Pubpaper 726 – 3 years and the same old topics remain

Posted: 15th September 2013 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

Looking at the article history on my computer I realised I have been writing for PubPaper for over three years now on a regular basis.  What surprises me is how many of the same topics I was writing about back then are still in the news now.   The debate over craft beer and its definition, the poor business practices of the pub companies, good customer service, the continued decimation of the countries pub stock are all as relevant today as they were 115,000 words ago.

The battle within CAMRA between the traditionalists and the modernisers who want to start to embrace the craft beer revolution despite the keg distribution method still goes on at the yearly AGM, although they do not actively speak out against it in public now as they did, preferring to just not mention it at all.   The big breweries are still producing a dearth of generic lagers and beers, trying to jump on the craft beer bandwagon with one or two products hoping the perception of quality will rub off.

The craft beer bandwagon is getting bigger and bigger and cannot be ignored, the enfant terrible of the sector Brewdog are growing rapidly with their third share release moving towards its £4 million target.  They now have thirteen outlets across the UK plus one in Sweden, since 2010 they have increased their workforce by a factor of 4 and moved into their new large capacity plant just outside Aberdeen.

Under their industry shadow the number of smaller craft brewers is growing year on year and those longer established brewers like Hardknott Brewery are finding their way into bigger and more widespread outlets.  The number of new breweries opening in the past calendar year is 187 according to CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide, this of course is a mix of real ale and craft beer brewers.  This is an increase of nearly 20%, I’d challenge you find many other industries where the number of businesses in the sector have grown so much.

On the back of this we have to voice concern regarding the reducing number of pubs in this country with CAMRA estimating that 1300 will close this year, a figure which is sad to note, but realistic.  The Good Pub Guide, the yellow pages of the pub guides says that 3000 will close overall, a figure which is bordering on scaremongering and indicative of the quality of the book.  The pattern I am noticing is that many pubs which close are turning into convenience stores due to a loophole which allows conversion without planning permission.  Driving through Mirfield this weekend I spotted two pubs which have suffered this fate within a mile of each other.

A good number of these pub closures will be caused by the practices of Enterprise Inns and its fellow pub companies. High rents, poor support and inflated beer prices would drive even the most patient of tenants to madness.  The other concerning aspect which seems to be emerging is the closure of pubs by them which are financially viable with the right support.  It just so happens that a good proportion of these properties are in areas with demand for development land.  Given a pubs large footprint and adjacent car park, an application for residential planning permission for 3+ houses can suddenly realise a 6 figure return for the pub company, even more tempting when the building might need £20-30,000 of modernisation to bring it up to spec.  Not to mention lump sums are rather handy to pay off some their massive debts.

One thing that has changed over the last 3 years is the attention to the pub industry given by the government, the successful campaign to stop the beer duty escalator and the investigation into the role of pub companies regarding the fair treatment of tied / free houses in trading terms.  The battle between the companies wanting to have a voluntary code and the government and publicans who want to have a mandatory code of conduct seems to be erring on the side of the the regulationist at the moment thankfully.

Will we be discussing these topics again in 3 years time, probably so, but in the meantime there is a lot of beer to be drank, lets do so.