Monday 23 November 2015

PubCo Pantomime

Pub Campaigner and LibDem MP Greg Mulholland, has got himself into hot water by going along to the Tenanted Pub Company Summit, a £600 a head do, and proceeding from his guest speaker's vantage point, to piss on all their chips.  He didn't as expected take the chance to say that with a victory in the House of Commons over Market Rent Option for PubCos, the slate has all been wiped clean now and all will be sweetness and light in the tenanted pub sector, as the audience apparently hoped.  Instead he tore into them as dedicated recidivists (my interpretation) who still wanted the lion's share of everything happening in the trade - in other words, they wished to carry on as before wherever they could.  The Morning Advertiser didn't like what he said one little bit and perhaps being a little less than even handed, lashed Mr M as "a self appointed Pubs Champion" and, in an opinion piece by the Deputy Editor Mike Berry, called him out for "overstepping the mark."

To the MA's credit though they have given Greg a right of reply, which our Pub Champion has put to good use, berating Mr Berry as "never overstepping the mark in his professional life" - translation - a bit of a wimp - and countering with Berry being more interested in having his back slapped - translation - being a bit of a toady.

Of course I'm no fan of the pub companies, so tend to side with Greg Mulholland. He adds in his right of reply, that at this £600 a head thrash that tenant profitability wasn't mentioned once by the panel that was discussing the various subjects and that it was doubtful if anyone that is a pub tenant was likely to be there given the cost. Both are telling points.  The whole background to why the PubCos failed the industry lies in overweening ambition, saddling pubs with immense debt, wiping out shareholder value and squeezing the tenants until their pips squeaked.  No wonder they want to say "Let's start again with a clean sheet."

They would wouldn't they?  Tell it like it is Greg.  More power to your elbow.

You can read both Morning Advertiser articles, here and here. They are brilliant knockabout pieces which makes you wonder how they read before they were (presumably) toned down.

Thursday 5 November 2015

In My Liverpool Home

I was back in Scousley yesterday. Did I ever mention I lived there for nine years? Well I did, but it was a long time ago.  The purpose was to visit and have a few drinks with an old mate who emigrated to Australia quite a few years ago, but who was back for his mother's 80th Birthday.  Time passes. My journey was cheap. Booked in advance with my old git's railcard it cost me only £5.40. Not bad at all.

Meeting John at Lime St station we both remarked how Liverpool had changed as we walked along Renshaw St, briefly stopping to admire Dickie Lewis on the way to the Dispensary. So many new and sparkling glass and metal buildings, while other areas that once were relatively prosperous, were now in decline.  Still, we weren't together to lament, but to celebrate, so into a fairly quiet pub we popped, me drinking mild, and he, once a cask man, but corrupted by Australian mass swill, to re-educate his taste buds with a pint of Ossett Decadence, a grittily hoppy beer.  He hadn't lost the knack and we happily chatted over our pints, which were so good that the order was repeated before we did a little light pub campaigning by having a couple of pints at the bar of the much threatened Roscoe Head, an old haunt for both of us.  We bantered with a couple of fellow soaks at the bar and generally enjoyed the atmosphere, the beer and listening to Scouse accents that were so thick you could have cut them with a knife.  I'm sure that this wasn't quite the case when I lived there, or, more likely, I just was used to them then in these far off halcyon days..

Conversation drifted to drinking beer in Sydney. He's recently switched from Toohey's New to Resch's and discussed the growing craft scene in Oz, which he described as an excuse to rip people off and "if I never see another craft IPA, it'll be a day too soon." Kind of know where he is coming from. Seems craft beer is reassuringly expensive world wide.  He seemed surprised to hear that we now have two third measures here as he struggled to translate New South Wales schooners sold in Australian dollars into UK pints in sterling to give me an idea of cost.  Apparently too,  UK 20 oz glasses are becoming a thing there, so it is a two way street glass wise.  And yes, despite his 15 years or so there, he still gets called a Pommie Bastard. I had intended to ask if he fancied trying some of the newer and craftier places around Seel St and Bold St, but he said he'd rather explore old haunts. So we did, next calling into the Fly in the Loaf, though it was Kirklands in those days - I remember drinking Newcastle Amber in there - and then lingering for several pints in the Philharmonic as we did so many years ago. Then the beer was Warrington brewed Tetley, which I dare say then we enjoyed just as much, though the current choice was, shall we say, greatly enhanced..

Some things don't change though. John asked if we could have our last pint in the Swan in Wood St. Yes, another old haunt and one of the first multi tap pubs in Liverpool. I got my CAMRA membership form there, possibly clouded by Owd Roger which was often on draught there. A haunt of bikers then and maybe now,  it was a bit of a shithole then.  It looks much the same now. Well, as I said, some things don't change that much, though it seemed to me to be a bit cleaner. It was comfortably the poorest pint of the day.

So we missed out on all the new bars and pubs and all the craft, but it didn't matter one bit.  I still love Liverpool and we had a cracking day out.

Our reminiscences didn't half involve recalling a lot of ale supping.  After that we would both have given our eye teeth for a pint of Higgies.  I only took one photo, which is from the Fly in the Loaf and the lovely Manx Pale Ale.

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.