Oh how I miss the pub..
I’ve lived and breathed pubs as long as i’ve ever known. From my earliest memories, to working in them from being 13 years old to still working in them now. Until lockdown I can never have gone more than 3 days without visiting a pub for work or pleasure in well over 30 years, but why am I missing the pub so much?
I have access to a keg machine, I have a cask set-up in my garage and a beer fridge with all my favourite beers so have I missed the beer? In truth I don’t think so, what I have is more to my taste than any of my local pubs. I can serve how and when I like and know I will always have something I will enjoy, its also cheaper than the pub so can it be the beer i’m missing? probably not.
I do love a good pub, a building doing what it was designed for and much prefer it to cavernous food chain rooms, brewery taps or converted shops. There is something much more satisfying sitting in a pub rather than on Ikea furniture, converted kegs or scaffolding tables. However at home I control the TV, the music, the heat, the light and there is never a large or rowdy group in your way. I don’t queue for the facilities and when I’ve had enough there is no taxi, train or bus ride home, so no I don’t think it’s the building.
The people then, it must be the people?
I’m not the most social of folks as people who know me will testify, as someone who has worked in pubs since I was 13 I have got used to socialising being work, patter and banter with the regulars a work skill, Tuesday & Wednesday as my weekend and January as my Christmas. As such I much prefer a pub on a Tuesday teatime to a Friday night and I am very comfortable on my own or with my wife enjoying a quiet pint rather than in a group. I’ve had enough time behind the bar being stuck with the bore, the know-it-all, the fantasist or the amateur pub trade expert so in pubs I just like to keep myself to myself (like at home!). So I’m not sure it’s the people.
So what can it be?
To me it seems the pub is so much more than the sum of its parts and people love pubs for a variety of reasons. Sure pubs are about the beer, the building, the people but they are much more than that. They hold a special place in peoples hearts for a variety of reason from a place to enjoy & celebrate life, a place to escape it all, a place for reflection or a place be social. I’m sure we all have our reasons as to why the pub is special and why we are want them to survive.
If I knew exactly what it is about the allure of pubs and the feelings they create, not only in myself, but in the many folks I’d bottle it, sell it and be a millionaire but I can’t just put my finger on it specifically, it’s like atmosphere, you can tell it’s there or when it’s not but it’s different for everyone and is many different things.
A friend of mine once said to me about pubs ‘Can you imagine taking the idea of a pub to Dragon’s Den? You’d get laughed out of the show’ and he was right. “Yes Peter you have heard that correct, I’m going to maintain, heat, light and staff a building all day every day even when there are only a few customers in, sell stuff at a much higher price than the supermarkets and people have to come to us and share a space with total strangers which is less comfortable than their own home” It shouldn’t work….
But it has, it does and I’m missing it greatly and that’s why, much like many other folk, I will be champing at the bit come April 12th to go stand outside in my locals (probably cold) car park for a pint of beer in (outside) a pub and to hold that pint up and celebrate the great British pub once again.
Long live the pub.
Golden Pints 2020
Last year was the first time I had done a Golden Pints and like last year I still have reservations as to if I am independent enough due to what I do, however I have decided to give it another go for 2020, what’s the worst that can happen..? For balance I’ve not put in any of our pubs because that would be like picking a favourite child (but if you’re asking it’s…..)
This year I think I’ve drunk more from and tried to support those brewers whose route to market is primarily pubs, not available in major supermarkets as well as those that are more local to me. They may not be as hype or loved as much online as others or even have a marketing budget but they consistently knock out good beer.
So on to the awards:
Best Local (Huddersfield) Pub – Royal Oak, Upperthong, Holmfirth
Huddersfield has so many good pubs and places to drink great beer, however this year I have gone for my local. Where previously it was the sort of local that was like someones front room, where the music stopped and tumbleweed rolled by when a non-regular walked in (with average beer), during 2020 it has been transformed under a new landlord, it has now become a welcoming boozer with 5 great beers on cask and a mix of happy smiling clientele who will converse rather than look at you league of gentleman style. Oh and there are always dogs in, where they get treated with snacks, drinks and dry towels.
Best Non-Local Pub – Cobblers, Filey.
I’ve travelled in the UK much more this year and despite spending at least 5 days in last years winner – The North Riding, Scarborough, this time I have gone for the little micro in Filey. Decent beer selection in a small, compact and very welcoming bar. The sort of micro which is much more than the sum of its parts. Not a world beater in terms of products for sale but the staff, the regulars and the atmosphere were all bang on, even if it was a cold & wet February when I was there. Also probably the last time I was in a restriction free pub talking about normal stuff so gets extra points for that.
Best Overseas Bar – Vinomondo, Conwy
In normal years I’d have plenty to choose from with trips to Belgium and Eastern Europe featuring in my travel plans every year. However as we know 2020 was different so the only time I went ‘overseas’ was a week in Conwy, North Wales for an early September break. There was some strong contenders in Conwy with both the Albion Vaults and The Bank providing good beers and great Covid safe service but I’ve plumped for a wine shop that only had 4 keg offerings and an interesting beer fridge, it’s not even a pub or bar. However it has the best beer garden I’ve ever sat in and when it was boiling hot, the streets were packed and Conwy felt unsafe the peaceful hidden oasis of calm was superb. The staff were brilliant, the proprietor was friendly & knowledgeable and they even have a pub lurcher who’d come and see you, what more do you need on a hot late summer afternoon.
