Category: Pubs

| Books, Pubs

New Book: ‘The London Pub’ – out today!

Hoxton Mini-Press collects beautiful old photos thematically. I was delighted to be asked to write the intro for a gorgeous new collection on London Pubs, published today.

What’s better than reading about pubs? Looking at gorgeous, evocative photos of pubs (while also reading about them.)

Hoxton Mini Press is an independent publisher based in East London. They make collectable photography books, based mainly, but not exclusively, on the people and geography of East London. I find they make phenomenal last-minute Christmas presents for people you want to impress.

From their website:

“In an age when everything is virtual, the book 
as an object is more important than ever. But all too often 
big art books are aloof and expensive. We want to 
make books that both the collector and the non-
specialist can enjoy – and that everyone can afford.”

This new book is a collection of photographs of pubs from about 1910 to some time in the early 1970s. I was delighted when they asked me to write the introduction – about 1200 words commenting on the importance of pubs in London life – and some of the captions. Here’s an extract from the intro:

“London has always been a diverse city brimming with strong characters. It breeds people with a thirst for life, and acts as a magnet for thirsty people born elsewhere. Throughout the twentieth century, they made the city’s pubs blaze with light and life. 

“Everyone is here: Pearly Kings and Queens revelling in the spontaneous subculture they have created; sailors home on leave; courting couples stealing kisses over tables full of empty glasses; sharp-suited men from the Caribbean introducing their music and dance moves to their new neighbours; old ladies holding court, staring down the myth that pubs were male-only spaces. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards prop up the bar like two blokes at the end of a hard day at the office. Suzi Quatro takes time out from being the Queen of Rock and Roll to play a game of snooker. Teddy Boys hog the juke box while men old enough to remember the Boer War play pool. Meanwhile, dogs wait stoically at the bar, and children hover somewhat less patiently just outside the door. “

And here’s a selection of photos.

You can order the book direct from Hoxton Mini Press.

| Beer, Cask ale, Pubs, Real Ale

Six Reasons Cask Ale-Loving Publicans Should Immediately Whack the Price Up*

(*Relative to other drinks they serve)

It sounds counter-intuitive. Especially when drinkers face the prospect of losing any disposable income we may have had. But all the available market data suggests that the best way to sell more cask ale is to make it more expensive in comparison to other drinks on the bar. Here’s why, in six handy points.

1. People who already drink cask are perfectly happy to pay more

Cask drinkers have always been, on the whole, older, more upmarket and more affluent than the average beer drinker. They have a higher than average income, and spend more on average when they go out to the pub. In one survey of reasons why they drink cask, “price” scores 10th on a list of 13 options, with just 21% saying it’s important, versus 53% citing “flavour” and 39% saying it’s important that it’s “brewed locally.” In a separate study, “better value for money” comes 8th in a list of ten factors, with 25% saying it’s relevant versus 74% again claiming “flavour” is what matters. 72% of all ale drinkers say they tend to buy quality rather than quantity, compared to 44% who say they tend to be influenced by what’s on special offer.

It’s worth noting that cask ale drinkers are drinking less cask ale than they did. What are the drinking instead? Craft beer in other formats such as keg. 67% of all craft keg beer sells for north of £5 per pint, whereas over 70% of cask ale sells for less than £4 a pint.

Cask ale drinkers are telling us they care about quality more than price, and proving this by switching from cask to drinks that are far more expensive.

2. Non-cask drinkers already think – wrongly – that cask is more expensive than the fancy Mediterranean lagers they’re currently drinking. So what have you got to lose?

Get a load of this recent story from spoof news website The Daily Mash:

It’s a funny story – ignorant and badly informed, based on a premise that’s entirely false – but funny nonetheless. On average, cask ale is cheaper than any other pint on the bar apart from bog-standard cooking lager. And yet, the rapier wits at the Mash aren’t the only people who believe it’s eye-wateringly expensive.

In a survey of beer drinkers who do not drink cask ale, when asked what the barriers, are, “price” comes second in a list of 15 possible reasons, just behind “taste”, and well ahead of the clichés we all tell ourselves matter, such as the perception it’s warm (3rd), old-fashioned (6th) or flat (9th). Almost by definition, these people are already drinking beer that’s more expensive than cask ale is in reality. So putting the price up isn’t going to deter them any more than they already are. And they could afford it just fine if they had a reason to want to buy it.

But why do they think it’s so much more expensive than it really is? Partly, people assume darker beers are more expensive. Many also mistakenly believe cask is on average higher in ABV than other beers, and therefore more expensive. But the main reason, to my mind, is that outside the beer bubble, among the vast majority of drinkers and in places like the Daily Mash, people see cask ale and craft beer as synonymous. (And why shouldn’t they?) Check out this splash from a feature in the Guardian from 2019: A “craft beer enthusiast’s guide to Manchester”… illustrated with a pic of six cask ale handpumps.

If craft beer is expensive relative to other drinks (and it is) and real ale is the same as craft beer, then that’s also going to be expensive – isn’t it? Makes you wonder why the opposite is true.

In terms of price, non-drinkers of cask wrongly assume it is priced close to craft beer. You could always seek to correct this perception and point out how cheap cask is… but you’d be wrong to do so.

3. People are increasingly choosing more premium products across the board

“Premiumisation” has been one of the dominant trends in marketing for at least the past thirty years, and it’s not going away. For anyone above the poverty line, there’s a basic version of most consumer goods that’s easily affordable. As status-driven beings, we therefore actively seek out premium versions of the products that matter to us, to help us stand out and feel special. Yeah, you do.

In beer, this is why Peroni exists. The most recent example of premiumisation across the board is the performance of different beer styles as the on-trade had opened back up post-pandemic, versus their relative price. As a general rule, the more expensive something is (the blue bar) the better its volume performance when comparing 2022 with pre-pandemic 2019 (the red bar). The best performing segment in the whole of the on-trade drinks is “Mediterranean lager”, likely to be the most expensive mainstream beer on the bar, beaten only by craft. Standard lager and cask ale – the cheapest pints on the bar – are performing worse than anything else in the pub.

People are premiumising their drinks choices because they’re going to the pub less often and so need things to be a bit more special when they do go. It’s not necessarily that they WANT to spend more – but they are PREPARED to spend more rather than accept something they see as inferior.

4. This applies even – especially – during economic hard times

When money is tight, certain types of treat become more, not less, important. Premium versions of mainstream brands tend to do best during economic downtimes: “I can’t afford a nice holiday. I can’t afford a new car. Sod it, I’m going to splash out on a more expensive cut of meat/fresh orange juice/morning coffee.”

