JDWetherspoons have announced that they sold 25% more cask beer during the fortnight they had their real ale festival than in the previous fortnight.
Now what does this actually say? On face value you might think that it stands to reason because there was more real ale on offer, but of course it's not as simple as that. If a usual JDW customer wants six pints of real ale, they will order their six pints of Greene King IPA, Marstons Pedigree of whatever dross is available on a normal night, and when it comes to festival time they may choose something different, but they'll still drink their six pints.
The truth is that there are two groups of different people drinking real ale at festival time. Group one is the regular JDW customer who normally drinks something else, but seeing all those interesting ales 'gives it a go'. Group two is the real ale fan (maybe even the ticker) who has gone to their JDW pub purely for the festival and thus appreciates the chance to try different ales. These people usually drink elsewhere.
So, safe in the knowledge that selling an interesting range of ales is a good selling point and increases cash over the bar, why is the beer list at so many JDWs so boring?
My local JDW and most of those I see in the East Midlands appear fairly disinterested in real ale when a festival is not on. They have a dull range, and the ridiculous sight of "Sorry Not Available" on a pump is all too common.
There are of course exceptions; The Babington Arms in Derby is like a permanent beer festival, but it really is an oasis in a sea of mediocrity.
I challenge Tim Martin to give real ale drinkers a better choice 52 weeks a year, not just when there's a festival on. After all it appears more money passes over his understaffed bar counters.