This week, a catch up on the world of beer.   Lets start with the good news that the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment (New Clause 2) Bill, otherwise known as the law which will allow large pub company tenants the right to move to a Market Rent Only (MRO) agreement, where they can buy beer from a supplier of their choice (but still be mandated to stock a selection of PubCo agreed brands) has got royal assent meaning it is now enshrined in law.  The government has said that the new pub code will be amended to include the MRO legislation and the new pub code adjudicator will be up and running by May 2016.

However there is still secondary legislation to follow to deal with short term leases, franchise managers and deferral of MRO in exchange for investment by the pub company.  We have to be careful that this is not used by the PubCo’s to sneak in watering down measures which will make the act favour them more.    I would expect to see some transfer of pub assets ahead of the implementation date from those brewery linked pub operators who are just over the 500 pub limit to “new companies” who just happen to have supply deals with the same brewery, the aim being to cut their size to 499 pubs or less as to avoid being covered by the act of law.

Whilst on the topic of big brewers, Marstons is buying out the beer operations of Thwaites, the Blackburn based brewer and pub operator.   This deal is the final step of integration between the two companies as Marstons has been brewing the mainstream Thwaites brands for just over a year now.  The opening of a £10m brewery in the area producing the mainstream beers for some of its own pubs and hotels (which it will be retaining) and its craft brands is still going ahead as planned.  Marstons already owns the regional brewers Jennings, Ringwood, Wychwood, Banks’s.

The risk of course is that the range of beers from Thwaites will be reduced to a handful of core products.  Wainwright and Lancaster Bomber will of course be pushed out into the Marston estate as these are national brands.  Their Dark and Smooth keg brands should continue to be offered as well.  The Craft Dan beers which are released each month should be safe as these will stay in the Blackburn craft operation, but I’d expect a marked reduction in their quarterly beer releases, as well as more Marstons brands beers moving into the Thwaites pubs chain, a consequence of the accompanying supply deal for most wet products between the new owner and the acquired company’s pubs.

There is a link between these two stories.  When Marston bought our Jennings, Ringwood and Wychwood, they also took on their pub estates at the same time, with subsequent sell off of premises where they were not profitable enough or did not suit the needs of Marston regarding building or location.  This time they were never part of the the equation.  They were only interested in the brewing arm they already had the contracted out production for.  The classical thought is that a bigger pub estate will mean economies of scale regarding head office costs, regional administration and reduced purchasing costs due to increasing volume.   Marston are already over the 500 pub limit by a factor of three with 1500 pubs, so it would make no difference re the legislation.   Thwaites has 300 pubs so would add significantly to the size of the Marstons estate, but more importantly their pubs would be subject to the new legislation as part of the bigger group.  This way they escape the MRO / Free of Tie options which will be granted to pubs in the parent company.

Companies such as Enterprise and Punch are too big to split up into 499 pub units without significant costs.  However for those who have a similar number to Marstons, creating “North”, “Central” and “South” pub divisions would incur not unreasonable costs if it means they can avoid the legislation and safeguard their tied house revenue streams.  Industry experts predict a significant number of pubs will fall into the “managed pub” or “franchise” category when tenancies expire, something I’d not disagree with.  Pub company rent reviews are typically every five years, so we will have to wait until 2020 until the first full cycle across all of their estates takes place.  This gives PubCo’s above the limit time to manage their tied tenancy pub numbers downwards, via various methods, with the target of hitting 499 pubs.

When the Beer Orders 1989 came in the Big 6 brewers got around it with PubCo’s, the same companies will probably avoid this again, hopefully I am wrong, but I fear not.

Pubpaper 801 – The Streets (and Pubs) of London

Posted: 28th March 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Last week I had the pleasure of spending 3 nights in London, giving me plenty of time to explore the city and its pubs.  A few points for the uninitiated, you very quickly get used to the fact when you order a pint of a decent ale or beer, you will get very little change from a fiver, if that covers it at all.  It is however very easy to find a decent beer by the sheer number of pubs.  The second thing you realise is the point of an integrated mass public transport system.  I was staying out in Welling, about 11 miles outside of the heart of London, to get there or back, it takes at least 2 trains and a bus, followed by a short walk.  This takes about an hour, tube trains are every 3-4 minutes and buses every 10 minutes.  Imagine this is Calderdale, you’d be waiting for an eternity for connections, and the Oyster Card is a godsend if you ever visit for more than a couple of days.

