Saturday, 30 July 2011
Beer is widely perceived as gassy and bloating, and also as something that will make you fat. Neither of these objections are really valid – the first one is easily answered by choosing cask ale, and the second isn’t really true. Strength for strength, beer has no more calories than other forms of alcoholic drinks. But they are still widely believed.
Beer in general still has a laddish, pint-swilling, footy-chanting image which continues to be pandered to in many marketing campaigns. Many cask beers adopt a kind of rustic, bare-boards, back-to-nature imagery which may appeal to fans of The Good Life, but doesn’t exactly come across as well, very sophisticated. Plenty of women do drink beer, but in many cases they do it for precisely the reasons that deter others – because it comes across as a touch rebellious and not in the least “girly”.
What is needed, surely, is not dedicated “beers for women”, but a marketing strategy which avoids any hints of machoness but instead portrays beer as a modern, authentic, high-quality product that can be enjoyed by both sexes in a social context. You may not think much of the beer, but the recent Kronenbourg “slow the pace” campaign was a good start.
And its presentation needs to be looked at. If it is to seem smart and contemporary, utility Noniks need to be ditched in favour of stylish branded glassware, and those glasses should ideally be oversize so you don’t run the risk of spilling beer all over your clothes.
Perhaps even the much-loved handpump, powerful symbol of cask beer though it is, needs to be called into question. After all, you wouldn’t do your washing with a mangle or specify a car with running boards, so why in the 21st century should you be dispensing beer using a manually-operated device dating back to the Regency period?
Wednesday, 27 July 2011
Blackburn family brewer Thwaites have announced that they are going to sell off the site of their current brewery in the town centre to Sainsbury’s, and relocate to a new site elsewhere in the area.
Now, I have no concrete reason to believe that they are anything but entirely sincere in saying this is what they plan to do. But I can’t help feeling a slight twinge of doubt that the new brewery will ever materialise. I remember Young’s saying back in the early 2000s that they were planning to build a new brewery at another location in Wandsworth, but they ended up entering into a joint venture with Charles Wells.
At a time when there is still substantial overcapacity in British brewing, does building a brand new large scale brewery really make sense? I’m sure InBev could spare some capacity just down the road at Samlesbury, and Robinson’s in Stockport are currently building a new brewhouse on their existing site, and have a large and underutilised packaging centre at Bredbury.
And, given that the current brewery was only built in 1966, it’s a bit rich for Thwaites to say “It does not provide the flexibility or efficiency for the demands of today’s market and requires significant modernisation”, when the four Greater Manchester family brewers are all operating out of premises that are at best pre-war.
Ian Loe of CAMRA has similar doubts.
Tuesday, 26 July 2011
The latest beer sales statistics from the BBPA show a reduction in the rate of decline of on-trade sales, which were 4.5% lower in the second quarter of 2011 compared with the same quarter last year. This is attributed to the good weather in April and the effect of the Royal Wedding. They were 6% down over a full year. Off-trade sales were 15% down in the quarter, although that was probably due to a blip last year caused by the World Cup, and 8.3% down over a full year.
In the year to June 2011, total on-trade beer sales were 13.9 million bulk barrels, compared with 18.5 million in the year to June 2007, the last full year before the smoking ban. This represents a fall over four years of almost exactly 25%. In comparison, over the previous four-year period they only fell by 13%, and 12% in the one before that.
Monday, 25 July 2011
I’ve had some great experiences in pubs over the past few years. One of the best was the Black Horse in Clapton-in-Gordano last year. That really was everything a good pub should be.
But, given the current climate, I often feel that a good visit to the pub is like an Indian Summer, a glorious day of autumn sunshine, but one of the last before the dead pall of winter comes in. Sometimes when I visit a pub, I wonder whether it will be the last time I ever have the chance go in there. (And not because I might pop my clogs in the near future!)
And I do seriously worry whether those welcome-to-allcomers pubs that strike a good balance between wet trade and food will still be around in ten years’ time. Even now, they’re a diminishing species. Let’s see...
Oh how are pubs fallen when it comes to this. In the old days, there would have been a cosy fug of smoke and the bar would have been full of blokes perusing the racing pages prior to nipping in to the bookies’. Nowadays, it seems pubs are so desperate they have to act as unpaid social clubs.
Sunday, 24 July 2011
From when I first remember it in the mid-80s part of it had been turned into a would-be “trendy wine bar”, but the other half retained its lavish 1930s fittings with extensive wood panelling. It also served Draught Bass as well as Higsons. Apparently in its original form the small corner door gave access to a tiny separate vault.
It was later thoroughly knocked through and given a more generally modern makeover, but never really seemed to find its feet, so in the current climate its ultimate closure came as no real surprise. Many of these pub company outlets in town centres seem to have struggled as they have been neither fish nor fowl, not modern enough to appeal to the youth market, traditional enough to appeal to the older drinker, or with enough emphasis on beer to attract the enthusiast, and not really doing anything as well as Wetherspoons.
