Tuesday, 3 November 2015

A New Way For Micropubs?


Largely due to my friend Nick's ministrations, I have become very interested in micropubs - no - not to the extent of wishing to open one - even more tying than having a cat - but as a newish pub genre. Those that I have visited so far, all but one with said Nick, have delighted me.  Their simple one room arrangement, a range of well presented cask ales and a general and quintessential niceness appeals to me. They are somehow, to me at least, very English. I don't quite know why I think it, but I reckon you'd have to choose your location pretty damn carefully for the concept to work in Scotland, whose drinking and pub culture is somewhat different.

The accepted founder of the movement, Martyn Hillier (right) sees them as a big thing for the future and even has a definition of what a micropub should be "A Micropub is a small freehouse which listens to its customers, mainly serves cask ales, promotes conversation, shuns all forms of electronic entertainment and dabbles in traditional pub snacks"  Well it may not trip off the tongue, but it is an easy enough concept to grasp and has to be followed by any micropub that aspires to be included on the Micropub Association's Directory.  All tickety boo so far.







This morning I read Roger Protz's blog with unusual interest. Not that Rog is uninteresting, but this time he reported on the ways that  Moorhouses Brewery of Burnley (Pendle Witch and the like) might increase it's small estate of three pubs. As an aside I remember when they had eight or ten or so, but they all more or less fell from grace including the Dusty Miller in my CAMRA branch area, as reported by my good friend Tyson here.  Not entirely sure why they all did, but most were rather down-market and I know some were redeveloped, but anyway Moorhouses have come up with a wizard wheeze to sell more of their beer.  I'll quote their MD David Grant: "To survive as an emerging regional brewer, our challenge is to sell more beer in line with our new brewery plan when we invested to treble capacity five years ago.  Having our own pubs is one way we can move forward. The whole pub and beer industry has changed immeasurably in the past few years. The number of micro breweries has tripled due to generous tax relief, giving them a trading advantage over bigger brewers. And they are all seeking local business – yet the number of pubs has fallen dramatically. We are being caught in a perfect storm with a shrinking market. Consequently I am actively looking at shops or small spaces in good strategic locations to open micro-pubs to complement the traditional pub model. These outlets would be in our core northern area – possibly as far afield as York or Chester -- and could operate for 48 hours a week. They would sell the very best quality beers – both ours and guest ales -- and have a limited but first class wine and food offering".

A number of things to note there. Firstly bigger regional brewers - and Moorhouses certainly are one - are feeling the pinch from micro breweries. Secondly there is another swipe at tax relief, but for the purposes of this article, that the answer to expanding their market may be to include opening brewery owned micropubs in the brewer's own trading area.  This more or less completely overturns the unique selling point that our friend Martyn Hillier devised, of the micropub being a free house. That notion is further undermined by an intention to have a "first class wine and food offering. 
Frankly I'm not sure what to make of it or what Martyn Hillier (right) would. While Moorhouses may say they'll offer other brewer's beers, that would surely be minimal, as otherwise it would negate the purpose of setting them up in the first place, that is to sell more of the company's beer.  How would these be run and managed? Paid managers? Tenants?  For a first class food operation you need a first class kitchen and so on.  

Is this just kite flying?  I don't know, but one thing is for sure. Now that this idea is out and about, others will be considering if they could steal adapt it.

Interesting in Roger's same article, is the plan to double the expansion of Oakham Brewery. No hardship if that happens.

I don't have a cat presently, but would like one if it wasn't so tying. I know this.

25 comments:

Cooking Lager said...

I have no problem with people enjoying a drink in a gaff that happens to be the type of thing they like. More power to it. I do laugh at those that think micropubs represent a turning point in pub interest or signs of recovery when they are the opposite. They represent the segmentation of pubs into defined niches, in this case a perfect CAMRA niche of all the things CAMRA types typically like with none of what they don't. No problem there, everyone to their own. They represent the decline, not the resurgence. Small pubs dependent on a tax advantage? A last dying gasp.

Alan said...

It sounds to me from the description that these are replicas of Edinburgh's Bow Bar. What sets them apart from a small traditional pub with a good selection? No spirits?

boozyprocrastinator said...