In June, CGA Strategy asked a broad range of consumers, “If your disposable income is reduced as a result of rising costs, which of the following do you plan to prioritise for spending over the next 12 months?” People were given 12 options for things they were most reluctant to cut down on, and invited to tick as many as they liked. The top answer was “visits to hospitality venues”, with 35% saying this would be important to them – double the percentage who cited entertainment packages such as Netflix.

Having said that, people still believe they will be spending less money overall on going out. But how are they planning on economising? The top answers revolve round going out less often, and drinking less when they do. Choosing cheaper, less premium versions of what they drink came second-bottom, with just 12% saying they’d consider this, just below visiting less premium outlets. More people said that the cost of living crisis will make them MORE LIKELY to choose quality/premium drinks (32%) than those who say it will make them LESS LIKELY (28%).

Economic hardship makes us more, not less, likely to choose more expensive/premium drinks.

5. Pub groups actively don’t want to sell more cask right now

So here’s a weird and slightly unsettling thing. At the beer industry seminar for which I gathered all this research, CAMRA and SIBA presented a new marketing campaign to get people to drink more cask ale. They’re seeking funding from across the industry to get it going. After the presentation, there was some grumbling from some people in the room who run groups of pubs. They protested that if the campaign were successful, it might make people drink cask ale rather than drinking other beers. Given that they were there because they are part of an industry body called Cask Matters, you might think they saw this as a good thing, not to say the whole damn point. But no: they were concerned about this possibility. Their pubs are struggling. The last thing they want just now is for people to stop drinking expensive world lager or craft beer, which pays pubs a decent margin, and start drinking more cask beer, which delivers a lower margin, instead. Therefore, with relative prices as they are, large pub groups are likely to OPPOSE any marketing activity that seeks to grow cask at the expense of other beer. We are in the ridiculous situation where companies selling cask beer – sometimes even companies that brew it – are potentially actively opposed to growing cask ale’s share of total beer.

Let’s be frank: if this remains the case, cask beer is utterly fucked outside the specialist independent pubs that make it their mission. The only possible way of changing this is to raise the price of cask beer relative to other beers on the bar.

6. Where cask is more expensive now, it actually sells more

If you still aren’t convinced, if you need one final argument, it’s this: where cask ale is more expensive on the bar currently, it actually sells more quickly. Surveying 4765 pubs across the country in 2019, CGA strategy found that in pubs where a pint of cask cost more than £3.70, it sold 32.5% more pints than in places where it cost less. Stripping out London and looking at the rest of the UK, it sold 9.5% more pints where it was selling for more than £3.45.

Now – chances are, these pubs were not just selling cask more expensively. They were probably nicer pubs charging a premium across the board. Interestingly, drinkers tend not to judge price in absolute terms. You know that in one venue, drinks generally are going to cost more than in another venue. If you’ve ever chosen to go to a nice pub instead of a nearby Wetherspoons, you know what I mean.

Across ale generally, the brands that are succeeding are the brands that are most expensive. Check out the growth in the top ten ale brands (cask and keg) between 2019 and 2022:

Beavertown Neck Oil has grown by 482% since before the pandemic – I guess not many people are too bothered by it selling out to Heineken. A substantial chunk of this growth will be due to Heineken’s powerful sales force shoving it out to pubs across the country. But even if simple distribution growth were responsible for, say, 70-80% of this growth, it’s clearly still selling like hotcakes in the pubs it’s flying into. This proves that drinkers have a thirst for a flavourful, sessionable pale ale – if it looks good on the bar, comes in a nice branded glass etc. The growth of Camden Pale makes the same point, somewhat less emphatically.

When we get to cask, the only brand in the top ten experiencing similarly strong growth is Timothy Taylor Landlord – a beer that sells into the trade at a higher price than its rivals, is less likely to do deals on price, and therefore tends to cost more at the bar.

So there are lots of contributing factors to this, and it’s not necessarily a direct correlation. But the data shows that if you’re keeping and selling cask properly, you can charge more for it – and sell more of it as a result.

The cask ale industry is currently in a pricing death spiral. Pubs are looking to buy it as cheaply as possible, and among 2000 breweries serving a shrinking market, there’s always a brewer who will undercut their rival. This is stripping value out of the market, which is why small brewers are switching to keg, publicans are often keeping cask badly, there’s not enough investment in marketing it to make it relevant to image-conscious, promiscuous drinkers, so it’s staying on the bar too long, so it tastes shit, so even die-hard cask drinkers are going “Hmm… not sure about the quality in here. Best stick with a Neck Oil just to be safe.”

Just put the fucking price up, guys.

I was a marketer long before I was a beer writer, and I still like to keep my hand in. For more marketing insight, sign up to my regular industry newsletter, or get exclusive, paywalled content via my Patreon. If you’d like to have a chat about you business specifically, drop me a line.

| Beer, Cask ale, Pubs, Real Ale

If you love cask ale… set it free.

It’s Cask Ale Week, and Britain’s ‘special’ beer style is in freefall. It’s time to cauterise the wound that’s bleeding out.

Last week, at the launch of Cask Ale Week, I was asked to present a summary of all the market data and research that various brewers were willing to pool and share. I learned a lot. But here’s one of the most urgent points for cask ale brewers.

The whole on-trade drinks market is still recovering from Covid (just in time to be pummelled by a cost of living crisis and the collapse of the economy). But some parts of it are suffering worse than others. Standard lager is struggling as people trade up to “premium” options such as the newly invented “Mediterranean lager” category. Still white wine is having a rough time as people – especially young people – switch to cocktails instead.

It’s not looking good for cask ale

But down there at the bottom of the table is poor old cask ale. A quarter of the volume of the market had already disappeared in the decade to 2019. And as the rest of the on-trade makes its slow and difficult way back to parity with the pre-pandemic year, cask languishes a further 25% down in volume versus three years ago. The number of pubs stocking it is down. And in the pubs where it remains, it’s selling 18% less than it used to.*

There are far too many reasons for this to fit in one blog post – same as there are far more things that could be done to alter the decline. But what’s abundantly clear is that the strategies cask ale brewers, stockists and fans have been pushing up to this point are not working. If you want cask to survive, you need to change the conversation and actions around it.

When I write stuff like this, this is usually the point where some cask die-hards chip in with the “It’s snowing outside my house therefore global warming is a myth” argument. “I know loads of great cask ale pubs,” they say. “The quality and range in them is excellent. They are busy and punters are happy. Therefore you are talking bollocks, Pete.”