Saturday, 23 July 2011
Nowadays, if you’re armed with the Good Beer Guide and various internet listings, you should have little problem in finding a decent pint of cask beer in virtually all parts of Great Britain. However, it has to be said that I am interested in plenty of things apart from beer, and I also take the view that going in a characterful pub is likely to be a more memorable experience than drinking a nice pint. (Obviously, the two often coincide)
And so, from time to time, you find yourself “off the grid”, maybe looking for lunchtime food in a town where there are no GBG entries, or wanting a bit of variety in the evening in a town where the only entry is Wetherspoon’s. Sometimes you encounter unexpected gems, and I’ve always said that serendipity is one of the best things about pubgoing. But, on the other hand, sometimes you wonder why you bothered. For example, in the past month, I have encountered the following, all in outwardly appealing pubs:
- A pint of a mainstream beer brewed 200 miles away from the pub in question, crystal clear and with a bit of condition, but served around 5°C too warm
- A flat, warm, slightly hazy and just about “on the turn” pint of a well-regarded local micro beer. This was probably returnable, but given that I would never be going back there again I couldn’t be arsed
- A pint of an award-winning family brewer’s beer where a handle glass was placed on the drip tray and the barman simply pulled on the sparkler-free pump to fill it. This in a shabby former GBG-listed pub in a picturesque city-centre location where there were no other customers at 9.30 pm. (Actually, the beer was OK, and much better than the other two)
Friday, 22 July 2011
The Pointing Dog is very much a “restaurant with bar” rather than any kind of pub, but there is an area set aside for drinkers at the front on the right. It even had beermats and a few bench seats! The dining area had a sign saying “Please wait here to be seated” and there were no informal bar snacks. There’s a very large part-covered outdoor seating area at the rear.
There were four cask beers – Theakstons Best Bitter, Deuchars IPA, Dunham Massey Big Tree and Castle Rock Harvest Pale – and the lager choice included Sagres, Amstel and the Derbyshire-brewed Moravka rather than the usual suspects, so they are making an effort on the beer front. However, I was charged £3.60 for a pint of the 3.8% ABV Harvest Pale, which is by some way the most I’ve ever paid for a “regular” cask beer. At least it was a decent pint. The beer was served in a heavy, straight-sided handle glass. I would expect the lagers to be over £4.
I couldn’t see any sign of a price list – maybe they thought it might be a heart attack-inducing health hazard, but even so Trading Standards might not be too happy. I couldn’t see a menu either, so can’t comment on the food prices, but I’m assured they’re at least double Wetherspoons’.
Thursday, 21 July 2011
As a counterpoint to the smokers’ survey, I ran a survey of non-smokers’ experiences of pubs and pubgoing since the smoking ban. This attracted 80 responses over 7 days, so fell a bit short of the maximum of 100.
As ever, I make no claim for the results to be scientific or representative – it’s merely done for interest and to stimulate discussion. It’s clear there is a wide range of views, especially in the comments section. There were certainly more comments per response than for the previous survey.
It’s perhaps significant that 57.5% of non-smokers (46/80) believed there should be some relaxation of the ban, either to allow separate smoking rooms (27) or to repeal it entirely (19).
The full results are below (I can’t be bothered to work out all the percentages):
1. Have you smoked in the past?
Yes, regularly: 20
Yes, occasionally/socially: 21
No, never smoked: 39
2. How often did you visit pubs prior to 1 July 2007?
Daily or most days: 12
2 or 3 times a week: 44
3. How has the frequency of your pub visits changed since 1 July 2007?
About the same: 41
A bit less: 9
A lot less: 16
4. Do you feel it is reasonable to expect smokers to go outside for a smoke?
Yes, I support the current law: 34
No, they should be allowed to have indoor smoking rooms: 27
No, there is no need for any legislation on this issue: 19
5. Have you noticed any pubs closing in your area since 1 July 2007?
Yes, a few: 39
Yes, a lot: 23
6. Have pubs you know that are still open lost trade since 1 July 2007?
Not that I have noticed: 31
Some are a bit quieter: 21
Some are much quieter: 28
7. Have you noticed pubs in your area providing improved smoking facilities?
Not at all: 13
Yes, a few have: 45
Yes, quite a lot have: 22
8. Have you noticed smokers that you know changing their pubgoing habits? (choose all that apply)
No, not really: 43
Yes, some still go as often but spend less time in the pub: 14
Yes, some go less often: 21
Yes, some have stopped going entirely: 21
9. Have pubs become more or less welcoming and sociable since the smoking ban?
More so: 31
About the same: 16
A bit less: 12
A lot less: 21
10. Any other comments?
Reproduced verbatim as received. I've numbered them so they're easier to respond to.
- I've certainly noticed they don't smell any more.
- Pubs had 30 years of falling smoking rates to do something. Instead they ignored the non-smoker and pandered to a shrinking minority. Now pubs have to cater for the very people they spent all those years ignoring. The real problem though isn't the ban but the cost.
- I lived in California when they introduced the first smoking ban and bars got busier. I have been back here a while now and things will settle out. We need to get over the thinking that smokers are the life blood of pubs. They are not , it is people who want to go drink and socialise that are the ones keeping bars open. If a thing like stopping smoking in a pub ( but still around it ) stops someone going then they were not that great a customer. You can see it practically the amount of time smokers spend not buying drink ( now outside smoking ) and they didnt buy theie cigarettes in the bar anyway. So the best customers for bars are people who want to socialise and not these magical super happy smokers you paint pictures of. Bars are businesses not a community service provided for some minority to dominate. One person smoking imposes their smell on everyone in an enclosed space. NB the next thing they will alow to get passed is by littering cig. stubs. Smokers were finally banned from CA state beaches , not because of the smoke, but because they gave an excuse from the amount of litter they caused. Think of other people .
- What was wrong with separate smoking/non smoking areas. when adequately ventilated it was fine.
- The solution can be found here http://f2cscotland.blogspot.com/2011/07/air-quality-standard-eliminates-need.html
- There are some people I see much less often in my local simply because they choose to stand outside. I think they're sad. They'll go an hour or two without a cigarette for a train or plane journey, so why not in the pub? They've had it their way all their adult lives up until four years ago, now it's my turn. Just accept it.