Interesting post and comment so far, ties in the the piece by Hillier in this month's What's Brewing

Bailey said...

Quite apart from the evangelism they evoke, Micropubs do seem to get to the nub of a problem: many pubs are too big and so, even with quite a few people in, lack atmosphere. Without having to sign up to Micropub Association's manifesto, opening pubs in smaller (cheaper) premises seems to me like a smart move, especially in small towns and villages with lots of empty shops.

Tandleman said...

Bailey and Cookie. Sitting at different ends of the spectrum I see. Cookie, it may be a last dying gasp, but hey, if it works......

Stonch Beer said...

Spot on.

Pedro I am really disappointed you're a cat person. Not very manly

Tandleman said...

I've always been very fond of pussy cats. Got me in plenty of trouble over the years. Scratches etc.

Curmudgeon said...

I'd say part of the appeal of micropubs is that they are non-corporate - it's not simply a concept that a brewery can pick up and run with. Also my guess is that many of them are to some extent hobby businesses and don't generate enough profit to provide a decent income on their own.

We're seeing a lot of new small café-bars opening up, some of which sell decent beer, but they're not micropubs.

Have you been to visit the new micropub in Cadishead yet, the Grocers? (no, me neither)

Oh, and as the great American science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein said, "If you would know a man, observe how he treats a cat."

DaveS said...

Two thing here -
Firstly, I think the basic reason that micropubs have been successful is that they have a target market, they know their target market, and they focus on getting the offer right for that target market rather than trying to do everything but mostly doing it badly. That's an idea that's pretty obviously got legs even if the target market (and hence the offer) isn't always exactly the same.
Secondly, once people get the idea that a micropub is like a pub but micro, I'm not sure that the Micropubs Association have got much more chance of regaining control of the concept than the United Craft Brewers have of enforcing a definition of "craft" or CAMRA have of stopping people referring to bottles of Spitfire as "real ale". And to be honest, I don't see that this is a problem - if being a free house and having at best a second class wine offering is a precondition for success then these "micropubs" won't get far, if not then who cares what you call them?

retiredmartin said...

Most of the micropubs I've been to seem to be run by the middle-aged for the middle-aged, opportunistically taking on small cheap buildings. Nothing wrong with that if they do it well, as they seem to. Same for the clutch of off-licence-cum-bars popping up in places like Glossop and Southport, general with a younger catchment. They all show drinkers can last for an hour or two without food.


I'd like to see Moorhouses be able to sell their beer in top condition; it's rarely the best selling beer in a multi-pump range. Don't know if a micropub will do it for them. Incidentally, Oakham's flagship pub in Peterborough is enormous.

Cooking Lager said...

I'm gonna define it as pub for midgets, create a proper association of micro pubs, and sue all the ones with full sized tables and chairs.

DaveS said...

Or possibly one full of people using retro home computers?

If nothing else it'd make a change from everyone messing around on their phones.

Cooking Lager said...

I would drink in a gaff full of retro games. I'd want retro beer too. I'd want a can of Hoffmeister and Kokotoni Wilf on a ZX Spectrum. Happy days.

Stono said...

but I think the problem is what some people are now labelling or claiming as micropubs, are actually no different to pubs that are just small to begin with. Ive been in several pubs smaller,the Nutshell in Bury St Edmunds for one for instance, than most micropubs Ive been in so far. And successful pubs large or small always focus and know their target market.

So I do struggle to see either the size element as their key success point or that theyve unlocked some magical unheard of business practice called giving customers what they want, but maybe its my perenial complaint about people extrapolating their local market conditions to a grand nationwide scale and deciding thats the blueprint for success

Tyson said...

If a regional brewer, such as Moorhouses, buy a pub-whatever the size, then it's not a micropub, is it? A basic tenet of micropubs is that they are free of tie. Moorhouses are simply going down the traditional brewery-owned pub route, albeit with a little twist, that they have been down before. If I were them I would be asking myself what happened to our original estate? Their pubs have always sold guest beers, anyway, btw.

If Moorhouses want to see how to build up a small estate of well-run pubs, then they should take a look at Allgates.

