|Humphrey Richard Woolcombe Smith|
My personal acquaintance with the Samuel Smith Brewery has been limited. I once went on a day trip to Chester and did a tour of the city centre pubs. Eventually, I chanced upon The Falcon on Lower Bridge Street. Walking inside, I was bemused to see the kind of pub decor I'd not seen since the few times I was allowed inside licenced premises back in the early 1980s. Looking along the bar, I failed to see anything I'd heard of. "Hmm. Well. I'll havea pint of the Old Brewery Bitter" I thought "How bad can it be?". I took out three pound coins in order to complete the transaction.
"One pound fifty", said the barmaid.
|The Falcon, Chester|
I'm glad I hadn't started drinking at that point, otherwise I'd've sprayed the entire bar area with brown Yorkshire bitter. I had never paid so little for a pint, not even back in the last century when I started drinking. I even checked the pump dispenser to see if I'd ordered a non-alcoholic beer by mistake.
It certainly wasn't the best beer I'd ever had, but I reasoned you get what you pay for. Looking round, I realised there was not one single recognisable brand of drink, snack or anything else - a deeply unsettling experience in the 21st century. I finished my pint and left for the Bear and Billet down the road, which turned out to be less unnerving despite being packed with Welsh Rugby fans.
Being me, on my way home, I had to find out exactly why these events happened. I got out my laptop and looked it all up on the train home. Yes, the Falcon was a Samuel Smith Old Brewery Pub and I found an independent forum that deals with the issues surrounding them. To say the brewery owner is not positively depicted therein would be an understatement.
The most tactful way of describing Humphrey Smith is that he's a traditionalist. He's inherited his family's brewery and runs it the way he wants to, as is his right. Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to appreciate the difference between respecting the traditions of the 19th Century, and living in them. Tales of him treating his pub managers like serfs, his pubs like a landed estate and technology like the sign of the apocolypse are many. And woe betide you if you want any more beer in your glass than he's prepared to give you.
Humphrey will be 70 in December. Rumours of his retirement abound, but it never seems to happen. In fact, he's been taking more and more responsibilities at the brewery over the last few years, leading to many unsatisfactory practices, as described here in a flabbergasting article by one of his erstwhile relief managers. .
|Ye Olde Blue Bell, Preston|
In so many ways, this situation is a shame. Apparently (I've not been in the Preston Sam's, The Ye Olde Blue Bell), Smith's pubs are a throwback to the days when they were all places of cheery banter, gossip and cheap beer. Or so Mudgie says, and he'd know. The SSOB bottled beers have been recently lauded by Boak & Bailey of all people (though they admit "Sam Smith's is not a trendy brewery. Nor even likeable")
The main hope of many of Sam's slowly dwindling group of fans is that HRW Smith goes before the company does. His son, Samuel is apparently being groomed to take over, but is only 26. I say, as many commentators do, that it's sad to see a company of such potential being slowly squandered by one man's intransigence.