In those days, it was very unusual for a pub to sell draught beer from multiple breweries. Even “free houses” were usually committed to the draught products of a single brewer. Bottled beers were a different matter. Some big bottled brands – Guinness and Mackeson, for example – were available in other brewers’ tied houses. Bass is the only draught beer that broke out of the tie.
Having grown up in a region where brewers mostly had a very limited draught. Mild and Bitter. With no Best Bitter or Old Ale, seeing more than two operational hand pulls was an occasion. Entering a pub with six or even eight beer engines, all dispensing a different beer, was like a punch in the face. In a good way.
I did learn to be wary of pubs with lots of hand pumps. Sometimes more than their trade could sustain. Selling two cask beers was sustainable for most pubs. Six or more? Only a pub with a large number of committed cask drinkers. I preferred tied houses with just a couple of casks. If there was a decent landlord.
And here’s one of the great things about cask beer. A mediocre beer can be polished and made to shine by a good cellarman. The downside is that an idiot landlord can ruin the most wonderful beer.
CAMRA, in my opinion unwisely, set up their own real ale pub chain. There was nothing wrong with the pubs themselves. They had a range of cask beers from different brewers. One, The Eagle, was in Leeds. And in an area I regularly pub-crawled. All the other pubs on the crawl were Tetley houses, so it did offer a little variety.
The problem was more a conflict of interest. A consumer organisation that was dabbling in the trade? Too many places the aims of the campaign and the pub chain wouldn’t be in sync.
As always, your memories are welcome.