Maru said...

Bulkwineandspirits.com is a portal to promote trade relations between professionals and bulk bourbon, alcohol derivatives, and encourage business transactions between them.

RedNev said...

I'm afraid you've got the wrong end of the stick, Tandleman. You have quoted, not Martyn Hillier's definition of a micropub, but his description of his own micropub. He wrote in November's What's Brewing: “There is no set formula or design to the micropub. They vary in size though all are small.” CAMRA Liverpool Branch declared in the GBG that the Liverpool Pigeon in Crosby was Merseyside's first micropub as it is “true to the formula”. As there is “no set formula” (M. Hillier), they neatly and erroneously excluded the older Inn Beer Shop in Southport. It's typical of some in CAMRA that they have created a hard and fast rule where none was provided or intended.

The idea of Moorhouses opening micropubs is comparable to the big supermarkets moving into the convenience store market. A convenience store owned by Tesco is still a convenience store. As there is no definition of a micropub, I can see no reason why Moorhouses can't use the term for any they may open, especially as they have said they would provide guest beers. You can be sure that, regardless of whether you disapprove of calling them micropubs, that is what they will be called by many of the drinkers who will use them.

Rob said...

I haven't been to anywhere that specifically markets itself as a micropub. But here in Leeds Northbar have opened a number of small suburban bars, I think there's four so far. The size certainly makes a difference - it's much more comfortable if you just want to go and read a book on your own for instance. In lots of suburban areas the pubs are too big, and a lot of the ones that have survived are essentially family restaurants, so it is nice to go somewhere where it is just for a drink. Though it must be said they are still very much middle class hangouts.

Tandleman said...

Nev. No I haven't got the wrong end of the stick. I am quoting from the Micropub Association's website. I say "it is an easy enough concept to grasp and has to be followed by any micropub that aspires to be included on the Micropub Association's Directory." It is they who are defining it and if you want to join their association, then that's what you have to comply with, though whether that is in whole, in part, or in the spirit of, I do not know.

Nor do I defend the definition, or say I agree with it, or infer in any way I don't approve of it. I am making a wider point, which to me seems clear. That is, would this distort the vision and would it actually work? I say - and it is true - " This more or less completely overturns the unique selling point that our friend Martyn Hillier devised, of the micropub being a free house." What I was trying to elicit was views for and against and any problems that might arise.

Finally what Martyn writes in WB does not alter what the Micropub Association's website says and it is that I quote.

RedNev said...

Sorry TM; you wrote: Martyn Hillier (right) sees them as a big thing for the future and even has a definition of what a micropub should be "A Micropub is a small freehouse which listens to its customers, mainly serves cask ales, promotes conversation, shuns all forms of electronic entertainment and dabbles in traditional pub snacks" You clearly credit the quote to Mr Hillier, not the micropub website.

The micropub website says, among other things, that "the definition of a Micropub is difficult. It is a set of ethics rather than a set of rules."

Tandleman said...

Nit picking. How do you know the website isn't quoting Martyn?

RedNev said...

Missing the point, but never mind - it's not that important.

geordiemanc said...

Mudgie said:
Also my guess is that many of them are to some extent hobby businesses and don't generate enough profit to provide a decent income on their own.

Well the two in our branch area - all be two which are on the large side of the category - are doing very well for their owners. One has paid off all the debts incurred to open it within a year and is investing heavily in improving its offering and the owner of the other is using her success to open other businesses - her second (non-beer related) on way and currently looking for her second "micro-pub".

Erlangernick said...

I'd like to see a micro-sandwich/soup-café with a few cask ales on. What would we call it?

One avid "NFL" "micropub", the Bouncing Barrel, has such a strict no-phones policy that the landlady stopped me from looking up one of their beers on my smartphone. Had to go outside.

Phil Mitchell said...

This has already been done just down my road in sheffield. We already had one micropub, now welbeck abbey brewery have opened one on the same street called portland house in an ex greggs type bakery shop. It has four or five of their beers plus a couple of guest ales, one "craft keg" tap and pilsner urquell. Its quite a nice place to have pint. I have no idea if it would fit any definition of micropub