Best Cask Beer – Abbeydale Deception
As always there are plenty to choose from but this year the pints I remember most were those at the Cobblers in Filey. The Deception was on absolute top form, a delight to drink and I probably cleared half the firkin whilst it was on.
Best Bottled Beer – Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen
Despite my love of Belgian beers and the array of styles and flavours this is the easiest choice to make because Schlenkerla is the best bottled beer in the world and always will be. This years runner-up was Wishbone Black Imp, a high quality Imperial Stout which I enjoyed very much.
Best Keg Beer – Paulaner Oktoberfest
I genuinely can’t remember if I had a pint of keg craft beer this year however I do remember putting the Paulaner Oktoberfest on at The West and having one and it was absolutely fantastic.
Favourite Breweries – North Riding / Mallinsons
Since I’m a cask drinker in general and cask is just better through a sparkler then it has to be a brewer from the North who does great cask beer. This year I’ve gone for the two breweries whose beer I have drunk the most of this year. As always North Riding have knocked out some consistently good cask beer, the Mosaic a delight as usual. This year with the introduction of my ‘garage cask’ whilst the pubs have been closed the pins from Mallies have been a life saver as well as being consistently excellent (as well as the Mallies folk being lovely people as well).
Stop Blaming Hospitality
Stop blaming it on hospitality #CancelTheCurfew
Pubs, bars, restaurants and anywhere else that serves alcohol will be used to working within regulations, we are a much regulated industry. Rules are what we do, we like them, we enforce them and we abide by them. So like everything else that gets thrown at hospitality we took the COVID evidence and adapted our business.
After the initial lockdown we were worked so hard to ensure that we could open in a safe & secure way whilst remaining a socially safe space that provided the atmosphere and unique feeling of a pub environment. We reduced our capacity, we put in safety procedures and we trained all our staff in all things COVID. We invested in our ourdoor spaces, installed sanitising stations, introduced table service, increased our cleaning regime to further improve our already high standards and we had the ‘Rule of Six’ from day one. It was hard work but we did it because that is what happens in hospitality.
It took a while but confidence from the customers was slowly starting to return as they felt safe & secure whilst enjoying the pub. We were taking trace details, cleaning as we went, sanitising touch points every twenty minutes and doing table service. The toilets were one in one out, we had a one way system and adhered to every single guideline every single time. It was twice as much work for half the money but staff really took to it and even those customers with ingrained pub behaviours got the message and adapted to the new pub ways.
As a regulated industry our team of highly skilled people have the knowledge on how people behave once imbibing so enforcing the rules on those who forget or who were in high spirits is simple. We didn’t just put a poster in the window and some hazard tape on the floor, we drew up the guidelines from our understanding of the vague waffle that was produced for the hospitality industry. Our staff challenge the non-mask wearer, they ask you to sanitise, they enforce the one-way systems and they take test & trace details every time, a little bit different to any shop, supermarket or private home.
We did all this because we want a safe and secure place for both our staff & customers, and it was working; customers were beginning to feel more confident and secure and trade levels were slowly growing, nothing like they were before but growing, we had a chance, we were definitely viable. All this in areas of local lockdown, five of our six pubs are in restricted areas and have been since the end of July.
Then the curfew was brought in and as we all now know without any scientific reason. Anyone who works in hospitality will tell you that having everyone leaving at the same time of closure will just fill the streets, buses, trains, taxis, takeaways and off-licences with people. Yes the pubs are now empty, not just at 10 o’clock but now at 8 o’clock because who wants to come out for an hour then get turfed out into the street? Empty pubs though isn’t a sign that the curfew is working, quite the opposite, because humans, as social beings, are at house parties or having their friends over where there is no table service, social distancing, regular sanitising or test & trace system. They are stocking up on cut price booze sold under cost price at supermarkets where they don’t check in. Those who do go out are then forced to leave the socially safe pub environment at 10pm to wander the aisles of the 24 hour Tesco for 18 bottles of Sol for £8.80 to go back to ‘Kevins’ to drink.
If there is proof that hospitality is dangerous or is a high risk area of spreading COVID then please shut us down properly with support. We’ll be able to adapt what we do because that’s what we do. However this in-between situation we have is killing us. We need proof, we need consulting and we need clear rules, not half-baked ideas that we find out about from the newspapers or on twitter at 10pm. There is no proof that hospitality caused the second wave, it didn’t come in July or August when all hospitality re-opened, statistics have hospitality as a whole linked at between 3% & 5% to COVID cases and the NHS App has identified just one outbreak in pubs & restaurants from 1.5m check-ins. Hospitality isn’t increasing the risk of COVID, the curfew is.
