Beers are becoming craftier, but pubs are bearing the brunt
A microbrewery opens every other day but 29 public houses close a week
by: Aleksandra Wisniewska
August 10, 2015
When beer lovers congregate for the start of the Great British Beer Festival in London on Tuesday, they will do so amid a nationwide enthusiasm for craft brewing and ever more exotic drinks.
Yet, even though microbreweries are on the rise – with government figures showing one opens every other day – the demise of the pub continues. Twenty-nine pubs close each week across the UK, according to the Campaign for Real Ale, squeezed by a combination of new sales methods, rising property prices and competition from supermarkets.
At present, there are 53,444 pubs, down from about 67,000 in 1982, according to the British Beer and Pub Association. In the six months to June 15, the UK lost 750 pubs, with a third of the net closures in London and South East, where 411 pubs shut their doors compared with 145 openings.
Pub numbers have been falling since 2007 following the introduction of the smoking ban, the rise of home entertainment and cheap supermarket alcohol sales. Consumers have chosen to see through the recession by buying alcohol in the shops and drinking at home.
Pubs have also come under pressure from restaurants and cafés, forcing them to expand into catering and accommodation to keep revenues up.
Last year, the end of the traditional “beer-tie” agreement, whereby pub tenants pay less in rent but have to buy beer at a premium from the pub owner, meant large pub companies such as Enterprise and Punch Taverns made plans to restructure their businesses by selling pubs.
The industry is also warning that the new compulsory minimum wage will cause job losses and closures.
For microbreweries, on the other hand, the only way is up. Craft and locally produced beer is the fastest-growing segment of the beer market, powered by the demand across most consumer sectors for local products.
With the reduced number of pubs, craft brewers are seeking new ways to sell their products and are finding a place on the shelves of supermarkets that have spotted the thirst for artisan ales.
In June, German discounter Lidl launched a selection of 48 UK regional beers, with more to follow in September, in the hope of replicating its success with premium wines last year.
Craft beer has also carved out a niche online. One start-up, DeskBeers, is offering workplace delivery of a dozen bottles of randomly selected craft beer anywhere on the UK mainland. It works with 30 breweries, most of which are based in London, and delivers on average 1,500 bottles a week.
Camra and the Department for Communities & Local Government have set up an initiative to save pubs by having them registered as “assets of community value”, a designation that gives local resources such as pubs, football stadiums and parks extra protection from property developers.
“The Great British pub is a national treasure, which is why we brought in new powers so people can help protect their local by listing it as an asset of community value,” said Marcus Jones, community pubs minister.
Several of the 800 pubs so listed have already used the protection to avoid being converted into shops or flats. Others rejoice in the increased sense of ownership among local drinkers who came together to save their favourite watering hole.
On Tuesday, Mr Jones will present the first “This Pub Matters” badge under the ACV scheme to Tina Massie of The Red Lion in Knotty Green, Beaconsfield.
“It is a fantastic honour and a real pat on the back for my team, who work so hard to keep the pub at the very heart of our little village – an important role it has played for more than three centuries,” said Ms Massie.