Friday 30 September 2016


To be fair, the Morrison's buyer doesn't seem to know much about beer either

I hate getting into arguments online.  No, really, I do.  All I really can easily handle is taking the piss out of something or somebody, being called a twat, and ending it there. As I've said before, I know I'm not everyone's cup of tea so undoubtedly more than a few people find me annoying. What I really don't like however, are those absolutely determined to grasp the wrong end of the stick and who proceed to bash you over the head with it.

The most recent incident happened on Monday.  It started trivially, as these things always do.  Basically, Moor Brewery have got permission to say their canned beer is "CAMRA Approved".  Something to do with secondary fermentation in the can, I believe.  I questioned what your average consumer would make of a can of beer pouring out cloudy.  One particularly well-known "Beer Communicator" replied that it was the job of the shop's staff to inform them that this was entirely normal.

As always with me, things escalated.  I asked the Communicator whether they themselves would expound their specialist beer knowledge for supermarket wages (usually minimum wage)? Naturally, they avoided the question and said that just because I was unhappy in my job it doesn't mean I should take it out on them.  What can you say to that?  Thankfully, I didn't have to, as they used the typical passive-aggressive tactic of saying they no longer wanted to discuss this further.

So, what kind of service should you expect in your average shop that sells beer?  Ideally, somewhere with a reasonably wide range would have someone reasonably knowledgeable on hand to say what the beer is like.  Unfortunately, outside specialist retail, this will very rarely be the case.

A supermarket these is staffed differently than how a lot of people imagine.    The majority of the work happens out of sight of the customer. The shelves are filled up during the night and early morning to minimise distraction and the workers are usually students on short-hours contracts (for flexibility reasons usually, older workers are usually filtered out because they have "commitments"). If there's anyone during the day, it's usually for cosmetic reasons, or to fill up the things that it's not possible to have an entire day's worth on the shelf at any one time.

So when a customer comes in and wants to know what beer or wine to buy, it will be difficult for staff to assist them in a pertinent way, even if there's anyone available to do so.  The best you will typically get is to be told what sells the most "so must be popular".  The days of having Specialist Licenced Department staff are pretty much over.  If you actually know a lot about drinks, you're unlikely to be prepared to work for what the supermarket trade will pay you.

As it happens, at the shop I work at, I'm known for knowing a bit about beer and spirits, so any queries about this inevitably end up directed to me.  To be honest, such things aren't really my job. I'm meant to be doing inventory management, date checking and pricing information.  But I go along and do it anyway, as it's easier to do that than to tell my colleagues "Piss off, I'm busy."

Such things are an exception.  In most places, you won't find anyone to explain why that can of Moor Revival was cloudier than you expected.  If you make enough of a fuss, you'll be given a refund.  But it's doubtful you'll be enlightened about the subtleties of unfiltered beer and can-conditioning.

With the advent of Craft Beer ranges in big shops, this will happen more and more often.  I can't see the retailers splashing out on specialised training for staff who could be used more "efficiently" filling shelves or manning the self-service till.  So, if you want knowledge, go to a specialist shop.  But don't complain you have to pay 33% more for the privilege.


  1. I wouldn't expect anyone in any of the supermarkets to know anything specific about the beers, it seems a very odd notion to have. I would however expect the can to have something written about it on it (as many bottle-conditioned ales and wheat beers do).

    My local smalltown Sainsbury's has gone "crafty can" with offerings from Williams Bros, Harvieston and Innis and Gunn, which I haven't seen anywhere else, adding to the Brewdog. Although at £6 for 4x330ml cans, I'll take my cash to Aldi and get (Williams) 500ml bottles at the same price.

  2. I sympathise with your position. I wouldn't expect supermarket staff to know any specific details and would probably refer you to the words on the bottle.

    How much product knowledge can you expect from a pub anyway ? I guess I might expect the Moorbrook to know a bit more than the Greyfriar about hazy beers, but they may be an unfair assumption.

  3. Customers have a general and reasonable expectation that canned beers will be crystal clear. If that's not the case, then it needs to say in big letters on the can.

    With bottle-conditioned beer, you can at least wait for it to settle and then pour it carefully to avoid disturbing the sediment, but how on earth are you meant to do that with a can?

    I reckon that bloke out of Moor would be better off sticking to playing in The Darkness.

  4. Agree with the above. I don't really see the point of it. I enjoy Moor beers as cask, keg and can, but when buying a can I know it's not real ale and don't expect it to contain sediment. I'm not really sure what market segment actually wants this.

    But to the main point of the article, it's a very particular form of middle class right-on to tell people if they don't enjoy their job they should find another. If only it was that easy.

  5. I'm just wondering if we're going to see cans in CAMRAs Champion Bottled Beer of Britain thing. That'd be a laff, eh?

  6. Coincidentally, I wrote a post this week about beer journalist Sophie Atherton's suggestion that bar staff should be passionate about beer and engage with customers to try to entice them into drinking more real ale. Just what you need when it's four deep at the bar.

    1. Should beer need explaining to the customers? Is it the job of the retailer to lead their customers into the bright new morning of the brave new world of craft? And if it is, should producers be doing more promotion and retailer support?