The curfew and current government strategy will lead to the closure of thousands of venues and many more in the supply chain – brewers, delivery drivers and manufacturers and not to mention all those in the night time economy from musicians and artists through to taxis & takeaways and everyone in their supply chain. It is badly thought out, has no scientific merit and is making the problem worse. So #CancelTheCurfew now whilst we still have a chance to save businesses, jobs & lives because if we don’t there will be no pubs to drink in, no restaurants to eat in, no venue to watch music or performances in and no nightclub to dance in.
If we don’t act now there will be no independent local wet-led pubs left. You know, those places where all social life is seen, where friends meet up and where the lonely or vulnerable can get support. Those places where life is celebrated with weddings, funerals, birthdays & anniversaries. Those places that are the hub of the community, raise money for charities and provide work for locals. Those places where new skills are learnt, where new musicians & comedians learn their craft and where artists can display their work. Those places where youngsters learn from their elders, where life is discussed and where friendships & relationships are made. Those places where people can talk, where people can relax and where everyone is welcome. Pubs are much more than places to drink they are essential to life because without them what will we have? Microwave meals, X Factor, cheap mass produced booze and isolation, that’s what. We need to save hospitality, protect pubs and cancel the curfew now.
Golden Pints 2019
I’ve never done a Golden Pints before as I always sort of thought it wouldn’t be fair what with the job I do and a feeling that maybe I couldn’t be independent enough. However this year I’ve decided to give it a go.
Having never done it I am not sure if all the categories and the like are correct but I’ve seen what others have done and decided to go for what seems to be the common ones. For balance I’ve not put in any of our pubs because that would be like picking a favourite child.
Since I work all day in pubs, I don’t visit that many and the bulk of drinking I do tend to do at home or when I go on trips, however I still probably visit pubs more than the average person on the street. This year has seen some great cask ale and the standard is better than ever, however I have found myself much limiting in styles I’ll drink. I have gone back to the twenty minute pint of cask that tastes of beer or the slow supping strong stouts as well going back and trying classics as opposed to the brand new thing and rediscovered the love of a well made pale that goes down quick and quenches your thirst.
So on to the awards:
Best Local (Huddersfield) Pub – Rat ‘n Ratchet
We are spoilt for choice in Huddersfield and it is somewhere many others travel to for a drink. The town and the villages boast some of what I think are the best drinking dens in the UK with over 20 brewers & cider makers in HD there has never been a better time to drink good beer & cider in Huddersfield. The Rat though is a pub, a proper pub with a great atmosphere, good beer & cider and a friendly face or two behind the bar and that gives it the edge.
Notable mentions to both Magic Rock Taps, Summer Wine Tap & The Corner
Best Non-Local Pub – North Riding Scarborough
I’ve not travelled much in the UK this year for whatever reason so I’ll have to put in what was memorable from last November so near enough. The North Riding – great beer, great landlady, sea views. That’s all you need.
Best Overseas Bar – U Zlateho Tygra
Normally this would a nailed on bar in Belgium, however I haven’t been this year as 2019’s Beer Holiday was to Prague. Spoilt for choice in the old town, plenty of new brewpubs and plenty of modern craft bars means Prague is still a top beer destination. However king of the lot is The Golden Tiger, smack in the middle of the Old Town, serving Pilsner Urquell by the bucket load to thirsty locals. The best beer I have tasted this year.
Best Cask Beer – Arbor Mosaic & North Riding Citra
Tough question so I’ve decided to play it safe and give it to two. I have had so many great cask beers this year that I couldn’t possibly choose between from brewers great & small so therefore I’ve put in the rule, which beer did I have repeatedly despite others on the bar that I wanted to drink. With this in mind there were only two beers that I remember doing this with so they are joint winners.
Best Bottled Beer – Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen
Despite my love of Belgian beers and the array of styles and flavours this is the easiest choice to make because Schlenkerla is the best bottled beer in the world and always will be. This years runner-up was Delirium Barrel Aged.
Best Keg Beer – Summer Wine Pacer
I’m not a keg drinker in general as I prefer cask and drink it rarely. However the one place where I drink it more than anywhere else is Summer Wine Tap and Pacer is my go to when its warm and I want some cold refreshment.
Best Brewery – North Riding
Since I’m a cask drinker in general and cask is just better through a sparkler then it has to be a brewer from the North who does great cask beer. So for range, variety & consistency of quality it has to be North Riding. Sorry to all the other great brewers that we use every day of the week, there has been some really good beer this year but North Riding are, in my opinion, the best at cask at the moment.
Best Non-Beer Drink – Real Cider
Leaving out the peat laden Islay malts that I love but drink rarely, this year I have tasted real cider and my what a difference to what I have drunk in the past. It will never beat cask beer for me but the good stuff really is good. I don’t know enough about blends and tannins and the like but I have been really impressed with some of the fine ciders I’ve had this year which included Ross, Pilton, Severn & Kentish Pip. All very different drinks but all were good and I would drink them happily.
Best Blog – Mark Johnson
I read many of them on the old Twitter. From the moaners to the brewers to the authors. A common theme on many is their ‘expertise’ of pubs despite not working in them and don’t get me started on the brewers who think opening the roller shutters once a month to sell some beer means they know about the running pubs….