The size of the centre of London seems quite daunting initially, but you soon get used to it and learn rough bearings to most areas, both on foot and by tube.  It makes for an interest nights drinking, the varied scenery being a big bonus after dark.  The first night I did a pub walk via Parliament Square, Soho, Covent Garden, Embankment and London Eye.  The second ended up being a pub crawl back in Soho, with the third night involving some very good food and drink in the Tower Bridge area.

deanswiftStarting with the last night, me and my host went to the Dean Swift, a craft beer bar on a side street off the river.  The beers were excellent, with a good selection from our local breweries such Summer Wine and Magic Rock and nice collection from the capitals many breweries.  The food was as good, with the jerk chicken being as good a meal as I had in the city.  The service was excellent and I’d not hesitate to recommend you visit if you are ever down there, with beers typically between £4.50 and £6 for a good real ale and craft beer.  The walk back to London Bridge station along the river gave amazing views past Tower Bridge and onto the distinctive office buildings which are dominate the skyline.

The_clarence_pub_london_may2005The first night, I started my night with a pint of Camden Hell at the Clarence just off Trafalgar Square (part of the 35 strong Geronimo Chain in the Capital).  The ale selection was also good with 4 pumps, with some solid local brews as well as a number of respectable craft keg taps.   The bar is your typical modern pub, stripped wood, but it has kept the original dark marbled frontage from 150 years ago.  The food offerings looked good as well, but my dinner that night was at a Lebanese restaurant down near St Martins in the Field where the national beer which came with the meal being pleasant but not very interesting.

dog-duck-pub-soho-london-photosThe second bar was the Dog and Duck in Soho.  I returned to this pub for dinner and a number of drinks the following night to meet up with the friend who I was staying with.  This is part of the Nicholsons chain who have 45 pubs in London (and operate 3 pubs in Leeds including the Scarborough Hotel near the station).   The first night, the beer was very average there, with the My Generation Session Pale Ale, not really standing out.  The second night there I moved onto their craft beer range and had some nice beers, although my drinking colleagues were on the real ales and seemed to have no problems with their beers.  The Ultimate Chicken Burger also hit the spot nicely for dinner, with the rest of the menu typical chain pub fare. Beers were £4.50 to £5.00 similar to the Clarence.

phot499On the way back to hotel at Old Country Hall I popped into Gordons Wine Bar (the oldest in London) on the embankment on recommendation of Hugh at Cross Keys, the inside of the bar is small, but the drinking space entirely honed out of low rounded vaults.  The wine is not cheap starting at about £6 per glass and going up to silly money.  Sadly the inside was full, so I enjoyed a glass of the “house red” on their long outside terrace area.  I’m no expert but if you enjoy your wine, sherry or madeiras , the range on offer would more than keep you happy.

The second21156640 night started at the aforementioned Dog and Duck before taking a diversion into O’Neills, the craft beer I had doing the job, before finding ourselves in Crobar.  This pub really takes it rock and metal seriously and I loved the place, the beer was a mix of decent session ales and a range of mainstream and craft beers, with slightly more reasonable prices than other pubs I visited.  A totally different atmosphere, but friendly never the less, and one I’d recommend if that is your thing.

Back to good old Calderdale next week, but for now Happy Supping..

 

 

Pubpaper 800 – Will Craft Keg exist in 10 years?

Posted: 14th March 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

As a big fan of craft beer, this seems a strange question, but it comes off the back of a bet I’ve had with a local real ale pub landlord. I’ve been bet that “Craft Keg will not exist in 10 years”, that it’s fad will have passed. It is only a small wager, £10 increasing with inflation, probably enough to buy 3 pints of the stuff when it comes to pay day, but it shows that keg beer still splits some parts of the beer world.

It started with a chat about my day out in Leeds as detailed in last weeks column, and I got asked a simple question “Is Craft Keg just Keg Beer”. The answer when you take away all the branding is yes, it is beer dispensed from a keg with CO2 or 70/30 added, that is a fact we cannot deny. Is the term “Keg Beer” avoided now by modern keg beers due to its links with the late 60’s to mid 80’s homogenisation of the brewing industry and the resultant set of bland keg bitters, ales and mild beers, along with the decimation of dozens of local beer brands who were primarily cask ale producers.

12PageIMG92-5Possibly so, lets take an example, of those who have heard the “Watneys Red Barrel” or “Watneys Party Seven”, how many have actually drank it. Probably a minority percentage, but these names are well known among the beer world as what was bad about keg beer at the time. There was probably dozens of others just as bad, but Watneys is the usual sacrificial lamb for the period. Lets not forget that the 1970’s necessitated the need for CAMRA to be formed to help campaign for a stop of the decline of real ale production and pubs selling cask beer.

