JD Wetherspoons is a successful pub company that is expanding in a declining market, its policy is to provide real ale in all its sites, and many of its outlets have a good range of beers both from well-known breweries and interesting micros. It also provides good value food, tea and coffee, and in fact is the only pub chain that I’d go in just for a hot drink. It tends to open its outlets in buildings that for the most part weren’t pubs previously, in the process saving some interesting old buildings from demolition, such as a former theatre in Cardiff where you can sit in the circle with your pint and gaze down on the crowds below. It has also reintroduced real ale in areas where it wasn’t previously available. It actively supports and promotes CAMRA and gives members £20 of discount real ale vouchers. As someone who began drinking in the 1970s, I'm certain that real ale drinkers of that time would have welcomed Spoons with open arms.
What about today? There has been a series of letters in the CAMRA newspaper, What’s Brewing, complaining about Spoons pubs being in the Good Beer Guide (GBG), often coupled with demands that they should be automatically excluded because they are all alike; there have been accusations by members who should know better that the vouchers scheme has bought entries in the GBG, and snide suggestions that CAMRA should reward its “paymasters” by listing every Spoons pub in an appendix in the GBG. Having been involved in GBG selection for many years, I know that Spoons pubs are chosen on their merits alone; there is no directive from CAMRA HQ, nor any local policy, that we should lower our standards to let them in as a mark of gratitude. So while they get no favours, they shouldn’t be discriminated against because of some members’ prejudices. In short, they are treated fairly. I can only assume that these whingeing CAMRA members are not involved in the GBG selection process in their local branches, otherwise they’d realise what utter nonsense they’re writing.
In the blogosphere, it gets even worse. I can’t think of any beer bloggers who are automatically anti-Spoons, but some people who add comments to blogs have revealed themselves to be quite unpleasant human beings. Spoons pubs are sneeringly dismissed as being full of people on benefits, neglectful, boozy single parents letting their kids run riot, and dribbling pensioners with shaking hands – I’m quoting here; I get no pleasure typing this.
Here’s my response: firstly, people who talk and write this way are objectionable little snobs and I wouldn’t want them polluting any pub I choose to go to, Spoons or otherwise. Stripping away the disgraceful language, I’ll answer the substantive points. It is not surprising that people on limited incomes might choose to go to what is usually the cheapest pub in town. People on benefits and pensions are entitled to go for a drink to meet people, avoid isolation and have a little pleasure without being scorned by the financially fortunate. I’ve rarely seen kids running wild, and I’ve never seen shaking, dribbling pensioners. Even snobs will be pensioners one day - assuming that, with such bad manners, they live that long.