However one blog that I always read is Mark Johnson. He covers a range of subjects in a relate-able and honest way and in general gets most things right about pubs.
A Pub’s not for just for Christmas
It’s December and the office party season is in full swing, the media would have us believe that the pubs are packed and everyone is having a great old time. Nowadays however with changes to behaviour and lifestyle December is sandwiched between Sober October and DryJanuary meaning many people only visit the pubs at this time of year. The quick blast of trade over the festive fortnight for many pubs will fail to cover the issues brought on by the abstinence of January.
There did appear to be some good news this week for the pub trade as it was announced that for the first time in 10 years there had been growth in numbers which was then followed by much debate as to what is a pub as the growth appears to be in micro-pubs, brewery taps and bottle shop bars rather than what is traditionally known as a boozer. However is this just a short-term blip? Hope not as we need our pubs to flourish rather than struggle to survive.
So why is a pub not just for Christmas? What does it have to offer all year round as opposed to somewhere to get drunk on an office party? Why should we forget about eating our M&S meal deal or Deliveroo whilst drinking wine and watching Strictly Come Dancing to come to the pub?
Well to do this and show why pubs should be used all year round let’s look at the top 10 New Years Resolutions and how these can be accomplished with the help of the pub rather than as @beerdoodles succinctly puts in the Pub for November, December & January artwork with pubs in January being empty.
- Exercise More – Walking, running & cycling are great forms of exercise and should be encouraged. There is nothing better than being outdoors, getting fresh air and generally being more active. This is far better than going to the Gym or being shouted at by a computer exercise bike in your bedroom. The best bit of outdoors exercise is you can reward yourself with a rest, refuel and warm-up in the pub. This doesn’t mean alcohol if you don’t want to because most good pubs will provide you with hot drinks, a nice warm environment and where possible some good fuelling grub.
- Lose Weight – Most pubs have great food menus that offer lighter or smaller plates, most drinks in a pub are lower in sugar and fat that anything available in coffee shops and pubs will control your portions for you.
- Eat / Drink Healthily – Most pubs nowadays will offer alternatives, its not all pie and chips. The vast majority of pubs will have vegan / vegetarian or gluten free options for both food & drink – (we always have a vegan and gluten free drinks option and in some pubs a permanent gluten free and/or vegan cask beer line). Also many independent pubs use fresh local produce and make the food themselves with minimal processed food.
- Learn a new skill or hobby – Pubs host a variety of events such as book clubs, open mic, quiz nights, poker and tasting events amongst other things, we even have Laurel & Hardy society meetings and poetry clubs in some of our pubs. Go see what’s on in your local pub, it may just surprise you or give you a new interest or hobby.
- Improve Mental Health – Nothing improves mental health more than talking to people, it’s a proven fact. There is nowhere better than the pub to meet, socialise and talk with people at the pace you want. Where else offers you a relaxed environment where you can choose to interact and talk with people about just about any subject or you can choose to just be happy on your own with a book or a paper?
- Spend more time with family & friends – Pubs are ideal for this, they are a great meeting point that offer comfortable & relaxed surroundings and have done for centuries.
- Drink Less Alcohol – Now you’d expect this to be difficult for pubs to swing this. However it’s nearly 2020 and pubs have upped their game here. We (and most other pubs) now stock non or low alcohol options for beer, lager & cider, there is a zero alcohol gin or two, high quality coffee and its not just pop on tap – mixers and juices have improved massively. Its not all beer, wines, spirits & pop at the pub nowadays there is plenty for those not drinking alcohol whilst getting all the benefits of the pub.
- Stop Smoking – You can’t smoke in the pub, obvious. So the longer you are in the pub, the less you are smoking.
- Be More Charitable – When the great charities are asking you to not drink to raise them money just stop to think how much pubs raise for charity. Pubs on average raise over £100m a year for great causes, this is on average £2500 per pub in the UK. So if you want to be more charitable you will do that down the pub. Ourselves during 2019 will have raised well over £15000 for our local causes – so thank you to each & everyone of you who has helped this across our pubs.
- Save money – The pub is cheaper than you think. A night at the pub costs less than – the average gym membership, an average sky TV package, average mobile phone bill or the average takeaway. It is definitely less than going to premiership /championship football, the theatre or a restaurant. In fact it is probably the best value night out there is.
So there you have it. Don’t think the pub is just for Christmas because it definitely isn’t. Protect your local, use it or lose it because if you only go on Christmas Day, Mad Friday or at the works outing then don’t be surprised if it isn’t there next year. Pubs need you, local independent pubs need you, the work they do, the money they raise, the jobs they provide are all staying local. Small independent pubs aren’t giving dividends to shareholders they are providing local jobs and finance for its own community, they are paying tax & rates and providing a social community hub. So please this New Year – make an 11th resolution – to visit you local independent pub more than once a year. Cheers and we’ll see you all in January.
Service with a SMILE
Every month I set a day aside to go through our online feedback and reviews looking for ways to improve or build upon our offer and service and yesterday was that day. It is an opportunity for me to look and see if any of our staff deserve a SMILE award – (Service that goes the extra MILE – see what we’ve done there….) whilst monitoring the negative and indifferent for ways to improve. Its not always an easy job but essential all the same.