John_Smiths_Extra_Smooth-1368011287Keg beer was what was killing cask, so there is a historical feud going back over 40 years and still existing today with the CAMRA leadership. If you look at the mainstream keg beers in our pubs today with brands such as John Smiths Smooth, Tetleys Smoothflow, Worthington’s Creamflow and Boddingtons Draughtflow, you can see their point. These are the direct descendants of those 1970’s bland mass produced beers. There is the older generation, probably the one before myself, who went through this era and it has probably put some of them off keg beer for life and frankly I don’t blame them one iota if the current mainstream face of keg beer are the brands above.

This is where I stop agreeing with a certain pub landlord. My thoughts are that in 10 years craft keg beer will still exist and be a healthy sector of the market on trade. However a lot brands we now call craft beer or craft keg will be far more widely available across the pub estate of this country thus losing their craft tag and will just become another premium beer offering on the bar. Like now, there will of course be a large number of small craft breweries who produce small batches of beer and will be mainly available in the local / more specialist bars and shops and more will join them over the next decade although the growth we have seen in the last 10 years in brewery numbers will slow down. Such a boom cannot last forever and it will start to reach saturation point eventually.

LogoA number of brands will move into the ranks of national producers of good quality keg dispensed beer (I’m deliberately dropping the craft tag here). A prime candidate being Brewdog who are arguably the largest craft keg producer in the country at the moment and are building an ever expanding bar empire. Their beer is available across most of the Wetherspoons estate with “This is Lager”, there beer is also in most, if not all, major supermarkets. They have plans to grow even more, but the management will come to a point in their growth where they have to choose the path between remaining a craft brewery (abet a very big one) or expanding and risking becoming the mainstream.

GooseIslandLogoThe other danger to the sector is that the major volume producers will try to penetrate the Craft market and dilute the term enough to render it no value in differentiating genuine beers in that sector. Look at where Craft Keg started, in the USA the craft breweries were formed to fight against generic national brands like Coors and Budweiser. Over time they took a chunk of market share from the majors, so the big brands started to buy up the bigger players in the craft market quietly (ABInBev buying Goose Island), and are now forming separate “craft” breweries. However the regional craft keg scene is going from strength to strength still, and several players (such as Samuel Adams) are now national brands in the USA.

To see where the future might head, look to a country 10 years ahead on the craft beer path.

Pubpaper 799 – Leeds Beer Haunts

Posted: 10th March 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Last week, I had the pleasure of a day visiting various drinking establishments around Leeds instead of sitting at my desk for the day.  I’ve not been over in the city drinking for a while, so was pleased to see it is still keeping up its real ale and craft beer credentials.  A couple of the venues I’d visited before, whilst one was new to me and found totally by accident whilst rain dodging.  The latter was Whitelocks, located in a long narrow alleyway off Briggate.

A long narrow room stretching the length of Turks Head Yard, it has been in business since 1715.  The bar is best described is traditional with a nod to the modern, with the acres of varnished wood you come to expect along with alcoves seating the drinkers, but with the spit and sawdust removed.   The old stained glass windows and original Whitelocks branded tables, warmed by the open fire makes you feel at home, and in better weather the substantial amount of outdoor seating would make an excellent place to spend an afternoon.

The beer ranges from mainstream ales, to good draft cider and a wide range of local ales and craft beer.   We got there well before lunch on a Monday morning to a mainly empty bar, but once I was on my second pint, a very nice Milk Stout, the first being the excellent 7.4% Great Heck Yakima IPA, the place was filling up nicely with a mix of old and young both drinking and dining.  The food menu is traditional going towards gastropub and looked very nice judging on other peoples plates.  With more time, I’d happily have had a few more beers there as there was plenty more I’d have happily tried, as good a comment as you can make about a pub when it achieves its raison d’etre.

I have to mention Friends of Ham near the railway station also, a well established bar by Leeds standards now, it’s main problem was its popularity and the small top bar limiting capacity.  That is no longer an issue as since my last visit they have expanded the top level bar out to triple the size, it also means they have a lot more bar space, and yes, that means more good beers.  With 10 keg taps and 4 draught pumps, the range is more than enough to keep me happy.    The staff are attentive and happy to talk you through the draught range.  With the downstairs area of the same size, I’m guessing there are many more happy punters now.