The premises of this argument may be true, but they don’t lead to that conclusion. Yes, there will always be great cask ale pubs that will make a profit from selling cask ale. And the people who love cask ale will seek out those pubs and drink in them. But what percentage of all cask ale pubs are like that? And if you look at the overall figures, how awful must the other pubs be to create such nightmarish headlines overall?

Well, now we know.

Throughput is king

One of the biggest of the many issues facing cask is throughput. While some brewers disagree, the industry consensus is that once it is on the bar, a breached cask should be sold in three days. After that, the quality starts to decline. It starts with it just tasting not as good as it should – not as good as an experienced drinker knows it could be – and it ends up tasting like vinegar. In pubs that are not core cask ale pubs, you probably wouldn’t take a pint back. If you did – trust me on this – the staff, who are not trained in perfect cask ale, will say, “Well, no one else has complained” or “It’s cask, mate. It’s meant to taste like that.”

The data shows that if you’re an experienced cask drinker, you’re 39% likely to never visit the pub again. You’d tell your mates not to go there either. But the vast majority of cask drinkers only do so occasionally. And what those people do is go, “Oh, I guess I don’t like cask ale.” They blame the drink rather than the pub. They order a pint of Neck Oil (up 482% in volume since 2019 – and no, that’s not one of my frequent typos) or a Negroni (on-trade spirits up 16% since 2019) instead.

This is a huge problem, and it’s getting bigger. Brewers would love it if publicans who don’t sell a cask in three days take it off sale. But as cost pressures on the publican mount, that’s the last thing they’re going to do. Only 24% of pubs selling cask sell enough of it to guarantee a maximum three-day shelf life. If you were to just look at the peak selling time of Thursday to Sunday, that number is 54% – but that’s down from 62% since 2019.

So pubs that can’t sell cask fresh enough are actively driving people away from drinking cask. And over the course of the week, that means three out of four cask pubs are actively turning people off cask. The industry has loads of quality and training initiatives. It also has loads of passionate landlords who pride themselves on their cask ale as the sign of a good pub. But they’re not in these pubs. So why are these pubs selling cask?

The Oxford Partnership looked at flow data measuring beer going through the pumps in a sample of designed to reflect the national average. They then segmented these pubs on the basis of how quickly they sell cask ale on one axis, and how big cask ale is as a share of all the beer that pubs sells on the other axis.

The results are interesting.

If you were a sandwich maker, would you put 20 fresh sandwiches into a shop that only sells three sandwiches a day?

Adding up the bottom row, we see that 21.7% of pubs are selling more than 72 pints of cask a day on average. No throughput issues here. These 21.7% of pubs account for 42.1% of all the cask ale sold.

Whereas look at the top left boxes. 39.3% of all pubs sell less than 48 pints of cask a day. Frustratingly, this is a different measure than the 24 pints per day that needs to be sold to keep cask in good nick. But the principle still holds. They’re not selling it quickly enough, which is why nearly 40% of all pubs selling cask can only muster 13.9% of all cask volume between them.

These are the pubs where there’s maybe one handpull on, or three with two turned round for most of the week. That handpull probably serves Doom Bar or Greene King IPA, because if you’re reducing your range after lockdown, in theory it makes sense to stick to familiar brands. But this simply reinforces the dull, staid image of cask, on a bar where spirits, cocktails, craft beer and lagers like Madri all have a bigger, more colourful presence than they did three years ago. And so the cycle accelerates.

So maybe it’s time to rip cask out of those 39.3% low volume, low share pubs, or at least a good proportion of them. (This is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of anyone involved in Cask Ale Week.) An additional 13.9% volume loss might seem unbearable on top of the volume loss the market is already suffering. But you’d be cauterising the wound. You’d be getting rid of the vast majority of shit pints of cask beer that are being served every day.

You’d break the cycle of poor quality pints turning off occasional drinkers. Only serve cask in outlets where it sells enough for the quality to be decent.

Once you’ve stopped the rot, you can start the recovery. Once you can be sure that curious, younger drinkers will be served a pint that won’t put them off for life, you can feel safe giving them good reasons to try it. But that’s another story…

*All figures Oxford Partnership research, Feb-April 2022

I was a marketer long before I was a beer writer, and I still like to keep my hand in. For more marketing insight, sign up to my regular industry newsletter, or get exclusive, paywalled content via my Patreon. If you’d like to have a chat about you business specifically, drop me a line.

| Pubs, Southwark, The George Inn

Why do we care about pubs so much?

Putting aside the arguments over restrictions, passports and David versus Goliath, now we do most of our drinking at home (even before Covid) why does the pub actually matter?

Refreshing the parts.

 

I took the picture above on 22nd July 2020 – the first time I had been in a pub (or even outside one) since 13th March, the day I came home from a week of beery events around the UK and went into two weeks of quarantine to make sure I didn’t give Covid to my asthmatic wife.

Neither of us left the house again until 21st June. Three-and-a-half months into lockdown, we had never seen perspex screens in shops, or floor markers and widened pavements to help maintain social distancing. We were curious about everything in the changed outside world.

The picture was taken on a table outside the Anchor & Hope in Upper Clapton, North London. The pub sits on the bank of the River Lea, opposite Walthamstow Marshes, where we’d just taken Mildrid for a long walk for the first time in months, and the tables outside offer views of canal boats puttering lazily up and down the Lea, ducks futilely attempting to direct traffic, and long green fronds dancing lazily in the currents. Even if we’d been allowed to drink inside, we’d have chosen a table out here.

Liz went inside to the bar, and returned with two of these pints. Because I am now supposedly an “Influencer”, before I could take a swig I felt obliged (and indeed was instructed) to take a picture and share it on the socials. The accompanying text was:

“First draft pint in a pub since 13th March. Yes it’s a mainstream lager. Yes it’s in a hopelessly inappropriate wrongly branded glass. No it’s not “craft”. Go on, ask me if I care.”

They asked.

I didn’t care.

It was a warm day, 22nd July 2020. But that’s not why I ordered a mainstream lager in a wrongly branded glass. In fact I didn’t order a mainstream lager in a wrongly branded glass. I got served a mainstream lager in a wrongly branded glass because that’s all the pub had, thanks to the inept way reopening had been handled by the government, without enough notice for small, local brewers to start brewing again.

At home, I had a cellar full of infinitely better beers than this – and in many cases, the glassware to match.