It’s great that we get far more 5 stars than 1 stars but often I find it’s too easy to focus on the negative, it’s the way the world works, negative is in front our eyes daily and everyone seems to find it far easier to post the negative. I check every day for the negative so I can fix/investigate and reply to anyone who has a poor experience with us, leaving the positive to my monthly check.
Each morning I open my inbox to emails from TripAdvisor, Google review notifications or from the website, I also cover 6 different Facebook & twitter accounts with regular notifications on posts and DMs which can be annoying sometimes, especially whilst I’m watching Emmerdale sipping on cooking lager of an evening. That’s before the hours I spend on twitter & Facebook looking for mentions or tweets that don’t tag us in – I can recognise any of our tables, chairs or walls in posts!. That’s why it is right that we take time to focus on the positive, feedback to our staff when they have done something good and in general reward them for a job well done.
Service is subjective and as such I have to take every single review, comment or post with that in mind – some want fast service, some want some conversation, some want a recommendation and some want to choose themselves etc.. Review sites for pubs are like Untapped for brewers – taste is subjective as is service. Personally I prefer a German discount shop where my shopping is scanned at the speed of light and I’m being asked Cash or Card 5 seconds after I put the shopping on the belt whereas some must prefer it taking an age and being asked if I’ve had a good day, do I need help with my packing and ‘ooh never had this, does it actually taste of Grapefruit?’ Each to their own I suppose but because it takes me 5 minutes longer in Asda doesn’t mean that I have had bad service, just service that I don’t like as much as others.
With regards to reviews or the emails I get, it is generally very easy to pick up which are genuine, the people who have a point, the frustrated, the moaners as well as those who have really enjoyed their visit, apart from some belters which I am not sure how to deal with? “Best Pie I’ve ever eaten – 3* out of 5″. As for others, I don’t think I would have an answer that would satisfy the comments and there is no point in trying – (if I was internet or PC savvy I’m sure I could turn in to a positive marketing tool). “Stay away unless you want ripping off on expensive foreign lager [Paulaner – £4] there is a ‘spoons 5 minute walk away that sells normal beers like Carlsberg & Fosters cheaper and better – 1*”.
In general though I love to get feedback both bad and good. It’s the only way to improve and much better than people not telling you and then staying away but all I’d like to get across is just give us a chance first. The thing I find each time I do this is the way people complain or praise is changing and without harking back to ‘It was better in my days’ – (it wasn’t, it never is) I’m glad social media wasn’t around when I managed individual pubs. Before social media if you weren’t happy about your drink you took it back to the bar and said so, the beer got exchanged with minimum of fuss, now folks sit 7 foot away from a bar they visit 5 times a week and post on Facebook that they think their pint of bitter is past its best. That I just don’t understand.
If you are unhappy, before you feel the need to put online to millions that a beer was crap, the server forgot your gravy or someone jumped the queue please be aware that the impact this could have on the people in the business just trying their best in a tough industry at a very difficult time. We don’t have a marketing team, we are not a PLC and we don’t employ robots – we are a passionate independent company made up of lots of individuals who care. Nobody sets out to give bad service and in majority of cases it is a simple mistake but businesses like ours take things to heart.
So if you are unhappy let me know, I really want to know – you can find me on all social media direct messages or email (email@example.com) or phone, likewise if you are happy please do the same as I have 60 staff members all hoping for a SMILE and would be really nice to focus on the positive.
The 21 beers of the last 10 years has been a topic of conversation online recently and it got me thinking about the beers that have shaped my tastes over much more than 10 years of drinking.
1. Stones bitter (cask) – was the first beer I’d drunk and actually liked. Possibly first cask ale I had and was so much better than the electric metered fizz that seemed to be everywhere in the late 80’s to which at a young age I still preferred pop.
2. Wilsons bitter (cask) – I was working in the Sun Inn at Lepton when this new to me cask ale was introduced alongside the then only cask of John Smiths. What a flavour revelation it was then to my young taste buds. As Keith Ward, the landlord used to say – ‘its just like new milk’
3. Lowenbrau Pils (bottled) – Once you get to the age to go down town on a Saturday night and you go to pubs and bars that don’t sell proper beer or beer you’d trust it had to be lager. I didn’t like lager until I found the Lowenbrau Pils
4. Landlord (cask) – In the early 90’s the cask choice wasn’t great and in town it was even worse, however once The Albert with its perfectly kept Timothy Taylors Landlord was stumbled upon the starting point for any night out in town was found.
5. Caffreys (Keg) – Its now 1995 and Bass have brought out this cold smooth beer that tastes of something and you get merry on it much quicker and despite the terrible feeling the morning after the original Caffreys at 4.8% was and still is the only creamflow ale that I have ever stomached, I loved it during the summer of ’95.
6. Theakstons XB (cask) – fast forward to my first pub management and my choice on premium cask was Directors or XB but for brand standards the Courage had to dispensed without a sparkler in Yorkshire. Hence XB as Theakstons was dispensed regionally and I loved it.