I’ve always been impressed with their beer range with a nice mix of styles and strength.  Sadly this was my last stop before catching the train, so only had time for one pint, but the Atom IPA (5.6%) I did have was spot on and the range of boxed ciders was decent.  The bar is airy and open, with modern stripped wood dominating the bar, very much like many other drinking establishments in our big cities.  This is the opposite of Whitelocks, but no lesser a pub for it.  It’s sad to admit I’ve not had the chance of eating there yet as the range of continental meats and cheeses tempting, it is a definite stop if you like your charcuterie.

My mid afternoon stop was at Brewdog behind the Corn Exchange.  I do like my Brewdog beers, and equally like the service at the bar.  Like the other two pubs, the staff are happy to talk you through the beers on the bar.  In this case it was to help me find a beer I hadn’t had before, settling on a guest german wheat beer.  I’ve been here two or three times now, and although small doesn’t seem cramped.   The bar, stripped back walls, metal features, concrete et all is a good match for the ethos of the brewery of the same name.  It feels welcoming like the others as well, something which keeps me coming back.   Sadly I was a day too early for their new beer “Restorative Beverage for Invalids and Convalescents”, an 8.7% beast of a beer, but I’ll return soon to try and catch that or its brethren.    They have purchased another site just on the edge of Leeds city centre, and plan to open a second bar there, the idea being according to the bar manager to run them both in parallel for at least a year before turning the current site into a Bottledog shop…..something which is very welcome from this drinker.

I’m barely scratching the surface when it comes the real ale and craft beer houses in the city and also like Brewery Tap and North Bar from previous visits and thats why having a great local beer scene in Calderdale and easy access to cities like Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield makes this a fantastic place to live as a beer fan.

 

 

Pubpaper 798 – The annual CAMRA relevancy question.

Posted: 4th March 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

As long term readers of this column know, I’m not the biggest fan of The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).  The organisation was set up to campaign for the survival of real ale in the face of a massive program of brewery consolidation in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and the then move to keg distribution by these mega breweries.   Over the last 44 years, they have done a good job of contributing towards this, to the point where we have a very healthy brewing industry with the number of breweries increasing every year.  At the last count we have nearly 1300 breweries across the country, with the range of beer available being more than most people will sample in their lifetime.

What is their role now in the modern beer market, real ale is solidly established again and narrowing the gap in sales vs mainstream beers and lagers.  The number of dedicated real ale houses is growing and most other pubs have at least 2 or 3 real ales on pump, the battle has been won and real ale has firmly reclaimed its place on the bar.  Have they moved forward and kept up with modern changes to the ale and beer market or are they still sitting in the 20th Century with the dimpled pint glasses.

The craft beer scene has been with us now since the turn of the 21st century at least.  It is an ever increasing sector of the beer market.  Of the 1300 breweries mentioned earlier, a good number of them, certainly in three figures, are craft breweries who brew keg beer.   Let see if CAMRA embrace these changes in the market which encourage people to support small breweries, visit public houses more regularly (as the beer may not be sold in bottles widely or be short run beers) and to try a wider range of beers, surely all things CAMRA should be pleased with.

To quote “Beer festivals are not to stock or admit for any award, any beer brand which is produced in both cask and keg versions that mislead the drinker into believing that there is little or no difference between the versions.”. So even if you create a cask version of a beer, if it has a keg brother which is gassed at point of service, it is not welcome at the party if you don’t make a distinct point of its method of dispense.   It has been pointed out that this rule is ignored by most local groups, but is still on the books.  The leadership are walking around with blinders on, ignoring a whole sector of the market which has an ethos which isn’t far off their own key campaigns in spirit, although moderate local groups choose a more liberal stance.

CAMRA’s key campaigns are 1) Stop Tax Killing Beer and Pubs 2) Secure an effective government support package for pubs 3) Encourage more people to try a range of real ales, cider and perries  4) To raise the profile of pub-going and increase the number of people using pubs regularly. Simply add the word “and craft beer”  to campaign 3.  What craft brewers and CAMRA want are now the same.  Craft brewers generally like to have their own brewery taps when the business is mature enough and in the meantime have thriving pubs which sell as much beer as they can make, so all four become common goals.  I don’t see the reason for the divide, apart from pigheadedness from the top people at CAMRA.