- I can't be bothered with the pubs anymore-they have lost their atmosphere, their charisma and their appeal. All my friends have stopped going bar one, and he only pops in for a pint every night to get out of the house for half an hour. As an exercise to cull smoking/smokers the ban has been an abysmal failure but as an exercise to cull the hospitality sector it has been a raging success!
- The smoking ban has ripped the guts out of the pub trade. Around here, loads have closed, and those that are left are empty and soulless. The only future for pubs seems to be as restaurants.
- As a non smoking ex-smoker (heart attack) I do now notice that smoke does make your clothes stink. It's being short of breath that keeps me off the fags
- Not been to a pub since the ban.
- I no longer go to the pub as my smoking friends don't go. What's the point of going to a pub and paying pub prices when there's no one to talk to? I stay at home and entertain people here or go to their houses now.
- Occasional smoker - once a year I have a cigar on National no smoking day
- The proper solution would be to allow pubs to choose to be smoking or non smoking and then their clientele can also choose.
- Many of my regular pubs feel empty - regulars who used to spend hours everyday at the bar no longer go, or if they do they only stick around for one pint. No more long games of chess or working together on crosswords.
- In general, pubs feel less sociable since the smoking ban, and smokers were often the real characters in pubs.
- Yes my clothes smell cleaner, but most of the pubs I loved have closed. Guess I'll have to console myself with yet another can of crappy supermarket beer!
- A few local pubs have gone, but not really because of this ban. The remaining pubs seem to stick all smokers outside on bench seating under parasols, regardless of weather. One pub has patio heaters. It wouldn't bother me if the law was loosened to allow smoking rooms, but it strikes me that groups would still be segregated on and off during a visit, though the smokers will still be able to stay inside in bad weather.
- Most people that have stopped going to the pub have done so due to price differences between on and off trade
- I used to smoke a pipe but gave up as decent quality tobacco became harder to obtain and specialist outlets closed. I think the main cause of pubs closing is the prices charged but the smoking ban definitely worsened the situation. Where pubs might be gaining trade seems to be in food but I suspect some of this is because restaurants are pricing themselves out of business. In my area (London E11) pubs closing tend to be in the more working class parts, which also have a lot of East European immigrants from countries that don't have much of a pub going tradition and who probably don't want to regularly pay over twice what a bottle of beer would cost from a local corner shop. In the more affluent parts I can't think of any pub closures but I do know of some restaurants that have gone under. Incidentally and off the subject, some corner shops seem to undercut Tesco on things like Polish beers, so why isn't CAMRA banging on about them?
- There are lots of reasons why pubs are less busy or closing: change in people's social habits, supermarket alcohol, PubCos etc.. The smoking ban might be one factor but don't try and use this survey as 'proof' that the smoking ban is bad for pubs! It's really time to move on from this old issue.
- I used to smoke, am a non smoker and in favour of the ban. So that's where I stand. I'm also - for want of a better way of putting it - a 20s professional from the educated middle class, so the question about my friends is moot (i.e. none of my close friends smoke at all You'll have to take my word for it that this is coincidence - I don't go around wishing to alienate smokers). I also feel the survey is likely to produce quite a 'post hoc ergo propter hoc' result - the latin phrase is a logical fallacy ('after it therefore because of it'). My pubgoing has decreased since the smoking ban - but then so, with relatively high inflation, has my disposable income. The latter has far more to do with my pubgoing habits than the former. Thanks for putting up the survey.
- I support the "smoking carriage" option, as long as the smoke doesn't drift out into the rest of the pub and you don't have to walk through it to get to the Gents. There's no reason why sufficient extractors can't be put in to allow non-smoking staff to get in to clear glasses etc (though clearing the ashtrays was always my least favourite part of the job!) Some pubs have done a good job with their smoking areas - the Duke of Cumberland Arms in Henley, West Sussex springs to mind (outdoor fireplace, comfy seats, and not so far from the entrance that it's a huge trek to get another pint). Worst part about the smoking ban is a 5 minute wait between games of bar billiards as my opponent now has to leave the table for a fag :)
- I was a dedicated smoker for fifteen odd years before I gave up. I'm glad I did and I don't want to go back but I will always stick up for smokers rights. I find it amusing that some non-smokers bang on about how selfish smokers are and yet they demand that every indoor space and place of entertainment conforms to their own wants. We're all adults and it should be about choice. No reasonable smoker wants to go back to every pub allowing smoking but as users of a legal (heavily taxed) product they should have somewhere they can go. Other countries have stood up this appalling little piece of legislation and won concessions, I would love it if it could happen here but I don't hold out much hope.
- "Smoking rooms only, where landlords and staff agree" is the reform that should have been tried. (It was in the 2005 Labour Manifesto, apparently.)
- Smokers outside can be a nuisance, blocking pavements and leaving litter and can sometimes be intimidating, depending on the venue it seems.
- Question 8 is flawed, I don't go to the pub with anyone who smokes.
- The next frontier is banning smoking outside of pubs and in pub gardens so its possible to enjoy sitting outside too. Resistance is futile.
- I fully support peoples choice to smoke but not where it has a clear and demonstrable effect on those around them. I think the law should be changed slightly to allow for an indoor smoking license for pubs that can achieve a specific level of air quality.
- Need to consider economic climate
- Some leading questions I thought, but overall a good survey. Nice counterpart to the smokers survey.
- Pub closer is about badly run pubs and increased competition from alternative leisure activities. The smoking ban doesn't change anything in the long run. As a 23 year old I can count the number of smokers I known on one hand.
- Any discussion of the issue is clouded by bad-tempered and intolerant comments on both sides in equal measure. A minority, no doubt, but their abuse ensures rationality goes out of the window. And I do wish people would debate rather than just post links to websites that they claim "proves" their point. My experience is you can find a website on the internet to "prove" virtually any point you like.