7. Summer Lightning (cask) – As the Millennium approached the pubs of West Yorkshire were still dominated by John Smiths & Bass, national pub chains and smooth was kicking in. The regionals of Sheep & Taylors were taking up all the guest space and choice was limited. However the glimmer of today was on the rise as I found places that sold beer that tasted differently, the best two I remember were Summer Lightening & Red MacGregor, they were great and led me to want to find more and different beers to Yorkshire bitter.
8. Gulpener Korenwolf (bottle) – After leaver ScotCo I went to Bass and from the staff shop allowance it was Carling that everyone went for. However I was blown away by my first wheat beer – Gulpener Korenwolf and used my allowance on that every month and led me on to other wheat beers for a good few years.
9. Deuchars IPA (cask) – It was now the 21st century and a trip to Scotland for Hogmanay was marked by discovering what was to become a phenomenon – Deuchers IPA. Superb beer and one that I happily drunk for a couple of years as after the CAMRA win it was everywhere, so much that ScotCo bought it and knackered it up.
10. Belgian Beer (all) – Next was a mini-cruise to Brugge and that’s when my tastes were blown and my eyes opened. It’s hard to pin to one beer but those I vaguely remember from that 6 hours in Brugge were De Garre house beer, Gulden Draak, Tripel Karmeliet and the seasonal Stille Nachte. All still must buys when I go to Belgium (which is most years).
11. Ossett Silver King (cask) – UK craft as we know it hadn’t yet started but the local cask ale choice was ever improving, the first beer I remember that I had to try wherever I went was from a local brewery. It was pin bright, looked like a lager but what a taste – Ossett Silver King was a go to beer in the early noughties.
12. Summer Wine (cask) – I don’t remember much making an impression for the next 5 years until a new local brewery opened just down the road from me. It’s late 2008 and Summer Wine Brewery all of a sudden knock out some beers that I’ve never seen the likes of and I drunk and loved them all. Craft was beginning.
13. Magic Rock Dark Arts (cask) – It seemed we were lucky in Huddersfield in the late noughties The Grove opened, The Sportsman opened we had a couple of breweries in Summer Wine & Mallinsons taking up guest spots in pubs then this new brewery opened in my mates father-in laws business car park and was going to brew the next big thing. Everyone loved the pale stuff but for me the best cask stout I’ve had still to this day is Dark Arts and a go to beer whenever I see it.
14. Liverpool Organic Russian Imperial (cask) – I’d always loved stouts and the 6% Dark Arts took me down the stronger road. A trip to Liverpool led me to Liverpool Organic Russian Imperial Stout on cask. Sublime and I loved it and still the beer I measure cask Imperial stouts to.
15. Schlenkerla Rauchbier Marzen (bottle) – By now winter #BeerHolidays were a permanent thing for me and I loved drinking beer across Eastern Europe. A trip to Germany provides beer 15 and the best beer in the world – Schlenkerla. I’ve not been to Bamberg yet but I will get there.
16. Gaffel Kolsch (keg) – On the same Germany trip Kolsch was discovered. And despite the small glasses and the over the top-ness of the bar staff the 4 hours I sat in Gaffel house are still amongst one of the best days ever. 44 ticks on the drip mat and every single one was superb (not all mine – I think).
17. Red Willow Faithless number? (cask) – Craft was well and truly up and running, I liked the stuff but never blown away by the HyPeAyes. I always prefer the malt and yeast to dominate over the hops and still do but one beer I remember well and meant I am still a big fan of theirs was Red Willow Faithless, I don’t know which number it was but it must have been early numbers. A 7.3% IPA on cask, it is still remembered now (vaguely I’m sure it was over 7% anyway).
18. Unpasteurised Czech Beer (keg) – It must be about 2012 now, Craft is on the march, there are divisions in the beer drinking scene and I’ve just discovered beer Twitter proving I am not down with the cool kids with what I drink. Also I’m on a plane to Prague. I’m drinking unpasteurised Budvar (light and dark), Urquell, Beer X33 and everything that Pivovarsky Dum are brewing for 4 days solid and never felt better. I also now have a drink I want to drink when it’s not cask ale weather in the UK.
19. Siren Broken Dream (cask) – IPA is everywhere, every bar line is wall to wall IPA or APA or full of hops and to me it all tastes the same. We have a festival at Stalybridge Buffet Bar, on the line-up is Breakfast Stout from Siren on cask. Perfect for me and another pint I can still remember vividly, the one which all the new versions of stout are measured by to me and still the one that nothing has got close to yet.
20. North Riding Mosaic (cask) – At some point maybe a couple of years ago I’d fallen out of love with cask. It all tasted the same, the flavours were becoming boring, everything was pine resin, citrus fruits and zesty and there was little to tell one from another apart from condition. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d drunk from a beer and then looked at the pint and said wow that’s good. Enter North Riding Mosaic, and I say wow to it every time I drink it. Best drinking cask in the country at the moment.
21. Greek Amstel (keg) – A pint I remember so well – Pint of Amstel in a frozen glass in Rhodes Town looking at a thermometer displaying it to be 47 degrees in the sun, best pint I’ve ever had.
