Superb beers are being produced by breweries all over the country. So why are most of our local pubs still serving the same bland lagers, standard bitters and well-hyped stouts?

If a brewery makes one of the world's great beers, and runs a chain of pubs, wouldn't you expect to find its finest speciality in all of them? Not necessarily. Not any more. For increasingly, British brewers are making one range of beers for their pubs and another, more extensive selection for the supermarket.

If a brewery makes one of the world's great beers, and runs a chain of pubs, wouldn't you expect to find its finest speciality in all of them? Not necessarily. Not any more. For increasingly, British brewers are making one range of beers for their pubs and another, more extensive selection for the supermarket.

A mere two miles from where I live, Young's brewery makes a superbly aromatic, hoppy, appetite-arousing, bottled product called Special London Ale. Three minutes' walk from my home is a Young's local where, since the recent change of landlord, the staff have never heard of Special London Ale. (Mind you, as it becomes less of a pub than a restaurant, any scant knowledge of drink they have is restricted to the latest chardonnay from Papua New Guinea).

Yet Young's Special London Ale is not a secret product. I have often seen it in off-licences and supermarkets, especially larger branches of Tesco. The same applies to a classic beer from Young's local rival, Fuller's. Its malty, toasty, lemony, 1845 Bottle-Conditioned Ale, a superb accompaniment to a Sunday roast, is easier to pick up in a trolley than it is in a pint glass at one of the brewer's tied houses.

My devotion to pubs was once so strong that I scoffed at the notion of buying beer in a supermarket. I sneered that I would wait until an oasis of calm and conversation, not to mention cask-conditioned beer, could be found by the checkout. In many pubs, the calm and conversation has long been eroded by loud music; the unfiltered, unpasteurised beer put to shame by the range and quality of bottle-conditioned specialities at supermarkets. Even regional supermarkets like up-and-coming Booth's in the north offer a variety beyond what you'll ever find on draught behind the bar. And as the choice of beers in the shops grows, many pubs seem to be losing interest in what should be their stock-in-trade.

Young's insists it offers its full range to its pubs, but its managers and tenants are not obliged to stock all the beers. Publicans claim there is "no call" for drinks more distinctive than the blandest lagers, standard bitters and well-advertised stouts. Depressingly familiar though this argument sounds, I'm prepared to accept it up to a point. If I am in the pub for a few pints, I will stick to something of modest alcohol content in the form of a fresh, cask-conditioned draught.

But there are other times when I might fancy just one glass of a more assertive beer, or one that can serve as an aperitif, an accompaniment to my meal or a digestif - especially in a "gastropub" like my Young's local.

You can argue that tastier beers are usually higher in alcohol, and that people prefer to drink them at home. But not all flavoursome brews are strong. Potency is an easy excuse used by brewers too lazy or unimaginative to promote more distinctive beers in their pubs. A landlord who whinges about diminishing trade but has never been to a supermarket and seen the competition is equally guilty.

Young's and Fuller's are not major offenders here. Young's has offered its own Belgian-style wheat beer, Double Chocolate Stout and Oregon Amber on draught in its pubs, although I don't think it did so with enough conviction. Fuller's does a good job with its seasonal brews like its Honey Dew. Nevertheless, you'll find more of both brewers' ranges in supermarkets.

The best publicans put effort into the proper cellaring and serving of their cask-conditioned brews. If only others showed a fraction of the interest in beer that a supermarket like Tesco has displayed. Although few have the space to stock as many beers as a supermarket, or the turnover to serve them fresh, even the smallest local could offer a better selection than it does today. Especially when - as is more common in Britain than you might imagine - great brews are being produced a mere mile or two away.

Brew locally, drink globally

A brew that might only be available locally or not at all is guaranteed distribution all over the country, thanks to one supermarket chain's imaginative involvement in selling beer. Twice a year, Tesco's Beer Challenge, now in its third year, invites brewers throughout Britain to create completely new beers as seasonal products. The beers are judged blindfold by an independent panel of tasters, who pick two winners. This year's spring judging saw 86 beers submitted. Judges included myself and my Independent on Sunday colleague Richard Ehrlich. A peachy-tasting ale from the Durham Brewery was one I particularly liked, but the two winners both turned out to be from the West of England.

One, called Crop Circle (at 4.2 per cent alcohol), is from the highly- regarded Hopback micro-brewery, in Salisbury, Wiltshire. It is a very pale, light-bodied, golden ale, hoppy and crisply dry, spiced with coriander, and especially appealed to Richard. The other, from the older-established St Austell brewery, in the Cornish town of the same name is called Clouded Yellow (5.0 per cent). An assertively floral, honeyish-tasting, yeast- sedimented, wheat beer, flavoured with maple syrup, American hops, coriander again, but also cloves and vanilla pods, it was distinctive enough to grab every judges' attention.

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