Imagine you’re a microbrewer. You’ve established a few successful beers and have won the odd award here and there at SIBA competitions and CAMRA festivals. Sales are showing healthy growth and you’ve got some local recognition. In a few years time, you might have to expand. But there’s one thing now obsessing you.
Your own pub. You want a brewery tap.
But you can’t get one.
Buying a freehold pub is a financial step too far – you just haven’t got that kind of money to hand. You could of course get a lease or tenancy from one of the big PubCos but what would be the point of that? The tie means you’d have to take beers from their limited range, and your not on it – you want a pub that showcases YOUR beers, as you want them to be seen.
This is a scenario facing many micros at the moment. To some, it’s a symbol of what they’re fighting against – an outdated model in the British beer and pub industry.
But now, things are changing. And it’s my old mates at Thornbridge who are leading the way, with the first pub on an interesting new deal with Enterprise Inns.
Well, not quite leading the way.
Three years ago, Midlands brewer Everards started a scheme called Project William. They took over defunct, failed pubs – the ones that we read about that are closing every week – and went into partnership with local brewers around the Midlands and the north of England. Everards invested in refurbishing the pub – in partnership with the local brewer – and took a traditional tie on lager, soft drinks and spirits – meaning the publican had to buy all these from Everards at their rates. This is usual enough for PubCos and regional brewers. But they made cask ales free of tie, simply asking that one Everards beer be stocked on the range.
Now, if you were a bog standard pub that relied mainly on industrial lager (as most of these pubs were before they failed), it doesn’t make much difference. But if you’re a micro looking for a pub where you can stick six handpulls on the bar to showcase your own beers plus a range of other interesting micros, it’s giving you what you want from a pub with much lower risk and investment than you’d get elsewhere.
There are about twenty Project William pubs now, and they’re all – apart from one uncertainty – booming. Everards gets the return on its investment from the other drinks. The micro gets its Brewery tap. A community gets its pub back. Everyone wins.
I wrote about Project William in the Cask Report and The Publican. It’s such a clever idea, the biggest question for me was why no one else had done it, why the big PubCos didn’t take heed.
Well now, someone has.
Thornbridge have worked with Enterprise – one of the two giants of the PubCo world with between 7,000 and 8,000 pubs – before. The Cricket Inn in Totley is an Enterprise pub, but the leasehold model is not ideal for a brewer with as many great ideas and beers as Thornbridge has. So brewer and PubCo have been talking about doing things differently. When Enterprise decided to take a leaf out of Everards book and create a different kind of leasehold, Thornbridge was the first to jump.
The result was the Greystones:
|God bless Farrow and Ball.|
This was a failed pub in Sheffield called the Highcliffe, a great building that had just become a haunt for local, erm, ‘characters’, the kind of people who spend more money in a toilet cubicle than at the bar. The refurb was a joint investment – with Enterprise chipping in most of the cash. Thornbridge are free of tie on ales so they can showcase their range. Enterprise gets a big pub run by people who know what they are doing. Sheffield gets yet another amazing craft beer pub, which also has an emphasis on ‘arts and the local community’, with gigs and other events happening regularly.
The Greystones opened on November 3rd. It sold 3000 pints in its first 48 hours.
So if you’re that ambitious micro, it’s not simply a case of walking up to Enterprise or Everards and saying, “Gizza pub” – they need to be convinced that you have the business acumen to make it work, and that if they pay for a refurb it’s going to pay back. But if this model catches on – as it surely will – we’re going to see more abandoned pubs revived, and a much greater variety of drinks on British bars.
Hats off to Enterprise – not always the hero in stories about British pubs – for having the vision to do this. Props to Everards for coming up with the original idea in the first place. And well done Thornbridge, yet again.
I’ll be doing a Hops & Glory event with a tasting of Thornbridge beers at the Greystones on Thursday 16th December.