I was in a pub in the Lake District this weekend, drinking a blonde beer from a brewery I'd never heard of. It was unpleasant, slightly tart, with a plasticky phenolic finish. I'm all for returning pints to the bar if you're not happy, but I just wasn't in the mood for it that night. There were a few of us chatting over dinner, and so I laboured through it, hoping for something better next. One of my companions asked me what the beer was like: "Bloody awful" I replied. He tried it: "Jesus, that IS awful. I thought you were just being a beer snob, but that isn't right, is it?". We have a brief discussion about how although it's tempting to write off a brewery based on a bad pint, it might just be a bad batch, or a bad cask, or even a cellaring or dispense issue.
I scan the bar, and decide the lesser of the four evils presented to me was probably Theakston's Best. It was the most likely to be consistent with what I was expecting, by virtue of having come from a large and successful brewery. But that was odd too, also slightly phenolic, so perhaps rather than the beer being poor in itself, the pub does have a hygeine issue. Maybe the lines haven't been properly rinsed after cleaning. Still, the tally of bad pints is two for two, and I think about switching again. Stuff it, I'll have a whisky - Glenrothes 10, very nice. Although the Tirril Lager font that I've ignored sets me thinking.....
A couple of days ago, I was in another pub, catching up with another friend over some food and beer. He was drinking Staropramen, I was drinking Kozel. I don't normally drink lager, but I just wanted something cold and clean to go with the pigs cheek scotch egg (thank you Town Hall Tavern in Leeds). It was a revelation, not in reference to any undiscovered flavours, but for its clean, consistent, cool bittersweetness. It's like the moment when, stuck in a monumental traffic jam on the A303 one night, I finally "got" house music - it's just there, that beat, always solid, always loud, providing a rhythm for you to exist within. Lager is like house music - eternal, omnipresent, and in varying levels of quality. After three pints of Kozel, a pint of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was a crazy flavour bomb, all toffee malt and pithy hops. Sensational.
These experiences got me thinking. Am I just being seduced by big-brewery quality control into thinking that their beers are better, because they are more reliable? My Kozel experience has left me positively disposed towards drinking more of it, whereas my local beer experience literally left a bad taste in my mouth.
Put simply, is consistency a factor in quality? And if the answer is yes (and I think it is), then how big a factor is it?