But this was in a pub. As is so often the case, the beer itself wasn’t the point.

When I’m interviewed by other journalists – which happens quite a lot each time pubs gear up for reopening after a lockdown – the questions I get asked more than any other are:

  • – Why is the British pub so special?
  •  
  • – What’s the difference between a pub and a bar?
  •  
  • – Why are pubs such a big part of British culture?

These are the questions I was thinking about long before I even knew about things like “craft beer”, beer styles, the hop profile of a West Coast IPA or the pros and cons of cask breathers. And I’ve just been asked them an awful lot once again, over what we must all hope has been the final week of Covid lockdown.

I’ve been thinking about them for 25 years now, and have devoted the best parts of at least three books to trying to answer them. If anything, this makes it much harder to try to give short, concise answers, because there’s so much to say. But on the day pubs reopen for outside drinking (in somewhat less clement rather than 22nd July last year) here are three of the main answers, written with the perspective gained from having been away from pubs for longer than I have ever since about the age of sixteen.

1. We are pack animals.

Mildrid, our dog, is spoiled rotten. I’m afraid she gets whatever she wants, even when what she wants changes on a second-by-second basis. If Liz and I are sitting together, Mildrid has to be there with us, preferably lying between us. When she’s happiest she zones put, almost catatonic. The amateur dog psychologist in me believes this is to do with dogs being pack animals, and that when she’s lying between us, Mildrid is mentally back in her litter of puppies.

Maybe it takes a lockdown to really realise this, but we’re not that much different – we need to be around other people. We want to be in a pub that’s reasonably busy. We feel happier if there are other people there, even if we have no intention of directly socialising with them.

The pub occasion I’ve missed more than any other is popping in for a swift one on the way back from the park with Mildrid. On these occasions, I want to read a book, usually for some research I’m doing, and not to bump into anyone I know or be bothered by anyone I don’t know. But I’d still much rather the pub was busy than not (so long as I can get still get a table to myself.)

I wrote in Shakespeare’s Local about how trends in pub interior design have moved counter to trends in our homes. In Chaucer’s time, homes consisted of one room with a fire in the middle. There was no privacy. Pubs, on the other hand, were divided and sub-divided by screens and partitions, the forerunner of the snug, so that couples – who could afford it – were able to converse in privacy.

Now, we’ve gone the opposite way. At home, families spend a lot of their time in different rooms looking at different screens, while many pubs have knocked down all their interior walls, so we can all be in one big space, not interacting with each other directly, but comforted in some way by the presence of others.

2. But we need help socialising.

I love the American bar experience approximately 75% as much as I love the British pub. It has its own unique attractions, and I miss it desperately if I haven’t been to the US for a while. But much in American society and culture is formalised, whereas rules in Britain from the constitution to the way we order a drink at the bar are informal and unwritten – people are just expected to absorb it and know them.

I once met an American journalist for an interview in a pub in the centre of London. She was just off the Red Eye, and had headed straight in from the airport, so to be fair she wasn’t in the best shape for her first-ever British pub encounter. I found her standing about five yards way from the bar, staring at it, trembling slightly. After we made our introductions she said, “How do you do…” and raised one arm in a weak gesture in the direction of the beer pumps, “…THIS?”

Much has been written about the invisible queue at the bar, about why you never ask for a Guinness at the end of your order, about the difference in hand gestures that are politely attracting attention versus being rude.

But the reason I love this arcane, unwritten pub etiquette is that pretty much all of it has evolved specifically to encourage sociability: the buying of rounds, the need to go to the bar to do so, the clinking of glasses – the whole lot.

The best illustration of this is the way that the central bar space is open territory, but tables, once occupied, are private. If someone strikes up a conversation with you at the bar, that’s friendly. If they then follow you back to your table without being invited, that’s weird.

(As an exception to British supremacy in this regard, the Germans have a wonderful custom called the stämmtisch, which I wish was ours. This translates as “regular’s table”, and anyone who wishes to join it when it is already occupied is expected to knock on the table to request admission.)

3. So the symbolic value of pubs is greater than their practical use.

Whenever a pub local to me closes, people invariably go, “Oh that’s a shame. They should have gone there more often to keep it open.” Who “they” are is never clear, given that the person speaking professes to love the pub in question, but last went there about three years ago. We want pubs to be there, even if we don’t want to use them ourselves. This can be a problem.

That’s because the pub is such an important part of the British landscape that it represents normality. In the First World War, Prime Minister David Loyd George was in favour of total prohibition, but was talked out of it for fear of a communist revolution. In World War II, the bombing of civilian targets meant morale on the home front was as important as it was on the front line. Churchill understood this. Beer was never rationed, and pubs were never forced to resrict their opening hours. So long as the pub could still open, that meant we hadn’t yet been beaten – even if the “pub” was a plank across two barrels in a bombed-out pile of rubble that had until the night before been a Victorian hostelry.

That’s why Covid has been so shocking. As far as I can tell from my research, there has never been another time in British history when pubs have been required to close their doors universally in this way. It’s like cutting off a limb of ordinary British life. For fans of Shaun of the Dead, our first instinct when the virus hit might have been to go down to the Winchester and wait until all this blows over. But the virus might as well have been designed to take out everything that makes pubs special – the informality, the ordering at the bar, the chance encounters, the chinking of glasses. The fact that the pubs had to close showed that this was not normal. That it was actually pretty fucking scary.

So that’s why, today, all the headlines are about pub gardens reopening, with al fresco restaurants, gyms and hairdressers coming much lower in the mix. It’s why I’m writing this on a bus – the first bus I’ve been on since March 2020 – on my way to the George in Southwark to give an interview to the New York Times, and why I’m talking to CBS’s Sixty Minutes down there after that. If the pubs are reopening, that means Britain is getting back to normal – and the whole world is watching.

So just for today, I’m not talking about how pubs were unfairly targeted by a lazy government, about how those without outdoor spaces still aren’t open, or about all the other problems and issues that are not going away.

Today, I’m going to the pub, wrapped up in fleece and scarf, and asking “What’s on cask?”

| Covid, Food, Media bollocks, Neo-prohibitionism, Pubs

Why there’s no point trying to define a “substantial meal.”

As new Covid tier rules in England threaten to decimate the pub industry, there’s no neo-prohibitionist conspiracy here: just an indifferent government that’s too lazy to help.

N.B. Updated 3rd December with new information regarding “contracting arrangements” with food providers for pubs that don’t have a kitchen.

