An article this week revealed that the last of the ‘Rat and Parrot’ chain, formed in the mid 1990’s when pub companies were jumping feet first into more female friendly pub concepts, finally closed this week.  My peak drinking years between the ages of 17 and 25 fell dead in the middle of the decade and included frequent visits to such chains.  A town of any standing was not complete without a Yates, O’Neills, Slug and Lettuce or Pitcher and Piano.  These chains still exist however most did not keep up the explosive growth from this period into the new millenium.

Of the four listed, two have visibly scaled back nationwide (O’Neills and Slug), and other two have settled at a fairly constant number over the past 5-6 years.  Most the pubs which no long bear these brands now carry a new livery from the same pubco, and some returned to their original pre-branded name as per Lewins in Halifax.  You can be certain that the branded pubs will have yet another identity ten years down the line.

Why do the pubco’s feel this rebranding is needed so often, when a non brand pub can keep the same identity, refresh the decor every so often, and still keep a good trade going.  The main thing about a rebrand is its’ novelty, at first people go because its a “new trendy place” to go, then this drifts into becoming a regular haunt while holding a “percieved position” just above other pubs.  After five or so years its settles in its place among those pubs and then finally it starts to offer 2 meals for £8 and cheap Carling deals.  A couple of years after this, its time to start the whole cycle again.

Most of our best pubs in the area are probably pretty much the same as they were ten years ago, excepting some new furniture, decor and re-upholstered benches.  They have found a recipe which works and keeps people coming back, this recipe requires they maintain a reputation for two more important things, a good atmosphere and great beer.

Small independent brewers make up a lot of those beers.  In 2010, the 463 members of SIBA (Society of Independent Brewers) produced 2500 regular cask beers, 3500 seasonal ales and 1750 bottled brands.   On average each company produces around 17 products a year.  In the same period production volume grew nearly 9% (-3.9% in 2009).  This is great news for the industry as a whole, as it shows that there is the confidence within the sector to develop new products, a confidence my palette is willing to sample on their behalf.
What has allowed more people to take up this trade as a small brewer is progressive beer duty (PBD).  This measure is now under threat from a campaign by the larger brewers to reduce the taxation advantage that SIBA members generally qualify for.  PDB is implemented currently as a £55 per barrel tax relief when under 500000 litres are produced per annum as a whole by the company.   The larger brewers say that this stops brewers growing once they reach this threshold, as tax relief is tapered off above this point until a production level of 6000000 litres of beer is reached and the benefit is withdrawn.  One of the complainants Adnams would see their tax bill reduced from £8.5m to £4.25m if their production levels were implemented under the maximum relief level.  This may explain the objections of this and similar companies.

Finally you may remember me mentioning the Guide Inn above Cullingworth a few times over the last few weeks. I refused to name a poor beer I had there as I suspected it was the end of the barrel (very slow to settle).  I was correct, the beer in question is “Old Spot Inn-Spired” and is actually a very good pint.  A light coloured hoppy beer at 4.3% has an evolving taste with a slight fruity undertone., It won “Beer of the Festival” at Ilkley a couple of years ago.  It’s not quite pushing into my top ten, but certainly a beer I could session drink very easily.

I also spotted Thwaites Wainwright on pump for the first time this weekend at Casa Del Lago just outside Brighouse.  Sadly it was at 9.30am and definitely not beer o’clock.  Until next week, happy supping.