- I really don't like pubs anymore. They are usually so sterile. It's like having a beer in a Dr's waiting room. Then again smoking never bothered me. I like smoke in pubs and most restaurants I go to hadn't allowed smoking for 15 years or so anyway. Now we tend to go to other people's houses as everyone is more relaxed.
- The pub experience, I feel, is far more impoverished than it ever was pre-ban. I believe that repealing the ban is the only sensible option but this will not happen for a long time yet, by which time it will probably be too late to limit the damage, not only on the smoking ban but the entire idea of going out to drink here in the UK. Repeal the ban.
- Smokers who say pubs are closing because of the smoking ban are twats
- Most of the guys I know smoke outside and there was one bloke a smoker who switched to another pub cause it was nearer to him — he liked Greene King as well…
- It's been striking how many of my smoking friends have quit since the ban though I wouldn't conclude there is a direct cause/effect.Similarly, although I prefer non-smoking pubs the ban is not the reason behind my increase in pub-going. For me there are a whole range of factors that are influencing pub-going in the UK, the ban is clearly one but I think not necessarily the most significant, economic and societal change (which of course also impact on attitudes to smoking) are probably of greater consequence
Unusually for a Spoons, it’s in a row of three town houses from the Regency or early Victorian period. Inside, there are at least eight separate drinking spaces, plus the bar, which is at the back on the left. However, due to the complete absence of any fixed seating, it still doesn’t really feel like a pub should. It’s just four tables and sixteen chairs plonked down in each room. If even half the walls had benches, it could be a rather wonderful recreation of the multi-roomed rabbit-warren pubs of old. But they don’t, and it isn’t. I also had some distinctly underwhelming beer.
Spoons’ prices seem to be getting distinctly mainstream as well, with the premium lagers all well over £3 a pint, and many of the main meals on the menu over £7. (This is “city centre” prices and maybe around 10% above Didsbury or Stockport.) They’re by no means the bargain they once were.
The name, incidentally, comes from Alfred Waterhouse, architect of the Victorian Gothic Town Hall just across the road.
Wednesday, 20 July 2011
It’s often claimed that the smoking ban is effectively self-enforcing, but the reality is not quite so simple, as this exchange between me and another contributor on a non beer-related forum (in a members-only section) illustrates:
A. N. Other: In my experience there certainly seems to be a remarkable degree of compliance with the ban and very little defiance - if there was a silent majority against the ban or even a large minority against it I very much doubt this would be the case.I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone light up in a pub since the ban came in, and there have been very few prosecutions. But that is because people are not just “obeying the law”, they are obeying the house rules as well. It’s not just them who would get it in the neck, it would be the licensee. Indeed, it would probably just be the licensee.
Curmudgeon: By the very obviousness of breaking it, it is a law that is likely to result in a high degree of compliance, but compliance doesn't necessarily equate to acceptance. And, of course, smokers can simply withdraw their custom. Since 2007, according to statistics produced by the BBPA, beer sales in British pubs have fallen by 25% and over 8,000 pubs have closed.
A. N. Other: I'm not sure that I accept that. Speeding is also very obvious and yet the law is widely flouted. I think compliance with the smoking ban is in the first instance brought about by the law, and secondly is made effective by it now being a socially accepted norm. I'm not aware that it's required a huge amount of enforcement by the police or the courts, or even by pub landlords - it seems to be pretty much self-policing, which is a good result if you ask me.
Curmudgeon: I would say that is due to the fact that the risk of prosecution lies with the licensee for "permitting smoking", not the individual smoker, and the potential penalties are livelihood-threatening. It is simply not worth the risk for any licensee to turn a blind eye to it. If only individual smokers were liable to prosecution, then I'm sure many licensees would say to their customers “OK folks, I'll let you smoke in the back room, but don't blame me if you get nicked”. I have heard numerous reports of pubs having smoking “lock-ins”, and one pub near me which closed a few months ago apparently had a mass "smoke-in" on its final night.
Taking the analogy with speeding a bit further, if roads were privately owned and their owners were liable to prosecution for "permitting speeding", then they would ensure there was virtually no speeding. Not that I am proposing that, of course.
Take away that particular aspect of the law and a wave of mass civil disobedience, tacitly encouraged by licensees, would probably make the ban dead in the water within days.
Aberystwyth has recently been in the news as a cock-up between police and local council has effectively left the town without any parking enforcement, leading to a “parking free-for-all”. It would be interesting to speculate what the results would be if it became known that a particular local authority was not enforcing the smoking ban. My money would go on an equitable sorting out of smoking and non-smoking facilities in a short period of time.
It’s also worth adding that, before the ban, compliance with designated non-smoking areas in pubs tended to be well-nigh 100%.
Tuesday, 19 July 2011
Ecuador has temporarily banned the production and consumption of all alcoholic drinks after 12 people died drinking contaminated bootleg liquor. Now, let’s think this through. The measure will be a strong deterrent to consuming legal alcohol, where there is no evidence of contamination. But given that consuming bootleg liquor is already illegal, it will make no difference to that. Indeed, in effect it will encourage the consumption of illegal as opposed to legal alcohol. Now, they really thought that one through, didn’t they?
(H/t to Mark Wadsworth)
Monday, 18 July 2011
Sunday, 17 July 2011
There’s a strange case reported here, where a driver suspected of drink-driving was told by the police to drive to the police station as they didn’t have the necessary roadside breath-testing equipment. He was eventually convicted, but surely a decent defence lawyer could have secured an acquittal by arguing that the police had in effect instructed him to commit the offence in the first place. And, in such a situation, he would have been fully entitled to stand his ground and demand that the police either give him a lift to the station, or wait until they had managed to find the necessary equipment.
