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Monday, 17 May 2010

It's the age of the craft beer pub

Here's a link to my latest column for the Publican.  Inspired of course by my new local, (White Hart Andy, I mean as well as, not instead of!) but I think there are the makings of a trend here and we should do more to encourage it.


Cooking Lager said...

I guess it's no longer the age of the train, so it has to be the age of something.

Whilst not being overly fond of these sorts of gaffs, or any gaff where there is a choice of 20 beers but no one obvious "best one", or information about what I can expect prior to getting it, it is great to see not all pubs going tits up.

Pubs with as Dredgie called it a "USP" seem to be tickety boo. Whether that USP is beer geekery, or spoons pricing or expensive jenga stacked poncy chips.

Proves that pubs going tits up is the fault of the people owning them or running them, and not evil Tommy Tesco's fault.

The people running these successful pubs appear to know the market they are in.

michael-j said...

comments on The Publican's site are often amusing, like the way that someone can read that article (and the comment above them about cooking lagers) and then write with no irony about the success of replacing Grolsch with Peroni in their pub...

Sid Boggle said...

It's interesting, isn't it? Craft beer (including real ale) bars are necessary to grow the market, so they need to be able to attract new drinkers to sustain growth.

They also tend to price the Fosters and Guinness drinkers (sorry Cookie) out of their premises - not by much, but enough so that the offer and the cost sends them on their way to find their tipple elsewhere.

And they tend to become destination pubs.

I suppose the likes of Utobeer or Pivo could eventually become de facto 'chains' with a few premises scattered about. I also wonder if it wouldn't tempt one of the larger pubcos into setting up a pilot across a dozen pubs..?

Cooking Lager said...

Not sure they do price the lout drinker out, Sid. The multi beer pubs I’ve been dragged to price at a similar level to the surrounding market. They put off many by a lack of familiar brands and condescending attitude rather than price. That is if you go in and are uncertain in regard to the beers offered you are unlikely to find a welcoming member of staff that guides you towards something you might like. In addition the decor and clientele tends to put off the younger drinker. I don’t doubt for one minute Pete’s assertion that this is a healthy niche market, or that the niche has the capacity for growth. My only doubt is the capacity of the niche to become mainstream, or even that you can claim anything is mainstream in the current market.

Within the fragmented bar and pubs market, there are fewer everyman places that attract a broad clientele and ever increasing number of establishments that attract a narrow age group and narrow social class. The interesting aspect of this are the number of drinkers that think the pubs they like are not a social problem and the bars they dislike are.

Curmudgeon said...

You say in the article "But with no more than 20 craft beer specialist pubs in the UK".

How does a "craft beer specialist pub" differ from the familiar "multi-beer freehouse", of which there must be hundreds up and down the country. The Crown and the Magnet in Stockport being good examples. Many of these pubs already to a greater or lesser extent stock numerous foreign bottles and something different from the usual suspects on keg.

PCL said...

It's a good article Pete. Another one to add to the list if you've not been is the Southampton Arms in Kentish Town. Only cask ale (around 7) from small breweries and real cider/perry available (another 7 or so!),and a couple of Meantime's on draught for good measure for non-ale drinkers.

Tandleman said...

PCL - I don't think that's what Pete's talking about.

Pete Brown said...

I think my definition of a craft beer specialist pub, which I made up while writing the piece, is a pub where every beer of every description is different from the usual suspects, where there is no Carling or Guinness or Stella or anything like that. Part two of the definition would of course be that the staff are passionate about beer and know something about it.

To be honest I've no real idea how many pubs that covers, but in my line of work I would expect to hear about them and I don't hear about very many. What do people reckon? Do you have any other specific examples I haven't mentioned? A rough guess of how many pubs in the UK fit the bill?

Cookie, you're right and I acknowledge that this will always be a niche, but where I disagree is that it necessarily has to be an exclusive niche. The target audience is self-selecting and if people want to stick with what they know you can't slag em off for that. But the point for me is that if it's done well it's not just a pub for beer geeks, it's for anyone who's curious, fancies a change, is a bit of a foodie, whatever. The joy of the Butchers is that me and the lass who works behind the bar most nights are the only beer geeks in there most of the time. Everyone else just thinks it's interesting, and they come and explore and try something new.

But the comments on the bottom of the Publican piece are absolutely right - you can't just do this anywhere, you have to have the right demographics for something like this.

James said...

Great article Pete, and so true that there should be more craft beer pubs. A couple of key points that stand out for me are:

1. Your point is absolutely correct that a craft beer pub should have staff who are passionate & knowledgeable about the beer they are selling - this enhances the customer experience

2. I feel that CAMRA would actually be a barrier to increasing the amount of pubs selling an eclectic mix of exciting beers - mainly because Camra is so obsessed with cask, and this pretty much rules out all American beers plus an increasing number of quality UK beers. The Rake for example would be a far duller place if it kept to Camra rules.
Is this a fair point?

Tandleman said...

So James CAMRA is obsessed with cask? I really wonder what part of Campaign for Real Ale you don't understand. Being supportive of something doesn't mean you are against other things.

No wonder people are persecuted by this "if you aren't for us you are against us" attitude. (Not in things beery I hasten to add - so far at least)

Muddled thinking to be kind.

James said...

I should perhaps add that I am actually a Camra member and support the work they do.

However, I can also recognise that the importance placed upon cask ale and bottle conditioned beers means that surely the official Camra position does not support breweries such as Brewdog, or indeed many of the American brewers. Am I mistaken in this assumption?

SteveF said...

In vaguely related news, the American House has passed a resolution on craft beer, HR 1297, "Supporting the goals and ideals of American Craft Beer Week". Clearly all that's required for bipartisanship is a decent ale:

PCL said...

Tandleman, I give the Southampton Arms as a near-perfect example of a craft beer pub, as I found it very similar to how Pete describes the Butchers (though I've not been to the latter).

Pete's newer comment that craft beer pubs are really places with different beers, no Carling or Guinness or Stella or similar, and the staff being passionate about beer is exactly what I experience in the recommended pub, so I think it fits perfectly with what Pete has written about.

It has also opened only in the last few months, so seems to be part of this new wave of places to offer the unusual, and non-standard brands.

stubbs said...

Can also recommend you visit the Southampton arms Pete there is no doubt that its exclusively a craft beer pub. Incidentally the SA opened a few months before the JB and is clearly where the inspiration came from. The butchers has made no secret of this, duplicating the Southampton's logo almost exactly.