However three of these goals are so generic that every trade organisation related to beer and pubs has 1,2 and 4 as core goals.  Not to want this limits the money their members can make. So they are not unique in campaigns, so what about their beer festivals?  They are good at organising these, 40 years of doing it is a lot of practice.  Their branches across the country organise numerous local versions each year.  The Great British Beer Festival in London each year still attracts very good crowds, as does it Winter Beer Festival in Manchester.  However are they the best at this now?  When you have acclaimed independent beer festivals like Independent Manchester Beer Convention, Leeds International Beer Festival, BeerX in Sheffield and Birmingham Beer Bash to name a few, not to mention the other non CAMRA events which take place in the capital and elsewhere.  Will CAMRA be needed in this capacity going forward?

Looking at the local beer festivals, plenty of pubs are now organising their own annual beer festivals, sometimes with 30+ pumps.  As I write, there are no confirmed plans for the traditional Mayfest beer festival in Calderdale this year, normally organised by Calderdale CAMRA who seem to be very quiet as even their Caldercask publication is now outsourced out to an advertising company.

10 years down the line maybe there will not be a need for CAMRA and what will they be good for then, a monthly magazine and Wetherspoons beer vouchers?

 

Pubpaper 797 – Up Hills, Down Valleys, Drink Beers.

Posted: 1st March 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Sometimes just a couple of beers makes a good afternoon, even if you can have more.  On a chilled sunday afternoon with friends, I had the fortunate luck to be able to sample both Thornbridge St Petersburg Imperial Russian Stout (7.4%) and the Magic Rock / Brewfist collaboration Ryeperbole (5.8%) in one sitting at the Old Gate in Hebden Bridge.  Starting with the St Petersburg, it is a rich deep beer, with plenty of flavour from chocolate to dark malt.  It reminds me of Abbeydale Black Mass (or Black Mess as it is known as at the Cross Keys) and Great Heck Black Jesus (both around 6.5%), two of my favourite dark beers.  It is a meal of a beer, you want to move it around your mouth to make the most of the flavour and you can taste the weight of the stout as you do, but it goes down smoothly and at its strength that is the danger of these beers, they really are quite quaffable.

The Ryeperbole is an Anglo / Italian beer and it is packed with a nice balanced flavour from the citrus grapefruit and good mix of hops leaving a strong pleasant bitter finish, Magic Rock Brewery consistently hits the spot for me beer wise and one of my drinking companions enjoyed their session ale Ringmaster in the same sitting.   The Old Gate is, and has been a since it opened, a place where there is something new to try every time I go in.  The prices for these two beers were around £4 per pint, expensive to some people for an ale, but my experience in other bars in cities like Sheffield and Leeds for beers of their strength and origin brewery is that this is about par for the course.

I was in Sheffield for a drink at the Sheffield Tap a couple of weeks ago enjoying some nice beers from their own brewery Tapped.  I had a couple of their Bullet IPA’s, a nice 5.9% example of the genre, I queried how much a couple of their european craft beers (a 3.6% and a 5.5%) were and was given the answers of just under and just over £6 per pint.  I decided to skip at that point, my ceiling is about £5 per pint on normal occasions.  The place is not cheap to drink at once you hit the keg beers, however it is still one of my favourite bars around for the original decor and range of beer.

To some people, price per pint is important, however I look at it that I have a beer related pot of money, I’d rather drink fewer beers I really like then a great number of average beers with that pot, I’ve gone past the point in my life, being about to enter my 40th year, where quantity is king. It is all down to mood, sometimes I am in the mood for a bit of a world tour, sometimes a good solid session ale is what is called for.  This last week at my local, the Cock and Bottle, I’ve happily been supping Ossett Snowdrop on my various visits without feeling the need to go elsewhere.   There are many drinkers who spend a “pub career” loyal to a handful of beers or less.  There is nothing wrong with either approach, just as long as you enjoy your beer of choice.

Of course you can go to places like the Cross Keys, Siddal and spend no more than £3.20 per pint, even for the strong beers of 6-8% from a range of 6 good ales.  This place is my favourite pub in the Calderdale area and the attention to the beer is part of the reason.  I was drinking a beer there the other weekend, quite happy with it, however halfway through my pint Hugh asked to see my drink, spotted it looked a bit flat and took it off tap straight away after pouring a test pint, insisting on replacing my beer even though I had drank over half of it and would have finished it without complaint.  The fact that a beer which was considered “off” tasted better than a lot of beers I’ve had that were in condition elsewhere says everything.

To welcome back an old, retired closing for this column, Happy Supping.