As always with such reports, though, it may be that there is more to it than meets the eye.
Well, it would seem that the question of whether it was a good idea to produce bottled beers with higher strengths than cask equivalents isn’t really a burning issue, with “not concerned either way” winning out, and the antis slightly pipping the pros.
Personally, the main problem it causes is if you find on cask a beer you have already had in bottled form, and feel short-changed when it ends up being noticeably weaker.
Friday, 15 July 2011
The interior has not been dramatically changed, although the toilets have been relocated and some of the remaining bench seating has, in typical Wetherspoon fashion, been stripped out. Dark wood predominates and it’s all very tasteful and even up-market looking, with an interesting series of spaces rambling around the central bar. There were eight cask beers available, all of which apart from Ruddles Best were bucking the trend of the times by coming in at over 4.5% ABV. The standard price for guest beers seemed to be £2.45 a pint, which is cheaper than central Didsbury, but no longer a stunning bargain.
The pub is next to a bus interchange and across the road from the Star City leisure complex, so there is some ready-made footfall, but it remains to be seen how well Spoons will do in this kind of location which is not on a drinking circuit, and where many customers have to make a specific effort to get there. There is – unusually for Spoons – a small car park with about 20 spaces (full when I visited), added to which there is plenty of parking at Star City. If Spoons can make it work, it will open up a whole new vein of expansion for them, as across the country there are plenty of other big suburban pubs that are currently struggling.
I’d never come across it before, but last night in the Magnet in Stockport I spotted it in the fridge, so I ended up having a couple of bottles. £3 for a 330ml bottle of 7.5% beer isn’t cheap, but on the other hand you often pay that (although not in the Magnet) for a pint of 4% bitter, which contains less alcohol.
I thought it was an excellent beer – obviously very hoppy, but with the characteristic Pilsner grassiness rather than the full-on Panzer assault of Hardcore IPA, fairly light in body, and with an underlying maltiness. In a word, it had balance. Obviously, as I have said on here before, I enjoy a well-made lager.
Certainly a beer I’d buy more of if I found it in the off-trade, although £1.99 would be a more reasonable price.
Full details can be found on Dick Puddlecote’s blog.
I won’t be there, as I already have another commitment, but I offer those taking part my full support.
Thursday, 14 July 2011
Sad news from Boston, Lincs that five men have been killed in an explosion on an industrial estate. Police are investigating claims that they were engaged in distilling illegal alcohol.
It’s a fact of life that, the more you increase taxes, the more incentive it creates to evade them. Obviously someone has judged that it is worthwhile taking the risk to produce illegal vodka, and these five men have paid with their lives. It wouldn’t surprise me if they were Eastern European migrant workers who would not have stood to gain significantly from the scheme.
If the anti-drink lobby have their way and push through further swingeing increases in alcohol taxes, then stories like this – and people being poisoned by moonshine – are going to become increasingly common.
Wednesday, 13 July 2011
One of the key elements of the modern “oh we’re not a traditional boozer” design language for pubs and bars is high-level posing tables. They are a favourite of Wetherspoons, at least in entrance areas, and I recently went in a pub local to me where in the front area near the bar there was nothing but. It is beyond me how anyone could find them more comfortable than conventional chairs and tables (let alone bench seating) and they send out a clear message to any customers over 40 that this isn’t a place for them.
I recently carried out a survey of smokers and their experience of pubs and pubgoing since July 2007. This achieved its 100 maximum responses within four days, which is quite impressive.
Now, before anyone pipes up (as it were) let me make it clear that this survey makes no claims to be representative or scientific, and readers of this blog who responded to it will by definition be somewhat self-selecting.
But it does underline the point that, four years on, there remain very strong feelings of anger, rejection and alienation about the smoking ban. It’s not going away as an issue, however much the antismokers and denialists might wish it to.
There’s no suggestion from what I can see that any antismokers have spammed the survey with misleading responses.
Is it worth me doing a broadly similar non-smokers’ survey, do you think?
The results are given below. Obviously the number of responses equate to percentages.
1. How much do you smoke?
Occasional/social smoker: 2
1-10 cigarettes per day: 14
11-20 cigarettes per day: 43
21-30 cigarettes per day: 20
31-40 cigarettes per day: 7
41-60 cigarettes per day: 7
Over 60 cigarettes per day: 1
I am a cigar smoker: 4
I am a pipe smoker: 2
2. How often did you visit pubs prior to 1 July 2007?
Daily or most days: 30
2 or 3 times a week: 43
3. How has the frequency of your pub visits changed since 1 July 2007?
About the same: 6
A bit less: 11
A lot less: 25
Only when I have a really good reason to go: 36
I never go to pubs now: 22
4. How do you feel about having to go outside for a smoke?
I don’t mind: 5
I put up with it: 14
I really don’t like it, but sometimes accept it: 19
I hate it: 43
I just won’t do it: 19
5. Have you noticed any pubs closing in your area since 1 July 2007?
Yes, a few: 45
Yes, a lot: 52
6. Have you noticed pubs in your area providing improved smoking facilities?
Not at all: 26
Yes, a few have: 69
Yes, quite a lot have: 5
7. Have improved smoking facilities increased your frequency of pub visits from a low point?
8. How has the amount of your smoking changed since 1 July 2007?
About the same: 72
A bit less: 9
A lot less: 1
9. Any other comments?
Reproduced verbatim as received:
- I'm a single parent, so don't get out much. But, I used to take every chance I got prior to the ban, even if it was only once every couple of months. Since the ban, every night out has been bloody awful, particularly going to the pub to watch football (absolutely NO atmosphere). Worse still, idle sunday afternoons in the pub with a paper, a pint and the option of lunch have gone too. I'd rather stay at home.
