Wednesday 3 October 2012

Micro pubs, micro prospects?

There has been a lot of talk about the supposedly burgeoning micropub movement, and apparently the CAMRA quarterly magazine Beer is going to be doing a feature on them in its next issue.

However, from counting the numbers on that page, there seems to be a grand total of six, of which four are in Kent, so it can’t exactly be said to be a movement that is sweeping the country. And, at a time when the traditional small, wet-led, adults-only, drink and chat pub has been in headlong retreat for a couple of decades, is that really going to be a model for success and expansion, nice as the thought might be?

There also seems to be a strong streak of living in the past about the whole thing. Refusing to serve lager harks back to the blinkered attitudes of the 1970s, while the comments of Martin Hillier of the Butcher’s Arms as quoted here that:

“I used to do red and white wine but it confused the ladies," Hillier says. "They'd start asking what red wine it was, and I'm not here to sell wine. So now it's just white wine. Simpler that way.”
come across as distinctly sexist and patronising. Indeed the views of the licensee of the Just Beer in Newark, who refuses to sell lemonade as it’s “the slippery slope to shandy” could be regarded as irresponsible.

Mind you, there is one activity that, if permitted solely in micropubs, might cause an astonishing surge in their popularity...


  1. I think I've seen a few open recently so there must be more than six. And I'm sure more will follow as the start up and running costs must be low.

    Personally I think a craft beer bar crash will come before micropubs run into problems.

  2. What amuses me is not only are there businesses showing this sort of contempt for punters, but there are punters willing to lap it up. He's free to sell what he wants, I'm free to drink elsewhere.

    Shouldn't the campaign for choice be giving him an award for all the murky vinegary brown muck he's flogging?

  3. Martin, Cambridge4 October 2012 at 22:54

    Have been to all but the Hartlepool "micro" pub (micro opening hours as well), and the their customer base was as narrow as the drinks range. If you like discussing Dark Star hopping, they're for you.

    To be fair, the beer quality was generally oustanding, particularly in Margate, and it's rare to find pubs where landlords want to chat with you anymore.

    By the by, is it just me who finds BEER unreadable ?

  4. I wouldn't say unreadable, but I'm not a fan. The presentation is far too gimmicky, and it comes across as more akin to an in-flight magazine than something that discusses issues seriously.

  5. Possibly the micropub format would be appropriate for stocking some exotic bottles and keykegs in locations where there isn't the demand for a full-blown craft beer bar.

  6. Martin, Cambridge6 October 2012 at 20:16

    On your last point, these micros already seem to be in places without any existing specialist beer culture - Margate, Hartlepool, Newark, the Arndale.

  7. All four of the Kent micropubs are in the east of th county. I haven't had the chance to visit any of them yet, so I can't really comment.

    I do know though, that one of them pipped my own branch's Pub-of-the-year to become Kent Pub-of-the-year, and we're none too pleased about it! It's not sour grapes, just a question of how can you pit an award-winning country pub, in a stuning setting, serving a dozen or so immaculately-kept cask ales, excellent food, open log fires in winter and no electronic music against what effectively is someone's sitting room?? Something is wrong somewhere.

  8. I have recently heard of a list going around... with about 80 micropubs on it. I have yet to find this list. There is some CAMRA-HQ link I gather, a group came to my local micropub doing a survey.

    The "Micropub Association" is not, I think, definitive. Our local micropub ("The Bank" Willingham, in a tiny former bank building) has some bottled Adnams lager, does spirits, and red & white wine, and bottled and "real" cider... plus space for 6 casks on gravity. It isn't in the micropub list, purportedly because the owner doesn't see the point of paying a tenner to be in a list. There's also a similar micropub in Ely (The Liberty Belle) which isn't in the list - though it does have a somewhat mocking "no lager" sign up.

    The best I can think of for a definition would logically come down to size ("micro" afterall) - but then what about existing tiny pubs like Cambridge's Radigund? There may be call to also restrict it to "new pubs in formerly non-pub premesis" as well. I think that "new tiny pubs" seems to be the way it is going.

    Anyway - thanks to the planning changes the idea is spreading. There's a planning application in for one in a Bedfordshire village:

    Perhaps this is a ray of hope for villages that've lost their pubs... or, like mine, that were previously a very dull "no need to try any harder" Greene King monoculture.

    (Riffing on the earlier comment... I have also pondered the format as being ideal for this newfangled keykeg craft beer stuff... ;)

  9. There are also plenty of new "box bars" which in many ways are micropubs without the crafty/beardy aspect.

  10. Perhaps joint usage venues, like small pubs that double up as post offices or tea shops in the day time, would have a better chance of survival in small villages not large enough (anymore) to support a pub.

  11. Yes, compared with forty or fifty years ago pubs in general set out to do a lot more and so need more turnover to be viable.

    But is there really the demand for small no-frills drink and chat pubs?

  12. In a small village, its almost impossible to predict. It really depends on the pindividuals who live there and whether you can provide somewhere they feel comfortable and welcome.

    Pubs in towns are easier to predict - as long as you nail a certain demographic to a good enough standard, you can pretty much guarantee that enough of that type of person will live there. But in a village of a few hundred people, who knows?

  13. I've been to three so far and loved them, and with so many of the traditional pubs Mudgie refers to going, they make a nice place. The Turtle's Head, in particular, is so popular it's often impossible to get in at weekends, sadly.


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