There never seems to be a week goes by without someone retweeting a picture of a pub price list from 1971 with bitter at 11p a pint or something similar followed by the comments on the ‘crazy prices’ of today. I wasn’t around in 1971 and neither was VAT, health & safety and human resources industries, national minimum wage, workers rights, part time staff holiday pay or compulsory pensions so just what does make up the price of a pint?
So what makes up the price of a pint?
First the pub has to buy the beer in. Let’s look at your standard 4.0% pale/blonde beer from a small brewer.
The level of duty does vary from brewer to brewer (a totally different topic) but in general its around £30 duty to start with on a 9 gallon cask. Since I like small brewers to make a living and be sustainable and I also like beer to be of good quality and brewed with quality ingredients – we therefore have to pay for this. Without giving away any trade secrets, small brewers probably need £40 per cask to buy ingredients, brew beer, run a business, deliver a cask and have enough staff to enable them to be moaning on twitter or take a day off. This means the average cask price of a 4% blonde is probably around £70 in free trade. Since casks are 72 pints, for the ease of this blog let’s take a cask beer sold at £72.
Prices vary by pubs and their costs but an average selling price is around £3 a pint (inclusive of VAT) in the pubs around West Yorkshire for this type of beer.
So once we’ve paid the brewer for the beer, we can now work out the gross profit from that pint:
Selling Price £3.00
Less VAT at 20% – 50p
Less cost of pint – £1.00
Leaving a pub with £1.50 in Gross Profit and the government with 92p in tax revenues (excluding all the other taxable items that may have gone into the production and sale of the pint).
What does this then pay for?
Now here I cannot speak for other pubs and their practices, but for us to maintain high standards of service and of product we have to spend time cellaring & conditioning the beer, cleaning the lines and equipment, testing & tasting the products and accept that there will be mistakes in serving the beer or times when we aren’t happy with the beer quality and take it off early. This means we don’t sell all the 72 pints we have bought, therefore adding cost. So back to the price of a pint:
Currently we have £1.50
Less 6.9% waste (Average yield of a cask is 67 pints with waste, cleaning, drip tray / waste, pull through and sediment ullage) – 21p a pint
Less line clean cost based on average waste per clean – 10p a pint
So we are now at £1.19
Again here, I can only speak for ourselves but in order to run a business successfully you need staff, a manager, supervisors & assistants, bar staff, cellar manager, cleaners and glass collectors. Pubs are very different to shops and supermarkets staff wise; in pubs we not only look after the product from ordering to serving but also whilst its consumed and the aftermath. To do this quickly, efficiently and to a high standard our staff need paying as such. They have skills which need training, they also have bills to pay and the job is demanding so need paying what they deserve. Wage costs on average are 88p per pint pulled because for every busy Saturday there is a graveyard midweek shift (plus there is NI, holiday pay & Pensions to pay for as well).
So take this from the £1.19 and we are down to 31p a pint profit.
That’s ok, you say – 31p a pint and you sell thousands a week, still doing well?
Well there are other things to come out of that 31p yet. We have to either rent or pay our mortgage on our properties, we have to heat and light them, paint & decorate them, fix and maintain them. We have to buy, provide and clean the glasses you drink from and replace those customers smash & steal. We have to insure the pubs and insure you lucky punters that come into them. We have to have running water (and have it hot), bins collected and clean the pubs. We have to provide you with facilities such as use of a toilet and you now all expect free WiFi. As a rule people like entertaining so we have free live music for which we pay the artists as well as then the PPL & PRS for that. We also have to maintain our customers safety by testing electrical equipment, having CCTV & fire equipment and ensuring gas & ventilation safety. This is not an endless list of costs that are incurred, there are many, many more and all this comes out of that 31p.
Hopefully though there is something left from that 31p after the overheads. This then goes to head office where the staff also need paying, payroll needs sorting, there is HR and H&S resource for our staff, our suppliers need their invoices paying our council tax needs paying etc..
What’s left the government then takes corporation tax out of and that’s before someone smashes a mirror, breaks a toilet seat or throws stones through your window for the fun of it
This is just some of what makes up the price of a pint for us and the reason why good beer should cost what it does today. So remember next time you think the beer is a crazy price in our pubs just consider – don’t go back to when you could go out, have a gallon, fish & chip supper and trolley bus home for a quid, its not 1971 anymore. Think of it giving much required taxation to the government, think of it of employing 90 local people who will spend their money in the local community, think of it of it helping many other thousands of people who work for, or own over 95% of our suppliers. Why not compare this to your cup of multinational chain coffee who don’t pay duty, tax or look after local communities yet charge more a pint than we do for beer rather than comparing it to 1971.
Cherish pubs and real ale for what it is and value the product. The social aspect of the pub is another blog just waiting to be written.
This week sees the introduction of another tax which will have a significant impact in the pub trade, a tax hike that seems to have gone quietly under the radar at present. However I’m sure it will get a bit more coverage in the coming weeks once everyone starts to feel & see the effects.