- While I visit pubs about as often as I did pre-ban, I tend not to stay as long.
- As I now live abroad, I've had to tailor my responses to the fact that I am now a visitor to the UK, and extrapolate my pub visits from that. However, I'm pretty sure that if I were living in UK still, I would now be a very occasional visitor to the pub, whereas I was previously a pretty regular regular! There is no pleasure in going to the pub if I have to be subjected to the ignominy of standing outside if I want a smoke. I'm not a heavy smoker, but I do enjoy a fag with my pint. If they won't allow me that pleasure, then they won't get my money over the bar.
- Simply make a % of pubs smoker-friendly pubs - 25% maybe. That will soon show up the busybodies - we're still waiting for them to pack the pubs out
- i would prefer to grow my own tobacco and brew my own beer than pay to be in an establishment where I am not welcome for who and what I am
- We will only go to the pub these days when the weather is good. Although I've never enjoyed smoking outdoors, at least when it's warm it feels 'normal' to be outside as opposed to 'denormal'! Thanks for this opportunity to have a moan!
- Only go to the pub for the occasional meal. Ant to meet an old mate about once every 6 months. Beer prices are way too high. Easier to buy some Becks and stay indoors - even though i tend to smoke outside.
- Since the ban, my social life is almost non existent, I have bought no new clothes and do not go to concerts any more. I feel very angry that because I use a legal product ASH et al have been allowed to succeed in ruining my life.
- Smokers should boycott pubs - it's the only thing we can do that stands any chance of forcing a change!
- We tend to have smokey/drinky gatherings with friends at my home or theirs. Most of them don't smoke but say it's pleasant not to have us smokers having to disappear outside to have a cigarette. I have been confronted three times by anti-smokers while smoking outside. I'm a woman and sometimes I'm stood outside by myself and it doesn't sit good with me at all. Especially when some burly thug thinks he has the right to tell me what I should or shouldn't do in his view. My hubby is a non-smoker and has seen first-hand what I've had to put up with. He wants a compromise in the pubs too. I only of one person who doesn't want this compromise.
- The economic effects of the smoking ban can be seen in the tens of thousands of decisions made by many smokers every day. Fancy a pint or two after work? Fine, if the weather's good. If it's bad, will the smoking shelter protect me adequately enough? During bad weather, pubs will lose tens of thousands of potential sales as smokers decide it's not worth it whereas before the ban, the weather would not have been a consideration. Separate smoking rooms now please!
- Don't go to the pub unless it's extremely good weather. Go abroad for ALL holidays
- summer ok to sit in yard, winter, (this winter) - forget it. Will leave UK for good come this winter. Shame really Was a great place.
- Many pubs I still enter have ONLY smoking customers. Often the entire pub is outside smoking. Utterly stupid.
- I only go to the pub a little less often than before, but I stay less time. And I'm a lot more inclined to have drinking buddies round my place, where we can smoke!
- I avoid pubs now - feel nagged
- Comment is within the criteria of the questionnaire. Pub visits are a weekly thing ...every weekend...for the best part spring, entire duration of summer and partway through autumn. I refuse to go in winter and stand in the cold for a ciggy. All of our friends follow this pattern and I suspect it is the same for many others across the country who are of a certain age (mid-thirties up). This has proven over time to be a pattern of survival for pubs who have smoking facilities...by good weather trade somehow evening out the bad. Thing is though...prolonged bad weather through the warmer months could be enough to close a pub down through lack of smokers trade. It's unacceptable that pub owners and customers alike should be dictated to as to how they earn a living/spend their free time by a bigoted few.
- I find myself going outside to enjoy the company of friends and as a result smoke far more than I used to when all my friends, smokers and non-smokers, were inside.
- Its not so much the ban I hate as much as the lies that accompanied it.
- I'm enraged that this social manipulation has occurred as a result of flat lies disseminated by the anti-smoking industry.
- Pubs are boring and sterile now.
- I was invited to three pub closing down parties in the first 12 months of the smoking ban, I think I was invited to a similar number in twenty years before the smoking ban. I no longer know any publicans personally so I don't expect to get invited again.
- Stop the world, I want to get off. And keep up the good work on the site!
- Not so many pub closures in Swindon BUT the landlords in the pubco owned ones change a lot more frequently than before 7/7
- Background: Work in central london. Just as the ban introduced pretty much all my regular after work pubs installed heaters/awnings. Pub going is heavily linked to weather. Being central london hot weather means the streets outside the "shoebox" pubs are packed, and this hasn't changed much. On a tangent moving on to a club, post pub is even less common, the hassle of negotiating getting out and "stamped" so you can get back in to stand in a grubby square metre next to the entrance is even less apealling than standing outside a pub on a wet day.
- Used to spend £800 a month in pubs. clubs, casinos and lap dancing clubs prior to the smoking ban and was out 4 or 5 times a week. Now I go to the pub maybe once every two months and I haven't been to any of the other places at all since the Ban.
- I have adjusted but not accepted the ban.
- I hate the smoking ban.
- I no longer go into cafe's or restaurants either since the smoking ban.
- I will now only frequent pubs that either have a smoking area with seating, or a beer garden!
Tuesday, 12 July 2011
Something I’ve been hearing more often recently is that beer should be given more favourable tax and legislative treatment than other alcoholic drinks because it is “a low strength product”. Well yes, of course it is, but consumers generally make up for that by drinking larger quantities of it per glass. People don’t drink 4% bitters out of wine glasses, they drink pints.