Pubpaper 796 – North Wales and Purple Moose Beers

Posted: 24th February 2015 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Last weekend saw the bi-annual trip with my eldest daughter, long time friend and his daughter.  This normally sees us head off to one of the national parks and this winter trip was no exception with Llanberis being our base for 3 days in North Wales.   North Wales is a place I’m rediscovering after a long time away, this will be my third trip in a year to the area and after exploring all the way from Devils Bridge near Aberystwyth in South to Caernarfon in the North and many places in between it hasn’t disappointed me yet as a place or from a food or drink perspective.

Portmeirion Village remains one of my favourite places to visit in the area, but the beauty of the landscapes around the region as you drive around can make for a good day alone.  The drive from Bets-y-Coed to Llanberis is simply stunning, as is the stark landscape which surrounds the village in the shadow of Snowdon itself.  If you have kids aged 7+, teenagers or still haven’t grown up yourself, I would recommend Bounce Below and their slate cavern trampoline nets in Blaenau Ffestiniog as well. Frankly the chance to throw yourself around and not do serious injury is damn good fun as well as dropping up to 20m in net slides.

purplemooselogo_oldAnother bonus is that there are some great beers in the area, quite a few brewed by Purple Moose Brewery in Bangor.  Apart from the two bottles of Moorhouses beer my friend brought over with him for me, the weekend was a Purple Moose exclusive beer zone.  They aren’t a brewery which do dozens of beers, but their core range is spot on, all classed as session beers strength wise.  Their main range consists of Snowdonia (Pale Ale, 3.6%), Madog (Session Bitter, 3.7%), Ysgawen (Elderflower Ale, 4.0%), Glaslyn Ale (Golden Ale, 4.2%)  and Dark Side of the Moose (Dark Ale, 4.6%).

I tried all but the Ysgawen, and without exception I really enjoyed them all.  Most were bottled, but if the Glaslyn I had a number of pints of at the Heights in Llanberis is any indicator of draught quality, then I shouldn’t worry.  I can recommend the Heights for drinks and dinner, only a couple of pumps on at the time, but both were good ales (the other I’d had previously) and even with the reduced winter menu, the food was good, they had a decent range and you got plenty of it.  Warm customer service was spot on as well, which is always important.

We also eat at Pete’s Eats down the road, more of a cafe with a license to sell bottles, the food is good value, tasty, honest and filling, what more do you want.  If you are at Portmeirion, I have to recommend the Italian cafe at the top of the village, the Pizzas were some of the best I have had in a long time, just enough base to support really good toppings, cooked to crisp perfection.  The pasta dishes were very good as well.   They also serve the Glaslyn ale in bottles for your lunch time tipple.

But back to the beers.  My favourite of their beers is Dark Side of the Moose, a wonderful dark beer, nice rich flavour with a bit of fruitiness to lift it.  A multi award winner over the last 4 years, others agree with me.   Glaslyn was the beer I drank most of, as every place which served bottles seemed to pick this.  A nice balanced golden bitter with nice touch of hoppiness.  It is one of those beers you could drink all day without getting bored.  Snowdonia Ale is a classic hoppy pale ale, very refreshing and clean tasting with good flavour.  Madog is a nice dry reddish ale, plenty of taste and like all the beers above will keep you coming back.   The good thing is that these beers can be mixed over an evening and the different styles compliment the others rather nicely.

Now, none of these beers are going to set the world alight or make it’s way into a feature on the most extreme beers in the world.  But they will do a far more important job, they give the drinker a really good beer across the range at a reasonable price, and ultimately that is the purpose of most breweries.

How much difference does it make if you are a freehold pub or tied lease holder to a pub company?  The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) a few weeks ago published their guide to how much it costs to run a pub.  They analysed 7 different types of pub, based on location, food / drink split and turnover and gave average figures for sales, costs and overheads before rent was payable.  Looking at the figures, you really can see that a couple running a pub on a tied lease basis really do not make a great deal when you break down what is left over and factor in the need to save for the future when your house is not supplied by your business.

I’ve taken their model of £5000 per week turnover local pub, the vast majority of which is wet sales (alcohol, soft drinks) and adjusted to approximate a number of local Calderdale pubs I know to show the difference it can make.  I have excluded things like Sky TV costs, Fruit Machine income etc to keep it simple.  The typical tied pub company tenant generally makes about a 100% markup on beer before overheads, so if you pay £3.00 for you pint of beer, it cost the landlord £1.45, it is slightly more on food with £5 spent on food generally costing £2.10 according to the BBPA figures.