From tomorrow, 32 million people – 56% of the population of England – will be living under Tier 2 restrictions. In this tier, they will be allowed to drink in pubs, but only if they are also eating a “substantial meal”.

This has led to an increasingly entertaining/depressing/frustrating (delete according to how much skin you have in the game) national conversation about what constitutes a “substantial meal.” Government attempts to clarify the rules over the last few days have revealed a shocking lack of thinking behind them.

Most people I’ve seen discussing the issue in both mainstream and social media assume that the rule is in place to discourage immoderate drinking, which could in turn lead to a loss of inhibition and lower willingness to comply with social distancing rules.

That’s a big assumption – when pubs reopened after Lockdown 1 on 4th July, the media universally predicted a wave of drunken behaviour that would lead to a surge in new cases. That wave never materialised. But let’s run with the assumption for a moment.

The Science Bit

Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream slowly from the stomach, and rapidly from the small intestine. Having food in the stomach slows down the passage of alcohol to the small intestine while also allowing enzymes in the stomach more time to break down and deactivate the alcohol. So drinking on a full stomach doesn’t just slow down your alcohol absorption; its means you end up absorbing less alcohol overall.

So there is some logic here: if you believe (despite lack of solid evidence) that drunker people are less likely to observe social distancing and other measures to prevent potential Covid spread, mandating that they can only drink while eating would help reduce – or at least slow down – potential drunkenness.

Getting eggy with it

So how much food do we have to consume to get this effect? Well, this is where it gets complicated. Not to mention utterly ridiculous. Because the government appears to have no idea.

In October, we were told that a Cornish pasty was a substantial meal, but only if you order it with chips or a side salad – as you do. Yesterday, another cabinet minister told us that a Scotch egg counts, only to be swiftly contradicted by the Prime Minister’s office, which was in turn contradicted again by Michael Gove half an hour ago, after I had already started writing this. Evidently, the government cannot agree on what is and is not a substantial meal.

Another problem is, what’s substantial for one person is different for another. I have friends who would be full after one Scotch egg, and others who could eat a platter full. The amount of food needed in the stomach to slow down the absorption of alcohol varies from person to person.

If we were looking for an average though, let’s say we were to split the calorific difference between a Scotch egg (around 300-340 calories) and a Cornish pasty (700-900 calories) we might get to, say, an average of 500 calories (a Ploughman’s or a cheese and tuna panino, but not a chicken fajita wrap) as the boundary between what’s substantial and what’s not.

But we’d be wasting our time.

The reason it doesn’t make sense is that it’s got nothing to do with the size of the meal

As pub operators have asked for clarification, more rules have been made up – sorry, made clear.

Firstly, you can’t have another drink after you’ve finished eating. This makes no sense at all. You can order your first drink when you order your food. You can also presumably order more drinks while you’re waiting for your food to be delivered to the table. These drinks will, by definition, be drunk on an empty stomach, the alcohol flowing straight into your small intestine and from there into your bloodstream within minutes. But once you’ve finished eating – when your stomach is at its fullest and therefore when you will absorb alcohol at the slowest rate – you’re not allowed to drink alcohol any more. Notwithstanding the fact that eating a meal can break down a small amount to the alcohol already in your system (but not enough to make much difference) this makes nonsense of the idea that these measures will have any effect in reducing the drunkenness that arguably wasn’t going to be there to begin with.

Secondly, it seems the calories are only substantial if they come from the pub’s own kitchen. Wet-led pubs that have takeaway menus allowing you to order from nearby pizzerias or chips shops have been informed that these meals don’t count. Neither are you allowed to take your own packed lunch to the pub, no matter how substantial it is.

One bit of good news, however, is that, despite some contradictory messages over the last week or so, the official guidelines state that “pubs that don’t normally do food may enter into a contracting arrangement in order that they are able to do so and remain open.” There’s no detail offered beyond that, and I’ve heard that some taprooms have been told the money must got through the pub’s till rather than the food provider’s, but with a bit of jiggling, it looks like, for example, tap rooms that have arrangements with food trucks could remain open.

The “substantial meal” rule has absolutely nothing to do whatsoever with slowing the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. Trying to define what counts as “substantial” via calorie counting or physical volume – as a reasonable person would – is a waste of time because it is absolutely irrelevant to the definition of a substantial meal. The Scotch egg thing is simply a side-show.

You know perfectly well what the rules are

Obviously then, many pubs set to enter Tier Two have been seeking clarification on what is going on – only to be told they already know. This was a consistent line across several interviews yesterday, when ministers were asked what constitutes a substantial meal.

“There is, to be serious, there is a well-understood definition of what a substantial meal is,” said Michael Gove, seconds after demonstrating that this was emphatically not the case, in what is sure to become known as #ScotchEggGate. The PM’s spokesman with whom he was disagreeing also insisted that “Bar snacks do not count as a substantial meal… It’s well-established in the hospitality industry what does.”

As confused publicans urgently seek clarification in order to determine whether they can reopen or not in Tier Two, desperately trying to avoid breaking the rules if they decide to, the government’s response is basically that old stereotype of a passive aggressive argument in a relationship:

“What’s wrong? Why are you angry?”

“You know why.”

“No I don’t. What have I done?”

“You know very well what you’ve done.

“If I knew, I won’t be asking, would I?”

The pub industry is asking what constitutes a substantial meal, only to be told it knows perfectly well what a substantial meal is, even though the government can’t agree with itself on what counts as a substantial meal.

This is not a stereotype from a relationship. This is not the argument you had with your little brother when you were twelve. This is the British government, guiding the country through a pandemic while trying not to crash the economy. Makes you want a drink, doesn’t it?

Reading a little more closely though, and we can see not only what they’re talking about, but why.

Are you sitting comfortably?

According to the Covid-19 winter plan, “Venues that serve alcohol can only remain open where they operate as if they were a restaurant, which means serving substantial meals (and accompanying drinks).”

This is where the phrase “substantial meal” comes from. This is why it’s important. It’s got nothing to do with the speed of alcohol absorption; it’s saying effectively that pubs are not allowed to operate as pubs: they are only allowed to operate as if they were restaurants.

The guide goes on to define a substantial meal as “a full breakfast, main lunchtime or evening meal”. Eat your Cornish pasty (with side salad, obvs) between noon and 3pm, and it counts. Between 4pm and 5pm, I’m guessing it doesn’t.

As well as the time of day, the key thing that makes a meal substantial or not is how it is served. When George Eustice was bullshitting on the hoof, what he actually said was, “I think a Scotch egg probably would count as a substantial meal if there were table service.” (my italics).  

