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
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.