There is a good argument for setting alcohol duties so that the actual purchase prices of the main product categories work out roughly the same in terms of pence per unit, which the current alcohol duty regime in the UK, whatever you may think of its absolute level, broadly does. The counter-argument that duty should be charged on a strict per unit basis would give an advantage to cheap spirits with a short maturation period, which could lead to adverse wider consequences.
But, even though I’m very fond of the stuff, overall there’s no real reason why beer deserves special favour. It’s undoubtedly responsible for more alcohol-related disorder than any other category of drinks and, while spirits are probably the favoured tipple of the true problem drinker, I’ve come across a few beer-drinking alcoholics in my time, and plenty of others whose level of beer consumption was clearly doing their health no good. If you had to pick out the alcoholic drink that, in a UK context, was least harmful in terms of both public disorder and long-term health problems, it would be wine.
What is more, one particular category of beer – super-strength lagers – has a very strong association with problem drinking. They’re entirely different, of course, from Old Tom and Duvel and American double IPAs and weird shit produced by BrewDog and sold in stuffed polecats, even if they’re the same strength. But to the health zealot, one 9% beer is much the same as another, even if it costs twice as much to buy.
This whole line of argument is doomed to failure as it is accepting the terms of debate constructed by the health lobby. “Our sort of alcohol isn’t that bad, really” doesn’t cut much ice. And, now that the line that “there is no safe level of alcohol consumption” is increasingly gaining traction, it is blown out of the water. Best, surely, to defend both beer and pubs in robust terms for what they actually are.
It’s much the same as the rose-tinted bleating about the benefits of community pubs. As I said in the post, most pubs, even very good ones, don’t really qualify as “community pubs” in the way the term is meant, and the vision that is conjured up of people sitting around drinking their regulation one-and-a-half pints of 2.8% pisswater while discussing ways of raising money for disabled kids bears little relation to what goes on in real-world pubs.
Pete Brown has produced a list of the 50 Best British Beers for the Morning Advertiser. As with all such lists, it will inevitably provoke much discussion and a few raised eyebrows. “Draught Guinness! What’s that doing there?”
I counted them up and reckoned that over the years I had drunk about half the beers he lists. It’s perhaps disappointing that there’s nothing on the list from either family brewers or micros in Greater Manchester and Cheshire, not even Robinson’s Old Tom.
More surprising is that nothing is included that could broadly be described as “mild”, which fifty years ago was the staple drink in English and Welsh pubs. Bateman’s DM or Brain’s Dark could surely have been included, or even, to annoy the tall poppy haters, Banks’s.
If he’d wanted to be really mischievous he could have included Carling too ;-)
Sunday, 10 July 2011
A charity which criticised the Government for accepting money from junk food companies was itself secretly paid £50,000 by Coca-Cola to promote low-calorie sweeteners.And there have been various reports recently that artificial sweeteners can actually lead to weight gain by messing around with the body’s natural response to eating and drinking.
The National Obesity Forum signed a deal with Coca-Cola in January, a few months after trustee Tam Fry had said he was ‘horror-struck’ at plans for such companies to provide cash to back public health campaigns.
Mr Fry, 75, is understood to have brokered the Coca-Cola deal, despite accusing the Government last July of being ‘bribed’ by fast food giants.
(h/t to Leg-iron)
Saturday, 9 July 2011
Sit in any pub, watch a group of blokes come in, shaven heads, footie shirts, bit of jewellery. And you know what’s coming. “Wot lagers you got on, mate?” “OK, two Stellas and three Carlings then.”
On a similar note, last week I was in a market town pub in the Welsh Marches at lunchtime. There was a good group of male regulars in, aged between maybe about 40 and 75, with some lively banter. The kind of classic pub atmosphere that seems to be rapidly disappearing. But, although the pub sold cask beer, every single one of them was drinking either Carling or Stowford Press cider.
It seems to have become a fact of life nowadays that the working classes drink keg beer. Even if they drink ale, it’s John Smith’s Extra Smooth. Cask is now a middle-class affectation. Around here, there is still a strong residual customer base of older drinkers for the cask products of the four local family brewers and Samuel Smith’s, but in general across the country the cask=middle class link very much holds true. Sometimes you can almost feel the locals thinking “wanker” when you walk into a strange pub, peer along the bar past the forest of T-bar taps and order a pint of cask by name.
How did that happen, when real ale used to be the working man’s pint, and keg beer was promoted as an aspirational drink?
The recent discussion about the growing divergence in strength between cask ales in the pub, and premium bottled ales in the supermarket, prompted me to run a poll on the popularity of the best-known PBAs. This was purely an exercise in curiosity and I didn’t have any particular axe to grind. The beers listed were my subjective assessment of the most widely available beers in the category. It is notable that none are produced by the international brewers, who seem to have pretty much entirely withdrawn from that market segment.
There were 81 responses. 10 didn’t drink bottled ales at all, and 16 said they had drunk other bottled ales, but not the ones listed. So 55 people had drunk at least one. Hobgoblin was the most popular, with 28 votes; Cumberland Ale the least popular with 14.
There were inevitably one or two comments along the lines of these being “boring brown beers”, but, as I replied, Tesco are only going to stock what they can sell. Even if you brew the most wonderful beer in the world, you still have to persuade drinkers to buy it and retailers to stock it. It would be interesting to try to construct an alternative list of “higher quality” bottled beers that do have some profile in the off-trade. For starters I might suggest Hop Back Summer Lightning, Butcombe Bitter, Thwaites Indus IPA and Samuel Smiths Old Brewery Pale Ale.
In my view all of those listed are actually quite decent beers, although I don’t personally care for Bombardier, Hobgoblin and Spitfire, and can never really get to grips with Fullers’ distinctive rather “biscuity” house character. On the other hand, I think the much-maligned Abbot Ale is actually a very good beer. Unless you have access to a specialist off-licence, these beers are about as good as you’re going to get for drinking at home.
