also in the position of knowing whether or not this is a rare occurrence and can make allowances accordingly. As you say – and I said in a recent post – the casual visitor has no such tolerance. It's bad for beer and needs to be pointed out in the most sensitive way you can.

(Or, just jump up on a table, call for attention and shout "Listen Everyone, the beer's absolutely shit in here.") No. Not really.

Cooking Lager

What to do? Accept the pub is by and large crap. That you were either mistaken to like it in the first place or its gone right downhill.

Northern Snippet

Wait till the manager gets back-if hes a decent manager who cares about his pub he will want to know about it.
Can I ask you a question?
If you were a landlord who stocked a particular ale especially for a regular customer who came in every day,despite the fact that this ale now costs double the price of all the other(mainly local ales)that you stock,but you are selling it at the same price(in effect you are subsidising it).On the occasion that this ale runs out after being exceptionally busy,the regular drinker comes in and its not available for him.He then walks out in disgust before loudly complaining to all around that the beers here are "crap".On his subsequent return continues to recall last Friday when "his" beer was not available and how all the other beers were shit..
What would you do?????

Rob Nicholson

@Northern Snippet: *sigh* and accept that there are many idiots in this world. Somebody I know is very local about another pub in the village saying the beer is crap. I just ignore him as I know that's not the case esp. as the beer has won several awards

Stephen Beaumont

You visit a car hire firm to book out a ride for the long weekend and you're given the keys to an economy class car that looks fine from the outside but sounds like complete crap the minute you engage the engine. You take the keys back to the service manager who agrees that it's likely the car needs tuning, but explains that they've been so busy they're turning over rentals as fast as they can.

He hands you a new set of keys, but the minute you open the car door you're overwhelmed by the reek of stale tobacco, a weeks old gym bag and something approximating the smell of a dead badger. What do you do, meekly accept your car and drive away with the windows down or return the second set of keys and risk looking like a twat…?

Why is this even a question, Pete? You've just been handed two consecutive pints of crap beer for which they are asking real, honest-to-god money. You are the consumer, they are the seller, and if the two can't meet on equal terms then you should get your money back and feel free to go elsewhere for a proper pint. Just because it's a pint of beer and not something more expensive doesn't make the relationship any more complicated.

And so far as the manager continuing to serve the duff cask, I think a quiet word with the landlord a little later on would be advisable.

Gary Gillman

I have had a number of situations, in England and here (Canada), where a bad pint was served. Indeed, when it comes to real ale, this comes with the territory…

One should always of course ask politely for a replacement, but persistence is sometimes necessary to avoid losing one's hard-earned cash. I have found in most cases the servers will assume you know less than they do about beer, so you can't (usually) win in that sense, but still, a politely formulated objection is usually accepted.

My approach is to say, look, I am interested in beer and know a bit about it, and this pint is just off, please change it. I can't recall ever being refused, sometimes it is done unwillingly, but always done. If the second pint is carefully chosen (I would never order a second cask ale if the first is off) generally money will not have been wasted. Sometimes I ask for a small taste of two beers for the second one, which reduces the risk. Still, if the second beer is no good, I will just leave. That has happened rarely in my experience, but it does happen.

Displaying some knowledge in a reasonable way generally overcomes the antipathy to acceding to public complaints (which in truth exists everywhere, I don't think the U.K. is different in that respect).


The Big Dog

I'm an American, and even I wouldn't tell the bartender the second pint is shit. If it's really so bad that it's undrinkable, then just leave it. Before you leave, you let the bartender know why. Next time you're in, you can let the owner know (politely).

As for the other pint being served, stay out of it. Many consumers don't know or care whether its aged enough. For all you know, the customer was told it was a bit too young and decided they wanted it anyway.

PLEASE don't appoint yourself as the brew police. A really good pub will take your criticism constructively (especially considering who you are), but if the pub continues to serve beer you find unacceptable, go to another place.


Quiet word with the landlord, along the lines of "I like this pub and I hope this is helpful feedback", I reckon. I guess the barman/manager in this case is more worried about the short term risk of being bollocked for running out of beer and losing sales than the long term prospects of the pub.


c) would be "neck it and hope for better luck next time?"

Interesting you should bring this up, as I blogged about the same issue the other day: http://smallbeerblog.blogspot.com/2010/05/wrong-pint.html

In my case, I queried whether I'd been served the correct pint, only to be given another small glass of the "correct" pint to find that it too tasted nothing like I expected. I was faced with the dilemma of either challenging the bar-staff's ability to attach the right barrel to the tap, or forlornly accepting the drink and supping it without joy.

I'm not a brave man, I supped it. But boy did I d)blog about it when I got home — just like you, Pete.

Martyn Cornell

One crap pint, a friendly word may be all that is required. Two crap pints from completely different founts, there is probably a problem beyond friendly words. Leave quietly, and tell your pal the landlord when you next see him, since this a problem that could hurt his livelihood if other customers are no longer coming back because his manager can't look after the beer.


I agree with Stephen Beaumont and the Big Dog. Interestingly, I did have the same situation once many years ago when on holiday in Cornwall. With my second complaint I was barred!
Northern Snippet: bar him or just take him outside and twat him. I don't usually advocate violence but he sounds like a 24 carat numpty and lacks the suitable receptors for normal communication.


@Northern Snippet Ah, that sounds extremely familiar. It gets better when the agree to try another beer because theirs isn't available, then decide they like that one and don't want the other one any more grrr….

Back to the original question, take the second pint back. Ask for your money back and pop down the road. Have a word with the landlord when he comes back. Every pub has a bad day…

Cooking Lager

What's all it stuff about being polite? Why walk on egg shells?