So overall a £5,000 per week turnover pubs will turn a profit before costs of about £2,500, but then once you add the costs of running the business such as wages, insurance, building upkeep, utilities, fees and charges, waste etc, you have spent another £1600, leaving you with a total profit for the week of £900, but you will typically pay 50% of that as rent, leaving you with £450 per week or £1800 per month.  If you as a couple work a combined conservative effort of 100 hours per week, that equates to £4.50 per hour, more than £2 per hour below your minimum wage.  How are you meant to save for your post pub future when you are earning that amount, not very easily is the answer.

We all know that tied tenants pay over the odds for their beer, in some cases nearly 100% extra, however for the freehold example I’ll assume it is 30% over wholesale price and be kind to the pub companies, the only time you’ll see me type those words.  The business will generally have the same overheads as the tied tenant, so it all comes down to the cost of the product you are selling.  We’ll also assume a substantial commercial mortgage on the pub of £250,000 at typical rates.  The saving on alcohol is quite substantial, with £550 per week spent less on it wholesale.  That equates to £2200 per month, when you factor in the mortgage payments for the property of £400 per week, overall you come out with £1150 per week earnings, a total of £4600 per month.

This equates to a respectable £11.50 per hour for the same 100 hour joint effort for a couple and after 20 years you own a property worth £300,000 to £350,000 you can sell on the open market if you want to move on.  You have a living wage and future security, something the tied lessee probably does not.  If you have a quiet week, you make no money at all to live on and you are still expected to pay the £450 to the pub company.  If you stretch this to an extended period then you can see why people walk away from struggling pubs so often.

When you ask how much difference a Market Rent Only (MRO) lease and the choice of where to buy your beers wholesale, even if you are constrained in choice when it comes to core brands, this is the difference.  It is between living and having a chance to enjoy life and working all hours for very little reward as you may not be able to afford to hire all the staff you would like to, enabling you to have a break. You may not have a property at the end of it of your own, but you have a chance to save for your future.  Either way, Freehold or Tied, you’ll not be living the champagne lifestyle and you’ll work hard all your pub life, but security gives a degree of happiness and that can only help the business to operate, the opposite applies equally.  What would you rather your landlord be behind the bar.

At the end of January, the House of Commons voted on the amendment “Infrastructure Bill — New Clause 16 — Pubs and Bars — Demolition and Change of Use”. The effect of this amendment would have been to prevent the demolition of buildings classed as drinking establishments and to make planning permission required for a change of use from a drinking establishment to a restaurant, cafe or shop. This means the change would be subject to the usual window of formal feedback in support of and against the change of use and the decision then going before local authority planning committee.

house-commonsThe New Clause was defeated by 47 votes with 290 Coalition MPS out of a total of 320 who attended the vote deciding against it. Labour voted unanimously for the amendment as did minority parties. I’m not a supporter of either party so leave my politics at the door, but in conjunction with the attempted watering down of the Market Rent Option for Pub Company tenanted premises as it proceeded through Parliament, it does show that the current government is no friend of the pub. But are they the worse culprits in this story? MPs are, in the majority, self serving, looking for the directorship to feather their nest when they get voted out of office or retire. There are some good ones out there happily.

BBPA_logo_Large_colWhat about the pub trade organisations, like the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), surely they supported this move to protect our local.  Did they hell, Bridgit Simmonds, their chief executive is quoted as saying “We already have adequate safeguards, through the community right to bid legislation, which offers protection against pubs being converted to other uses against the wishes of the local community, and can also give local people the right to buy the premises” adding “It would be hard for small independent pubs who find can find small community premises difficult to sell”. Yes, pubs can get protection via Asset of Community Value declarations, but there are less than 600 pubs in the UK with this mark and 30 pubs in the UK are closing or being converted to other uses per week. And that small independent pub, it’s probably paying a fair market rent or mortgage and buying beer from the suppliers it knows and gets good variety and pricing terms from, so there is no need to sell up.

BBPA is in the pockets of the pub companies, the big breweries, not the small independant pubs. They object to it because it will make it harder for these very same pub companies to convert their premises from low earning pubs (due to high wet and dry rent) to high rent long term leases to other non pub retailers, which then makes the property more valuable to sell on the open market. Lets have a look at some of their members. Enterprise Inns, Punch Taverns, Admiral Taverns, Marstons Plc, see any big pub owning companies or culprits in the closing of community pubs? I’ll not hide the fact I hold the BBPA in as much respect as Greene King and their big two pub company members and there are disease bearing parasites who get more respect than the lot of them combined.