This is why bar snacks, packed lunches and takeaways don’t count. If a pub behaves as a restaurant, customers remain seated and have table service on plates (I’m guessing boards, baskets and those wanky miniature shopping trolleys count here too) of food cooked in the restaurant kitchen. As ministers continue their public argument about Scotch eggs, the one thing they’re all consistent on is that it has to be table service. People have to be sitting down and have their food brought to them. The pub must behave as if it were a restaurant.

From this, it seems the “pubs must behave as restaurants” wheeze is all about restricting movement around the pub. That’s fair enough. But before Lockdown 2, pubs were already table service only. If you wanted to move around, you had to put on a mask. If you didn’t have a table, you couldn’t be served. So the substantial meal rule is designed to create a situation that was already in place. Unless there is good reason to believe that the previous regulations were not working – and I’ve not seen anything that suggests they weren’t – the substantial meal rule is not just devastating, not just nonsensical, but also completely unnecessary.

So why is it being introduced?

There have been suggestions of a conspiracy to destroy pubs, driven by the neo-prohibitionists. While I’ve written about their skullduggery many times, I don’t believe they’re behind this. With most conspiracies, where you suspect some secret organisation behind the scenes, it’s really just crap people fucking things up.

As it dishonestly claims to “follow the science,” this government has in reality allowed public opinion to guide its Covid response to a significant degree. The strategy of leaking ideas for Covid measures to mates in the press, and then gauging the response before deciding whether to implement them, is both cowardly and grossly irresponsible, but it has been the consistent strategy of Johnson’s government throughout the pandemic.

We occasionally hear nonsensical sentences like “We’ve got to close pubs to keep schools open,” as if allowing people to go for a pint makes kids more likely to come home with Covid after double maths. What it actually means is that all Covid restrictions are unpopular, but the public will accept some before others. Going to the pub is seen as a luxury – a sin even – especially by people who never go to pubs and have no idea what they’re like. The government has to be seen to do something. And we’ll just about accept pub closures because, despite my protestations to the contrary, it does make logical sense to some people that we might behave more irresponsibly after a drink (but not if we buy it from Tesco of course.)

The substantial meal rule came in simply because it sounds like a tough restriction, one that seems to make sense, even though the logic we all might assume actually has nothing to do with the decision. The lazy-arsed thinking behind such a cynical move also led to them to not think it through properly, and not bother to come up with a coherent set of answers to questions people were obviously going to ask.

That’s the problem with being lazy – you just create more work for yourself down the line.

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| Pub closures, Pubcos, Pubs

Tom Kerridge: sharing the plight of pubs in a way everyone can relate to

Saving Britain’s Pubs with Tom Kerridge started its four-week run on BBC2 last night. I was asked to interview Tom about the series for the Radio Times, and got a sneak preview. He brings out the human stories behind the stats better than anyone.

Photo: Ellie Kynaston/BBC/Bone Soup Productions

There’s a moment ten minutes into the first episode of Saving Britain’s Pubs with Tom Kerridge where the viewer’s emotions are flipped, as if someone has performed a metaphorical judo move that leaves you momentarily flat on your back.   

Tom is eulogising the great British pub, or as he calls it, “the neighbourhood’s living room,” as he heads for the White Hart Inn in Chilsworthy, Cornwall. This award-winning country pub – it was CAMRA’s Cornish Pub of the Year in 2019 – has stunning views down the Tamar Valley, excellent food, a mouth-watering range of local beers, and most of all, the lively atmosphere generated by landlady Amy. Amy is a human dynamo who, if she had to, could probably pour you a perfectly kept pint, cook your dinner, host the pub quiz and change a barrel in the cellar all at the same time. 

Tom looks on in wonder, his grin a mile wide, like he’s just found his new local. And then he sits down with Amy, (who only took over the pub with her partner Ian in 2017) to talk about how business is going.

At first, she’s as bright and focused as she was behind the bar, and then suddenly she says, “Oh. I’m going to get emotional”, and collapses into the kind of racking sobs that only come from total despair.

Hang on.

We know how programmes like this work: a famous TV celebrity goes into businesses that are failing. We, as viewers, get a vicarious thrill from observing how crap some of these places are. Jesus, even we could do better! Gordon Ramsay’s entire schtick is built around pretending to throw up some horrible food prepared in a filthy, rat-infested kitchen by some idiot foolish enough to let the cameras in.

But the White Hart, along with the other two pubs in the first programme (the Prince Albert in Stroud and the Golden Anchor in Nunhead, South London) are perfect pubs, run by people who clearly love what they are doing and know how to do it. How can these pubs be in trouble?

Each business has its own issues, but if there’s a common theme running through all four pubs in the series, it’s that the people running them need to add a keener, shrewder business eye to the the long list of talents they are already displaying in running pubs that are popular, but not profitable.

The remedies may not always got down well with the regulars: the first thing Tom tells the Prince Albert to do is put up the beer prices. The domino players nursing one beer all night in the Golden Anchor are shifted to the back room to make way for the craft beer-drinking hipsters who are gentrifying the local area. And the White Hart is turned into a building site, somehow remaining open and doing its best to keep brick dust out of the punter’s pints.

But when I spoke to Tom, the first problem he brought up was the pubco tie. Although I’ve written about this issue many times over the last ten years or so, both here and in the trade press, I generally try to avoid it these days because even if I write a piece attacking the tie, as far as anti-pubco campaigners are concerned I’m attacking it in the wrong way. No matter what I say, I get scorn and often abuse from campaigners, because I just don’t understand the issue, apparently. This is the same reason why most of my fellow beer writers avoid the pubco tie altogether – they feel it’s just not worth the hassle. (According to some campaigners, though, the real reason none if us write about it is that we, along with various trade press titles and bodies such as the Office of National Statistics, have been paid off handsomely by the evil pubcos to keep quiet.)

Whatever side you’re on, Tom Kerridge does understand the issue – his own three pubs are subject to the same tie as any other Greene King tenant. “The business model is supposedly that you pay inflated prices for beer in return for a cheaper rent than High Street rates. But it doesn’t work out like that, and it’s not sustainable,” he tells me on the phone (speaking about the tie generally rather than his own situation.) Interestingly, he tells me he feels “we’re now rapidly finding that those rents will be very much decreasing” thanks to Covid.

The pubco tie is the most complicated issue I’ve come across as a writer on beer and pubs. On the TV programme, Tom Kerridge presents it, without allowing his genuine anger to cloud the issue, as clearly and persuasively as any campaigner could hope for, in a way that is clear to BBC2 viewers and persuasive to mainstream journalists.