Since our kids getting fat because they are consuming gallons of sugar filled fizzy drinks Jamie Oliver thought it would be a good idea to get the government to tax them – to some this may seem a logical solution as who wants unhealthy kids. Go past any school in a morning and you will no doubt see kids downing large cans of energy drinks or creamy chocolate milkshakes crammed full of sugar and probably not doing much for the kids health and well-being, hence the sugar tax.
Drinks are taxed in two bands, there is a high band tax for those drinks that have more than 8g of sugar per 100ml and then a lower band for drinks of 5g to 8mg per 100ml with the rest being exempt. It is only applied to fizzy drinks and not pure fruit juices or milk based drinks (these are healthy?).
So let’s just have a look at two bottles of drink and see how the sugar tax works in practice
FRIJJ Chocolate Milk:
7.6g of fat
40.4g of sugar (10 teaspoons) – No Sugar Tax
FEVER TREE Elderflower tonic
0g of fat
16g of sugar (4 teaspoons) – Sugar Tax
Now I aren’t a dietary expert, as people who know we will testify, however if this tax is aimed at child obesity then why does a bottle of tonic water get taxed but not a chocolate milkshake? In my experience it isn’t very often that I see loads of kids in the pub swigging tonic water, just adults who can make their own decisions on buying what they like. So who exactly is the tax targeting because it surely can’t be childhood obesity on this logic?
It can’t be that much though surely I hear you say?
Everything varies and it is dependent on pack size and sugar content as to which band the products fall into, however it ranges 10% to 30% plus VAT cost price increases on the products we sell. Obviously pubs and retailers can’t absorb this cost and will have to pass it on to consumers, however this rise at the bar will make a considerable amount of difference to the selling price of with nobody gaining from it apart from £500m to the treasury in an attempt help make our children healthy.
So next time you go to the bar and your drink of pop or G&T has gone up by 30p or 40p please don’t moan at your friendly bar person, it isn’t their fault. Just give thanks to Jamie Oliver (please do let him know) and sleep easy in the knowledge that little Jonny or Jemma is not going to get fat because they now can’t afford to drink gallons of Elderflower tonic and the government has £500m to spend on getting them healthy.
Why sexism is bad for business
In the week where the Professional Darts Corporation decided to stop walk on girls for the dart players and Cloudwater continued to split opinions with the dodgy branding on their latest collaboration, project sexism has never been higher on the agenda.
Last week I had the pleasure to sit on the panel for the discussion at Manchester Beer Festival which asked ‘why is sexism bad for business and what are we going to do about it?’ This debate coming after many issues at the festival last year and a year of criticism for CAMRA, prompting them into issuing a statement in which it highlighted that it would not condone any of its members found to be using sexist images or slogans and condemned any discriminatory behaviour.
When the issue is highlighted online or on social media there never seems to be an end of commentators who throw in ‘it doesn’t hurt anyone’, ‘it’s just a bit of fun’, ‘PC gone mad’, or ‘it’s only a silly name on a pump clip’. Is it? Really? Is it PC gone mad that staff are judged on gender rather ability? That staff are abused because of gender? I don’t think so.
So why is Sexism bad for business?
Prior to the discussion I asked many of my well trained female staff, including my female managers (5 out of 6), as to what level of abuse they received and how often. Every single one of them had examples of the discrimination they faced almost every week ranging from men asking to be served by a man that knows about the beer, their knowledge being dismissed as they were women, to downright disgusting sexual remarks. This is not right, it is putting people off coming into the trade, it is making good staff leave the trade and one of the many reasons sexism is bad for business.
Beer, in the time I have worked in the industry (a long time!), has generally been a boys club. Men drink beer with a small white wine or fruit based drink for the lady, as the joke goes. Men were the brewers & sales reps, whilst the girls were in the office, big brands aimed solely at the men and joked that a bottle of sherry was overdoing it for the Sheilas. This lazy stereotyping and marketing does nothing for either beer or the pub trade and will only hasten its demise. It doesn’t make the pub welcoming or inclusive – it puts off more than just the 50% of the female population. Not appealing to over half of your possible customer base is definitely bad for business.
So what are we going to do about?
Pubs have a duty to be inclusive, train their staff well and understand their customers. We have to challenge up the supply chain to brewers or organisations if behaviour by their staff or the marketing is not acceptable or discriminatory in any way. We have to look after our staff and challenge customers who are happy to be discriminatory or worse to our staff, that behaviour cannot be accepted. We also have responsibility to promote positive behaviour and highlight the good that is done. It is a problem, just because the majority of people haven’t encountered it much in their life doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, without action it will continue or get worse.
It is a subject that needs tackling and talking about as it not going to improve in silence. The stance of CAMRA has changed and this can only be for the better, but it has to go further, be part of the revitalisation project and address every single incident that is done in the name of CAMRA. Other trade bodies should also make a stand and a statement because sexism is clearly bad for business. Our business, my trade, can only improve by being a welcoming and inclusive industry for all.
I can’t speak for brewers about their branding or marketing decisions but just a note to them: five of the six people that make beer purchasing decisions for us are female, over 60% of our staff are female and our pubs are inclusive to all so the chances of selling us beer with rude, crude or sexist pump clips is zero and I’d say that’s bad for their business.