PrintLets take a look at another more independent trade organisation, the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), representing 17,000 outlets (bars, pubs, restaurants, nightclubs), although not condemning the defeat of the amendment stated “What we do not want is a scenario in which viable, economically beneficial pubs, bars and restaurants are being closed without opposition. Nor do we want to see vacant buildings being allowed to sit empty and unused”. A more balanced point of view, although it is disappointing to see that a trade at the core of the the British psyche does not get the support of its two biggest trade organisations.

A pub is not a business you can start small at home and grow into small out of town premises before eventually moving into the town centre with a prime shop front location. It is a big bang business. Wherever you are based you are immediately promising to pay the pub company or landlord £10,000 – 50,000 per year in rent before you even open the doors (making the assumption you are not buying the property outright). Then you have to be buying in fresh beer each week even if you have a slow week to ensure it is fresh for the customers you do have, then you need staff, etc, etc, etc. If there is not enough footfall you cannot move location either, you are stuck there. It is a serious commitment, and one you pull out of at great expense to yourself.

If it does work, the last thing you need is notice that your livelihood is turning into a Tesco Metro. This is why we need this protection for our pubs and this is why we need the support of such organisations.

It’s alway good to find that a bar you haven’t visited for a while has kept the standards up.  This was very much the case with The Firehouse in Sowerby Bridge a couple of weekends ago.  I’d only visited a couple of times before and liked the place, but recently when visiting the town we’d got into the habit of going up Hollins Mill Lane to the Works and Puzzle Hall Inn.   On a steady sunday afternoon, although by the time we left it was warming up nicely for the evening, the place had a great combination of chilled atmosphere, good beer and cracking pizzas.  The testament to the last point was the number of people coming in for a takeaway pizza and enjoying a pint whilst waiting.

The pub has a great range of beers on offer, 6 on pump including a couple of Dark Star beers and Magic Rock Ringmaster and 8 craft beer lines.  I’d like to say I tried a couple of the craft beers, but give me a Magic Rock High Wire tap and I’m not moving to another easily, although I sampled a half of Dark Star American Pale Ale and it was in cracking condition.  The service was very good as well and the pizzas are as they should be, good toppings and a base just about thick enough to support them, frankly at £10 for two as part of their daytime deal is as good as are going to get for the quality of the pizza on offer, although the seafood jambalaya was calling my name rather loudly.

The bar is relatively small on the lower level and this works to make the place welcoming and cosy even if quiet, but can take a decent number of people without getting crowded.  Some might say the craft beer is slightly expensive at £4.30 per pint on average, but I’d argue you’ll pay about this at other places such as the Victorian Beer Cafe in Halifax or Millers Bar in Brighouse, so is par for the course.  It’s a bit of a marmite issue, some like me are happy to pay that for a good craft beer, others are not and neither party are wrong. I’ve got good friends on both sides of the camp who know their beer to prove this.

All three pubs on Hollins Mill Lane are good in their own right. The Puzzle Hall Inn for the music setup, bands, covered outdoor space and being the most traditional pub of the three serving some good ales.  The Works wins out over the Puzzle Hall Inn for the wider selection of draft beers (this is down to a larger bar space partially) and this same bigger space makes it better if the area is busy as the Puzzle can get very busy very quickly at the right time.  I also like the back room library in the Works, a nice touch to distinguish it from other pubs, and like the Puzzle Hall Inn and the Firehouse it welcomes well behaved families outside of the busy core evening hours.  The Firehouse wins on the beer front with its real ale and tap selection as well as for the food.    If you wanted the best of everything, you’d start at the junction with the Firehouse and work your way down the Puzzle Hall in sequence to enjoy the music as the evening wore on.

My local village is about to get its third pub back as the Packhorse in the centre of Southowram changes back from being a restaurant.  I shouldn’t be asking this question really, but it nags me, can the village support three pubs on a sustainable basis.    The two existing pubs have steady trade through the troughs of the week, with good peaks of trade at the weekends.   The Cock and Bottle is slightly different as it is in Bank Top, about ¾ mile from the Southowram end, so is not directly affected by the new pub opening.   The Shoulder of Mutton has its regulars and I can’t see them moving over en-mass to the Packhorse.

The drinking culture has shifted in Southowram as it has everywhere else.   Are there drinkers who are going to start coming out drinking in the village again just because a new pub has opened, both at weekends and throughout the week.  If they wanted to there were already two good pubs (plus a social club and cricket club during the season) to visit.  I feel there will probably be cannibalism of trade from other licensed premises in the area. I wish them well, but I think it will be tough in the medium to long term after the initial interest wanes.   Punters pub habits are hard to change once set in, like I said at the beginning, you have to make an effort to do so sometimes.