The Pub must face up to its silent enemy
As Perfect Pint launches there has probably never been a more dramatic and yet cruelly contrasting time to observe the world of beer in the UK. On the one hand, cask beer is booming. An incredible, and hopefully sustainable, revolution in real ale is underway. There is simply no other word for it. There has been an explosion in choice, a dramatic improvement in quality, consistency and, crucially, in awareness. A whole vibrant microbrewery ecosystem, inadvertently kick started by Gordon Brown, and undoubtedly inspired by our cousins from over the Pond, is evolving. It is something that surely, on reflection, is beyond even the wildest dreams of Camra’s founding fathers as they circled the wagons over Watney’s Red Barrel just over forty years ago.
But on the other side of the coin, the revered institution where we imbibe such pleasures, the noble British Pub, has never been under more pressure. The pub is a hardy soul. It has fought off the Temperance brigade many times, survived innumerable wars, regulation and shortages, seen off the Gin revolution and creaked through intolerably high tax regimes such as we witness today. Tough economic conditions are nothing new and whilst a suicidal off trade, in the form of the big supermarkets is deeply unhelpful, it is still a diversion from the real problem. The real enemy of the pub is more dangerous because it is silent and it is more structural. Behavioural change.
There are many facets to this and price is clearly one of them. A simple measure of what might loosely be called ‘working man’s inflation’(incorporating, amongst other things, basic pleasures such as a pint of beer, a pack of cigarettes and a ticket to the football) shows just how much former everyday items are a now material drain on take home wages. This, in itself has driven a natural substitution, particularly as the range, quality and price of take-home beer have all dramatically improved and modern comforts make our own lounges all the more enticing. At the same time, the broader range of alternative entertainment and the rapid advancement of technology have all helped reduce the relative attractiveness of the humble pub, and has led to the boarding up or boutique flat conversion of many a local.
Perhaps a little more corrosively, societal shifts have brought with them a lack of neighbourliness and the steady erosion of collective responsibility. It is here that the best pubs can fight back. Pubs can and should focus on the things they can offer that other venues simply cannot. A cracking pint of draught ale is certainly one of them. But pubs can also bring people together. They can be a powerful force for good too as over £100m raised for charity last year shows. Human beings are naturally sociable animals; they need a place to congregate, to identify and to bond. Pubs fulfil this role and are at the very heart of our communities. Henry VIII insisted that every village had a school, a church and a pub and placed equal weight on each institution. Whilst unlikely to reclaim such past glories, the better pubs are evolving and adapting to their new place. And of course we can help them, reluctantly, and under much duress, by drinking more beer. We at Perfect Pint will be doing our bit and trust you will too.