As I said in the comments on an earlier post, I have more than once heard people referring to PBAs as “real ales” which, of course, strictly speaking, they aren’t.
The poll results and associated comments can be seen here.
Friday, 8 July 2011
I’ve created a survey here to analyse the experiences of smokers following the smoking ban. It’s only intended for smokers, so if you’re not a current smoker please ignore it. It is limited to 100 responses and so will be closed once that figure is reached.
This was brought home to me last week in the Barrels pub in Hereford. This is Wye Valley Brewery’s flagship pub, a spacious establishment with four separate rooms which has a lively, slightly Bohemian atmosphere and a noticeably younger and more female clientele than the typical “specialist beer pub”. It’s an excellent pub that clearly “works” when many others don’t. The 3.7% ABV Wye Valley Bitter was a bargain £2.10 a pint, well below typical Greater Manchester prices.
The pub also has a spacious rear drinking courtyard, partly open, partly covered by smoking shelters. Last Monday – typically the quietest night of the week – the weather was warm and dry, and the courtyard was absolutely rammed with customers. Not all smoking, but probably two or three smokers in every group. Inside it was fairly quiet. Had it been raining, I suspect most of those courtyard customers simply wouldn’t have been there.
This must make planning of staff rotas and stock turnover much more difficult for pubs, as customers will descend on them as soon as the sun shines, but once it disappears so will the punters.
As a means of combating climate change, CAMRA’s “Locale” campaign is nonsense. But as a way of encouraging local character and distinctiveness it has much to be said for it. The UK has a huge variety of local cask beers, and a tourist expecting a taste of the area should have a reasonable expectation of finding one on venturing into a pub.
But, hang on, I walk into an attractive half-timbered pub in a popular tourist town somewhere vaguely South-West of Birmingham. And the beer choice is: Bombardier and Theakstons Best. Two beers often decried as bland, and which have no connection with the area. It might be understandable if these were beers such as Draught Bass and Pedigree that had a long history of being distributed in the area, but they weren’t.
The Severn Valley has a wealth of respected micro-breweries such as Wye Valley, Hobsons and Salopian. Why couldn’t they serve one of those? It is noticeable that the popular Stockport multi-beer pubs, the Crown and Magnet, both make a big point of featuring local beers as well as those from further afield.
I went in another pub that made a proud proclamation that all its cask beers were sourced within 35 miles. I might substitute “all but one” to include the likes of Draught Bass, but as a tourist and business traveller within the UK I would applaud that principle. You don’t go to Scotland to drink Tetley Bitter and Old Speckled Hen, both of which I encountered as the sole cask beer in a pub last year.
Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you. How many times have I said that?
Australian health campaigners are now urging that draconian restrictions applied to tobacco should now be extended to alcohol.
So goodbye to the convenient fiction that moderate amounts of alcohol are beneficial to health. And yet more evidence that Australia, once a byword for rugged individualism, is fast becoming the world’s foremost Nanny State.
And some of you thought that the anti-tobacco campaign was something that could be entirely separated from the anti-alcohol campaign?
This has already been mentioned by Dick Puddlecote and Chris Snowdon, amongst others, but many visitors here won’t be readers of the political blogs.
Saturday, 2 July 2011
3.5% or below: 2
3.6 – 4.0%: 26
4.1 – 4.5%: 31
4.6 – 5.0%: 26
5.1 – 5.5%: 6
5.6% or above: 9
Obviously those numbers translate exactly to percentages. So a strong clustering of responses around the usual strength range, with the biggest number in the 4.1 – 4.5% range which is where beers tend to be concentrating. Quite a number favoured the stronger beers, but there were very few of the archetypal “mild drinkers”.
A point I made in the comments was that possibly the clustering of beer strengths in pubs may have something to do with the breakdown of the tied house system. If you’re competing with other brewers on the bar, you don’t want to have your beer ruled out because it's too strong or too weak. On the other hand, in tied houses, you can afford to present a wider strength range to punters because they only have a choice of strengths, not of brewery. For example, in a tied house Fullers can offer Chiswick Bitter at 3.5%, Discovery at 3.9%, London Pride at 4.1% and ESB at 5.5%, but in the free trade or pub company outlets you’re far more likely to see London Pride than any of the other beers.
The poll, together with associated comments, can be viewed here, but I won’t be logging any further votes.
Friday, 1 July 2011
I have never claimed it is a single-cause explanation, but the sheer scale of pub closures over the past four years is absolutely unprecedented, and only the most extreme and self-deluding antismoker will deny that the smoking ban has been a major cause.
And, of course, the argument against it is not just a utilitarian one that it has closed thousands of pubs. It is morally abhorrent - an obnoxious policy of intolerance, founded on hatred, bigotry and junk science, described by Lord Stoddart of Swindon as “one of the most restrictive, spiteful and socially divisive pieces of legislation imposed by any British Government.” It also sets a very clear precedent for what is increasingly happening to the alcohol industry. Anyone who claims to have the interests of pubs at heart who supports it is, frankly, either a fool or a knave. But there are none so blind as those who will not see.
In past years Pete Robinson has given us a few trenchant home truths on the subject in The Publican, but unfortunately that publication is now defunct and the Morning Advertiser doesn’t seem to have retained his services as a contributor, more’s the pity. Note the particularly vile comments from one antismoker on that thread.
One or two of the usual suspects have been whingeing about me harping on about this subject. Well, sorry, but the creation of this blog was prompted by the smoking ban and that, more than anything else, is at heart what it’s about. Are they going to go on the Daily Kitten and start saying “Hey, enough of all the moggies”?