The conversation about pub chains got me thinking about when a chain is not a chain? Or at least do we consider Sam Smiths pubs to be a chain? We talk about them as if they are, and there are definite aspects of their pubs with which one can happily construct a trend (the two rooms, the good old fashioned pub decor). What is most notable though is the uniformity of beer. In the old days of guest beer legislation this would not have been allowed, and neophyte customers can still be spotted trying ot order a Guinness. But in the end what is unchainlike about the pubs is that they appear to be owned by a brewery.

Much of this thought was prompted by the slow rise of another brewery specific chain of pubs, pinging into my pubdar*. The Badger Brewery now owns about four pubs I have started visiting occasionally. Most famously the two part Charing Cross pub The Ship & Shovel, but I also used to visit the Archery Tavern when I was down Marble Arch way (a typically wrongheaded FAP review there). Recently The Old Nick popped up as a rather sympathetic enlargement/refurb. And now, probably the jewel in their crown location-wise is the re-opening of St Stephens Tavern. I’ll talk more on its charms later, much original decor which has perhaps been over cleaned, but suffice to say that this re-opening makrs an aggressive move into Sam Smith’s territory.

As bitters Badger and Tanglefoot look better and taste a wee bit better than the Sam Smith’s offerings. The spirits are real actual spirits, as are the mixers. And for the unadventurous you can get Guinness. But the battle I would like to see is between the house lagers: how does Hoffbrau measure up to Ayingerbrau. The fatman vs the fat pump. If you include the D Pils and Prinz in the equation, not to mention Heffe Weisse, then Sam wins hands down. But in a clever reversal and instigation of sensible drinking for stupid people, the Hoffbrau Export, at 4.3%, is this chains cooking lager. But the brewery chain pub fight starts here.

*Copyright Peter Baran 10/3/04 – I thought of this one first OKAY.