Anti-pubco campaigners, we beer writers are never good enough for you even when we try. I say this without any snark or hostility intended: Tom Kerridge is the man you need to make meaningful change.

Saving Britain’s Pubs with Tom Kerridge is on BBC2, Thursdays, 8pm.

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| Covid, Pubs

Covid resurgence: why pubs are not the problem

As numbers rise, so do emotions surrounding the pandemic. So let’s look at hard data, shall we?

We live in a post-truth world. Whatever you want to believe, you can find support for it online. If data doesn’t exist to support your argument, you can just make it up.

The other day I posted this tweet:

As you can see, it got quite a few likes and retweets. It also attracted derision, disagreement, and personal insults.

In the ensuing debate, several people posted the pie chart above. I retweeted it, and then regretted doing so. The chart appears to prove a point I want to believe, but there’s no source quoted, no context. Someone could have just made it up.

So I did some digging, and here are the results. TL;DR – it’s bang on.

Each week, Public Health England publishes a Weekly Coronavirus Disease surveillance report. It does only cover England. It uses data collected from a variety of sources, chiefly coronavirus cases confirmed by laboratories, plus a mix of “syndromic surveillance” using real-time health data from sources including GPs and hospitals and the internet.

The resulting data covers confirmed outbreaks of acute respiratory infection incidents where an outbreak of two or more cases (Covid-19, influenza or other respiratory pathogen) linked to a particular setting, plus situations where an outbreak is suspected but not yet confirmed. The number of incidents reported in each setting is defined by there being at least one laboratory confirmed case of Covid-19.

These are the numbers for the four week period covered by the latest report:

And given that this is a four-week period, here is the percentage of total incidents that have occurred in the latest week of that period:

So what does this tell us?

Care homes are still ground zero for Covid. Given what we know from the peak of the first wave, this is unforgivable, but that’s not the point of this post.

Schools and workplaces together account for 36% of all cases, while food outlets and restaurant settings account for just under 8% of the total.

Pubs aren’t even broken out as a separate category. They are either a fraction of the 8% within the broader food outlet/restaurant setting category, or a subset of “other”. Given that PHE has separately released Covid guidance relating to “restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services”, it seems safe to assume that this is the grouping they’re referring to in the above category.

Obviously, the vast majority of education-related infections happened in the final week of the period because schools weren’t back in August. This data is broken down by different types of establishment, and shows that secondary schools are responsible for more than half of all outbreaks, followed by primary schools.

Almost half of all workplace related infections happened in the previous week, suggesting that the “back to work:” initiative being pushed by government at the start of September has had a signifiant impact on new cases.

Obviously some outbreaks are related to pubs, restaurants and “other”, but the lower percentage in the final week suggests these cases are spread more evenly across the month, and are therefore steadier.

I understand that this is an emotive issue. To people who are concerned about their kids’ education or about keeping their jobs, pubs may seem like a trivial thing to worry about. Also, I do believe the rules are insane: it’s mad that you can’t socialise in some other places, be with your partner as she gives birth to your child, or go to a football match, but you can go to a pub. It’s understandable that pubs will attract some resentment because of absurd rules they had no say in drawing up.

But the data shows that pubs are not a significant location for Covid-19 infection. They are a subset within 8% of total infections. Closing pubs or placing further restrictions on when they are allowed to open will have no meaningful impact on reducing the spread of Covid. There is no logic in the idea of “let’s close the pubs so kids can still go to school.”

Also, it’s never useful to generalise among all pubs. There are plenty of anecdotal stories of pubs that are not implementing social distancing rules or of people behaving irresponsibly. Some pubs are just shit – they always have been. But many pubs have gone to enormous lengths to reopen safely and are operating in a safe and responsible way.

Governments of all political persuasions have a long history of implementing measures on pubs and drinking because it makes them look like they are taking action, and because the public will tolerate it. Beer duty is often referred to as a “sin tax” – this is something we enjoy, it’s a bit naughty, so we probably should be taxed or regulated on it. In 2010, a Mandatory Code on behaviour in pubs legally banned the “Dentist’s Chair” drinks promotion, despite there being no evidence anywhere that such a practice actually existed in pubs. It made the government look tough on binge drinking, when it actually solved nothing.

So today the government will once again “get tough” on pubs, which are already on their knees, while the crisis in care homes goes virtually unnoticed, and everyone pretends schools aren’t the problem because, unlike pointless, nonsensical curfews, there is no easy solution or quick win to the real issue of where Covid-19 is spreading.

| Beer, Brewing, Media bollocks, Pubs

An update on TOTAL lockdown beer sales

In May I debunked misleading media stories implying that people were turning to drink during lockdown. I only had data up to the end of March. Now I have it to the end of May. Here’s a brief summary, followed by some comments.

When we were looking at March data for beer sales versus the same period last year, we had to bear in mind that we were looking at half a month where people were starting to avoid pubs because of fears of Covid, and half a month where pubs, restaurants, hotel bars etc. were on mandatory lockdown. The figures didn’t represent a full month of lockdown. Now we can see what that looks like.

In April and May, on-trade sales were obviously down -100% versus 2019.

Off-trade, sales were up by +39% in April, lowering to +25% in May.

That adds up to TOTAL beer sales being down -24% in April and -30% in May.

Add up total beer sales in March to May and compare it to the same period in 2019, and volume sales are down 22% overall.

So just in case you see any further reports trying to claim that we were boozing our way through lockdown, if we were, we weren’t doing it on beer. 

Breaking it down, ale fared far worse than lager: total (i.e. on-trade plus off-trade) ale sales were down 31% in March, -58% in April and -59% in May, whereas total lager sales were down -10% March, -15% in April, and -22% in May. 

Some observations on this…

One, as lockdown progressed, we drank less.

It’s worth noting that weather is a key factor in beers sales, particularly for lager. April was unseasonably warm and sunny, but May was a scorcher, officially the sunniest calendar month on record. Yet beer sales were lower in May than in April. One possible reason for this is that panic-buying early on in lockdown meant we bought less as it went on. Another is that we simply started getting out of the habit of drinking beer in the absence of the on-trade. But based on the weather, we should have expected sales to be better in May than in April.

