Craft-beer pubs deserve to be sound-proofed

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Brown: "I’m sure we’d all benefit if we could hear each other describing how lovely the beer is."
Brown: "I’m sure we’d all benefit if we could hear each other describing how lovely the beer is."
Maybe I’m getting old. I’m starting to make witty, derisive comments about young people on TV that aren’t witty at all, and I’ve started talking back to the ads between the programmes, like my nan used to.

Worst of all, whenever I see Keira Knightley these days, my reaction isn’t anything along the lines of ‘Phwoar’. Instead I find myself thinking, ‘Are you eating OK? Look at the dress — there’s nothing to it. You’ll catch your death.’

And increasingly often, I’m leaving pubs when they get too noisy or busy. My hearing is not what it was, and I haven’t got the time or the energy to lean across the table and ask people to repeat everything they say. I’ve started smiling and nodding when I have no idea what anyone is saying, occasionally getting caught out when they ask me what beer I’d like next and I reply, “Yes it was, wasn’t it?”

But in my rage against the dying of the light, I think there are mitigating circumstances.

Whenever I have the opportunity these days, I drink in the new breed of craft-beer bar that’s now firmly established across the UK. I first wrote about these in the Publican a few years ago, and defined them as the kind of place where there are no recognisable mainstream brands on the bar.

There are thousands of pubs that have a decent selection of cask ales, and this is a vital part of the craft-beer bar. But where you’d expect to see the likes of Kronenbourg and Fosters, there are imported German or Czech lagers, Belgian ales and British craft keg beers from the likes of Camden, Kernel and BrewDog.

In the fridge, instead of Becks and Bud there are American and Scandinavian craft beer imports, some of which will be in 750ml bottles retailing for north of 20 quid a go. The final step in becoming a craft- beer bar — by my definition — is when Guinness comes off the bar.

The final leap into the unknown is to replace it with a new nitro-stout such as Camden Ink, or simply to rely on cask stouts and porters on the hand pumps. And then that’s it: you’ve got the kind of bar that terrifies some potential customers, and delights an increasing (and affluent) minority.

London is at the epicentre of the craft-beer bar movement, with examples such as Craft Beer Co, the Euston Tap, the Rake, the Old Red Cow, and my local the Jolly Butchers being joined by new openings on a weekly basis.

The movement is well established in other cities too: there’s the Port Street Beer House in Manchester, the Sheffield and York Taps and the growing chain of BrewDog bars. North Bar in Leeds, arguably the first of its kind, recently celebrated its 15th anniversary.

I love these bars and the range of beers they stock. They are proof that there is a new movement of beer appreciation going on, that beer and the places in which we drink it are becoming more exciting than I could possibly have imagined when I first started to write about them.

But I’ve got a problem.

The amazing beers are not the only thing the above-named bars have in common. They also — every single one of them — follow a very strict design aesthetic that treats soft furnishings with the same contempt as a warm bottle of Corona. Not a single one has carpets.

They all have hard floors, hard chairs — hard surfaces wherever you look. I can’t even think of any that have curtains. Consequently, the craft-beer bar that has more than two groups of punters in at any one time is a place of booming, crashing, scraping, echoing cacophony.

The range of beers and the barstaff may be welcoming, the sensory experience on the palate may be amazing, but the experience on the ears is — without exception — painful.

 I don’t know why we have to be in a sterile echo-chamber if we want to drink craft beer. I suppose it’s a coolness thing.

But here’s a plea: how about some nice velvet drapes or something? Or even soundproofing on the ceiling? Or how about someone, somewhere, combining the comfort of an old-fashioned pub with the range on offer at a craft-beer bar? Please?

Noise does not equal atmosphere. And I’m sure we’d all benefit if we could hear each other describing how lovely the beer is.

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