Monday, 6 February 2012

A brewery as they used to be

I spoke highly here of Joule’s refurbishment of the Royal Oak in Eccleshall, Staffordshire. Looking a bit more into their operation, it seems that rather than going down the usual route of targeting the free trade and beer festivals, they are trying to build up something more like the local brewery with a tied estate within a set radius from their home base, which used to be much more commonplace forty years ago. “Not a single pint is sold outside our heartland”, they say.

They do have some free trade, although theirs are not beers often seen in free houses around the country, and they just seem to concentrate on a core range of three beers – Blonde, Pale Ale and Slumbering Monk – rather than producing a plethora of specials and seasonals. Pale Ale, their flagship beer, is a classic 4.1% ABV Midlands pale ale in the style of Draught Bass and Pedigree as they once were. Maybe there is a gap in their range for a mild and a 3.6% light bitter, but they must know what their customers want.

They have so far built up an estate of 18 pubs, most within 25 miles of the brewery in Market Drayton, but extending as far as Wrexham and Chester in one direction and Burton-on-Trent in the other, where they have the Coopers Tavern, once regarded as the ultimate place to drink Draught Bass which, according to the Good Beer Guide, is still sold there. The Royal Oak is the only one I have actually visited as a Joule’s pub, but according to their website they intend to restore them all as “proper pubs”, which must be applauded.

The only possible fly in the ointment is that, over the years, a number of breweries that have tried to go down the same route, such as Archer’s, Smiles, Copper Dragon and Trough, seem to have come a cropper financially, not because of the brewing operations, but because of problems with the property portfolio. Let us keep our fingers crossed that Joule’s manage to steer clear of those pitfalls.

8 comments:

  1. Martin, Cambridge6 February 2012 at 15:54

    I hope they thrive. The four I've visted were all cracking pubs, attracting a wider range of custom than you might expect, and just felt like a great place for a leisurely evening of pub conversation, with or without food.

    I enjoyed their beers a lot, but they are more in the style of classic drinking beers like Bass than the sort of unusual beer that free houses and beer fests stock.

    By the way, I'm intrigued by reference to Copper Dragon - haven't seen as much of them in last couple of years when they were ubiquitous in Lancs/Yorks borders.

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  2. The only Joule's pub I've been to is the Royal Oak in Wrexham and it's a cracking place. It's locally known as "The Embassy" because during WW2 the local Free Polish Army garrison used it as their watering hole and it became known as The Polish Embassy. It's a long skinny pub, only about four yards wide but very comfortably set out with a real fire. It serves the Joule's core range and usually a guest beer. If all the other Joule's pubs are as good as this, I want to go to them.

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  3. Smiles nearly went out of business by over-extending their property portfolio but bought themselves a few years by selling all but one of their pubs to Young's. They did acquire another pub shortly before gioing down the drain but the main cause of their downfall seems to have been the dramatic deterioration in their beer quality once they outsourced the brewing. Smiles went from a "must-have" to an "Oh God, isn't there anything else? Actually I'll have a Guinness".

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  4. Each failed brewery will have its own unique story, but over-extending the pub portfolio does seem to have often been a factor.

    @Martin and Bill: ooh, "cracking pubs" serving "classic drinking beers" - the crafterati will run a mile ;-)

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  5. This still going? Protzy has them down as eaten by Bass Charrington in his Burton book.

    Scrub that. I am not a beer geek.

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  6. "classic drinking beers" - the crafterati will run a mile ;-)"

    From Joules website

    "A wonderful thing is happening in Britain, we are re discovering our ale heritage; small batch producers brewing the highest quality beers with regional variations and interesting hop varieties."

    Are these not "craft beers"? or does traditional not count?

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  7. There's obviously an overlap between "real ale" and "craft beer", the latter being an American term, I believe. However, "craft beer" seems to have become synonymous with what I would call gimmicky beer, ludicrously strong (or weak), full of bloody coriander, passed through the digestive tract of a wombat or whatever. (Oh God, that's going to give BrewDog ideas) Joule's is just good drinking beer and nothing wrong with that.
    Two facts: The original Joule's was taken over by Bass in the 70s as Cookie says. The new brewery seems to be a sort of phoenix from the flames.
    Also, the original Mr Joule who started the brewery back in the 1800s was the bloke who came up with the unit of energy (or whatever, I failed physics O-Level)that now bears his name. So there.

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  8. Good luck to Joules and their approach. There's a lot to be said for keeping your market local and half the fun of visiting a different part of the country, for the first time, used to be the opportunity to sample beers one hadn't come across before. All that changed with the advent of Beer Agencies and the rise of free houses selling beers from far and wide.

    I'm not suggesting we go totally back to those days, but some beers just don't travel that well and never taste as good as they do in their heartland.

    Btw. Harveys don't sell their beer outside the South East.

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