Two, Lockdown has hit small, independent craft brewers and cask ale brewers far harder than Big Beer

Ale fared so much worse than lager because ale skews far more to the on-trade than lager does. Before lockdown*, supermarkets and off-licenses already accounted for around 55% of the lager we drank, whereas with ale, we were still drinking 70% of it in pubs, and only 30% at home. In volume terms, if my sums are correct, while ale had an 18% share of total beer sales before lockdown, it has accounted for 38%% of the total beer market volume loss during lockdown.+ Stout is counted separately. Together, ale and stout used to account for 22% of total market volume, and have taken 48% of the total volume loss.

This is the most worrying aspect for fans of craft beer and cask ale. Ale is far more skewed to small, independent brewers than lager is. The vast majority of lager is brewed by giant multinationals. So here is incontrovertible proof that while all brewers have suffered due to the closure of pubs, and while Britain is drinking significantly less overall, lockdown has hit craft and cask ale brewers far harder than it has Big Beer.

SIBA’s survey of their membership during lockdown was based on a smallish sample of their members and didn’t use audited data, so I always thought (or rather hoped?) that their claim that, on average, SIBA member brewers’ sales were down 82% was overly pessimistic. Having looked at total market data and broken it down like this, I now suspect it’s pretty close to the mark.

Now lockdown is easing, things don’t look much better. It seems that, despite predictable media sensationalism about “Super Saturday”, only half of pubs have reopened so far. Those that did reopen are seeing trade pan out at half its normal level. 25% of pubs cannot open viably even with social distancing reduced to one metre. These are smaller pubs, particularly micropubs, which are more skewed towards ale and craft beer than the average pub.

To really rub salt into the wounds, smaller and wet-led pubs got nothing from the chancellor’s mini-budget that reduced VAT on food sales and incentivised eating out, but provided nothing to support beer.

So please, if this upsets or concerns you, why not get online, or go to the pub if you feel safe doing so, and buy some beer from your local craft/cask ale brewer? They need our custom now more than ever.

For more detailed insight on the future of post-pandemic craft beer, with some light at the end of this long tunnel, check out this summary of my report on Craft Beer After Covid.

*For “before lockdown,” I’ve used figures for total beer sales for the calendar year to December 2019.

+ Calculated by working out total beer volumes March to May 2019 and comparing it with total beer volumes March to May 2020.

Data taken from BBPA sales audit.

| Beer, Craft - An Argument, Patreon, Pubs, Uncategorised

Craft Beer after Covid: Glass half-empty, glass half-full

Last month I set up a Patreon in the hope that a modest regular income would allow me to spend time researching key stories in much greater depth than I normally can unless I’m being paid a consultancy fee. In the first of these deep dives, I’ve looked at the future of craft beer post-lockdown – from the perspective of being fresh from “Craft: An Argument” – and tried to draw some conclusions. This is a summary of that work, with a fuller report with stats and detail available to Patrons.

Seeing both sides of an argument is different from sitting on the fence. 

There’s no point trying to play down the huge negative impact of Coronavirus and the lockdown it necessitated. The hospitality sector has been hit worse than most, and within that, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest the craft sector, consisting mainly of small, independent businesses, will end up faring worse than the mainstream:

  • – Small pubs and micropubs will find it more difficult to reopen than larger chains.
  • – While some small, independent brewers have done well with online sales and (free) local delivery, overall small brewers suffered an 80% drop in volume during lockdown and 65% had to close.
  • – The lack of sufficient notice that 4th July would definitely be the reopening date did not give small brewers enough time to prepare.
  • – With lower capacity, pubs are likely to reduce the number of lines on the bar – in fact they’d be wise to.
  • – Big brewers are giving huge support to pubs, including thousands of pints of free beer. Helpful to pubs, yes, but likely to pressure small brewers off the bar even further.

There will be a colossal short-term impact. Businesses are going bust and people are losing their jobs. They’ll continue to do so.

But that’s only half the story. 

While I wrote “Craft” during lockdown, I deliberately avoided speculating on what lockdown might mean for the craft beer movement, because that would have dated it quickly. In the book, I look beyond the issues of ownership and independence that have come to dominate the debate over what is and isn’t ‘craft’. 

The recent boom in craft – in beer and beyond – is a reaction to a mix of factors including the 2008 global financial crash, the spread of superfast, handheld mobile computing and communications, open plan office culture, the growing degree to which algorithms dictate our decisions and behaviours, the arrival of Artificial Intelligence, and the ongoing creep of corporate dominance and homogenisation in all aspects of our lives.

These factors combine to create two separate but related themes that drive craft. One, the personal need to do more with our hands than tap or swipe; to engage with the world around us in a more meaningful, physical way, and two, the desire to escape the corporate rat race, to live better, to be better, to be more fulfilled. 

If we can’t do these things personally, we console ourselves with actively choosing products from people whom we believe have done it on our behalf, and live vicariously through them. 

There have been many changes in lockdown, and we see some of them as positive. Almost all the positive ones feed directly into this narrative around the broader idea of craft. If, before lockdown, we wanted to reject a bland, boring mainstream, to slow down, to experience life more vividly and personally, to support local businesses, to be kinder and more compassionate, to reject the open-plan, “computer says no” office environment, lockdown has not only heightened those desires – it’s shown that it is possible for all of us to act on at least some of them.

Those craft brewers that survive the short-term hit will face an environment that, while remaining subdued, will be far more in tune with the principles that motivate the brewers, retailers and drinkers of craft beer than it was pre-Covid. At the moment, it seems that the underlying motivations and themes that make craft beer so appealing to an ever-increasing number of people are being strengthened by people’s experiences. For all its negative effects, for all the death and hurt the virus has caused and for all the economic hardship to come, lockdown was time-out, a chance to reflect. 

Stripped of the daily commute, the constant travel, the endless crowds, the noise and spectacle with which we usually fill our lives, we’ve had the chance to discover – or re-discover – what really matters to us. We’ve realised that, while this state of affairs is far from ideal, there are some good bits. 

Craft brewers – rightly or wrongly – are generally perceived as, among other things,  smaller and more independently-minded, more progressive in their attitudes, kinder, friendlier and more collaborative than their corporate, industrialised rivals, more face-to-face in their communications, more physically engaged with both the nature of their work and the communities they exist within and do business with. All of this has become more appealing as a result of lockdown. 

The future – eventually – will be bright. 

The full report is available on Patreon to anyone who signs on at the £3 tier or above. (While it’s a regular monthly subscription, you’re perfectly free to sign just for a month and then cancel.)

Craft: An Argument is available here on Kindle and here as a print-on-demand version. The audiobook will be ready as soon as the drilling stops outside my house.