If it's a crap pint, it's a crap pint. Sack the place off and consider it a dump. Let those with equity in the establishment worry about it. If you feel the need, tell them it is shit, if not leave alone.

Why worry about the viability of a business you have no investment in? Why worry about offending incompetent staff? Why worry about being barred from a dump you don't want to drink in anyway?

Either walk away or tell 'em it's shit.

Gary Gillman

I have found generally speaking that a reasonably phrased objection will produce a replacement. Sometimes they are nice about it and sometimes less so, but I can rarely if ever recall being refused on this score.

If the second beer is defective, I'll just leave. (Sometimes I'll ask for a taste of two beers from which to choose the second. The odds are you won't go wrong this way). I think servers often do not realize what has gone wrong, they will think they know more about beer than you, or that taste is inherently subjective (which it is, but at the same time an experienced taster will know when a pint is off).

For the real ale fan, this problem comes with the territory though, especially when trying beer in an unfamiliar place. I'd rather the odd lost purchase than have no real ale at all.


Melissa Cole

Quiet word with landlord is definitely the way to go, I can see the commercial dilemma but it's short term gain for long term pain – especially as I suspect this is a newly-opened fab pub you have been rhapsodising about, teething troubles are to be expected but, if it was me heading up to Stoke Newington and having two pints and leaving they would be unlikely to get me back in a hurry and my opinion would be formed.

An old saw but a true one, you never get a second chance to make a first impression!


Get a Tardis , Go forward til its just right, then leave with two pints and go straight to where Audrey Tatou is looking her most finest, bed her with the promise of the best conditioned pint she could possibly ask for, if not maybe the man .

Mario (Brewed for Thought)

@Stephen But this guy's boss has let you borrow plenty of cars in the past free of charge. Had he been there, he probably would have made sure you got that special car and who knows if you had to pay for it.

I've had this happen myself. I left it on the table, informed the bartender as I left that I just wasn't happy with it, then took it up with the owner at a later date.

Cookie, you need to be polite, because you don't bite the hand that serves you free beer. I thought even a lout like yourself would know that.


Hummm… Difficult question I think…
For the first answer (on wether i'd shut up or would complain on my pils). I think I'd drink it really fast in order not to really taste it. What a shame, though..
Now, if the usual barman is a good friend, I'd talk to him about these issues later, so that he knows how it is when he's not around. Oh, and I'd ask him to warn me the next time he isn't there 🙂


It really depends on how the barman reaction was when you told him the ale was bad-tasting. If he looked at you as if you were a pain in the ass the first time, why not actually be one the second time ??? Indeed, he most surely saw you as a real pain, since he didn't really cared for what you told… (giving the beer someone refused to another customer!!! That's reaaaaaaly nasty!!!)

Stephen Beaumont

Fair point, Mario, but if you look back at the top of Pete's post, you'd find that a more appropriate analogy would be the car rental guy having previously lent you cars so that he could get your opinion of them. (Pete says, "…he knows you write about beer so he's always keen to get your thoughts on his offering and he buys you the occasional pint.") That is, after a fashion, a commercial relationship and one from which the landlord benefits disproportionally, getting as he does the views of Britain's Beer Writer of the Year in exchange for a measly few freebie pints. (Do you know how much hospitality consultants cost?) As such, it doesn't change the seller-consumer relationship a bit, IMO.

Mario (Brewed for Thought)

I guess Pete could clear up the last question. Is it purely a commercial relationship? I tend to be rather friendly with the bar owners where this occurs and the last thing I'd want is for the bartender to have to tell him "Hey, your friend that gets free beer here all the time, he was being a dick."

Then it's you getting the talking to later, and it probably won't be over another free beer.

Pete Brown

Thanks for the comments!

To many of you the answer seems obvious, but I hope the spread of points of view here illustrates my dilemma.

Everyone who says I have a right just to keep taking bad drinks back: you're right of course. And as a beer 'expert' I suppose that's what I should do to set an example for others.

But the problem with doing that is twofold: firstly, with my beer snob palette I detect problems others don't. ( I had a case of bottled beer given to me recently and I shared bottles with some dinner guests. I opened mine and it was so badly oxidised I poured it down the sink. I tried to do the same with theirs and a physical struggle almost ensued, so happy were they with their beer).

Secondly, I care too much what others think of me, especially around my local area. Allied to the first point, I don't want to walk into a pub and have staff and customers think "Oh god, here comes trouble", even if I am in the right.

So – leave quietly, quiet word with the landlord when he gets back was my chosen course of action.

As for that whole question about my position as a beer 'face' and how that relates to me drinking in a pub – may be something for the shrink, but I prefer anonymity in pubs. As I've said before, I want my local pubs to sell more great beer so I can enjoy it. But by definition, as soon as I walk through the door of them I'm off duty. I take a free pint with gratitude when it's offered and I offer advice when it's asked for, but mostly I try to watch the game, or laugh at the dog, or eat me dinner.


I'd love to say i'd take the second pint back but i've been in this situation many times and leave the second pint and the pub and hope they noticed that their beer was poor.


Just moments ago (I'm posting from the pub as I've an hour to kill between dropping off and picking up my daughter) I had this experience.

My 'crystal clear, fresh on today' pint of Jennings Cumberland Ale had the unmistakeable taste of vinegar.

Last week it was the Black Sheep.

I took the beer back and was told in no uncertain terms by the landlord that nothing was wrong with it.

The replacement pint this week was little better.

The landlord left me with the quite firm impression that he has no time for the likes of me.

I'll not be drinking at this particular Fulwood pub again for a while.


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