Most recently, there’s been Hop Stuff and Redchurch.
But we’re talking about something ever so slightly different – that the very act of appealing to the public for investment seems increasingly like a red flag for the future of those operations.
With hindsight, in many cases, crowdfunding often looks to us like a cry for help or act of desperation.
Critics of crowdfunding sometimes call it ‘begging’ and it can feel that way.
When in day jobs we’ve been involved in raising funding, it’s been through banks. They’re unpopular, old school, not very ‘craft’, but they are part of our system of checks and balances. If a bank won’t lend a business money, it probably means that business has failed to present a convincing case for its long-term success.
Some would no doubt say if you can’t manage to buy a house, you probably shouldn’t be aiming to expand a business to larger or multiple locations but given the bizarre state of the UK housing market, we’re not sure that washes.
Even so, when we see a crowdfunding campaign launch, unless we know the brewery or retailer in question has a cult following and strong marketing game, it increasingly strikes us – rightly or wrongly, on an instinctive level – as a target painted on their flank: they’re weak, ripe for picking off, and this is their last shot.
Of course we understand the appeal to businesses of crowdfunding, and it’s not always bad news. We also know that many investors go into it with eyes open, as a bit of fun.
But the longer term problem is this: if, as we read it, crowdfunding is about the conversion of customer goodwill into hard cash, every failure or perceived betrayal reduces the amount of goodwill in the collective pot, and its value.
The January 1965 edition of A Monthly Bulletin, a publication about beer and pubs sponsored by the brewing industry, contained a letter which seems to capture the exact moment the pub ceased to be a working class institution.
Written by one A. Beverley of 55 Harrington Avenue, Blackpool, the letter is actually a response to another item of correspondence that appeared in “a national newspaper”. Though they quote large chunks, Beverley doesn’t give the specific source and we can’t find a match in the Guardian, Times or Mirror.
Here’s Beverley’s summary, though:
In complaining that “our pubs are becoming too posh” [they assert] that it is “virtually impossible for a man in overalls to get a hot dinner in the centre of many a big city”. He mourns, too, because many country public houses are attracting customers from towns at mid-day, offering “business lunches” and providing plenty of space for parking motor cars. Where is the working man in his working clothes to go? Will nobody cater for him?
This line might seem surprising if you’ve bought into the idea that food in pubs is an invention of the 1990s, or are of the view that food in pubs is somehow inherently un-working-class. But if you’ve read the chapter on gastropubs in 20th Century Pub, you’ll know otherwise.
But, anyway, Beverley is having none of it:
This type of comment ignores the realities of 1964 catering. If the character of our pubs is changing with the times, it is reasonable to assume, too, that the same can be said of the customers. The number of customers who go into bars in overalls at any time is dwindling. But the number of customers who, after working hours, change into well-cut suits to go into public houses with their wives or girl friends is increasing. These female companions not unnaturally prefer the comfort and amenities of a modern, tastefully appointed bar rather than surroundings that are dreary and outmoded.
(Isn’t CAMRA’s national inventory essentially the Dreary and Outmoded Pub Guide?)
Beverley’s argument is not only that “men in overalls” in the pub are a dying breed but also that their successors, “who wear… protective clothing at work”, probably earned as much as, or more than, white-collar workers.
With the growth of automation and the shortening of the working week, the overall and boiler suit may disappear entirely, and the well-appointed, well-warmed pub or inn, providing tasty meals and correctly served drinks, should establish itself yet more firmly in the design for a life offering greater period of leisure.
The punchline to all this is, we think, quite funny: the real problem, Beverley writes, isn’t that pubs are being poshed-up but that, as of the end of 1964, the new aspirational working classes hadn’t quite learned how to behave.
It is only hoped that, as higher standards are called for and met, appropriate improvements in human behaviour also will develop. Licensees, proud of their “poshed-up” pubs, have difficulty in believing that change is for the good when expensive carpets and table-tops are damaged by cigarette burns. To be truly beneficial, the winds of change… must blow some instinct of responsibility and sense of values into the minds of those who are usually the most insistent and vocal in their demands for luxury in the “local”.
It’s interesting to read this alongside those 1960s Batsford guides with all their talk of mutton curry and beef fondue, and other accounts of the coming pub carpets at around the same time. The mid-1960s were in pubs, as they were in art, music, literature, film, something of a moment as the traditional indicators of class got jumbled up or messed around with.
Fifty plus years on, people are still complaining about pubs being “poshed-up”, although these days the disappearance of the carpet in favour of bare boards is a key indicator of coming poshness.
And the objection seems to be less about class than attitude: pubs should be informal, unguarded, lively and spontaneous, not composed, curated or mannered.
We got our collection of editions of A Monthly Bulletin from Martyn Cornell who kindly gave us his spares a few years ago. Thanks again, MC.
We’ve now been in Bristol for two years and have logged every single official Pub Visit since arriving.
We started doing this mostly to remind ourselves where we’d been for the sake of #EveryPubInBristol, but also decided to log subsequent visits to each pub, providing us with an interesting data set revealing our habits and favourites.
Our definition of a Pub Visit for this purpose is that it has to be a pub, both of us have to be there, and at least one of us has to have an alcoholic drink.
(We’ll return to the subject of what makes a pub in a separate blog post, as this exercise has given us a real impetus to define it better.)
We have chosen to define Bristol as the unitary authority of Bristol, plus any bits that join up to it without a break. So the pubs of Kingswood and Filton (technically South Gloucestershire) are in, whereas the wonderful Angel Inn at Long Ashton isn’t because there is, for now, at least one open field in between the village and the ever-increasing spread of South Bristol.
We have logged 516 pub visits in total.
Almost 30% of these were to our local, The Drapers Arms.
We have visited 216 different pubs.
Our pace of visiting new pubs has slowed: we went to our first 100 in six months; our second 100 took a year; and we’ve only added 16 in the last six months.
This is partly because of geography – the pubs we haven’t yet visited are harder to get to and more spread out – but also because we’ve come across so many pubs that we like and want to revisit, rather than ticking new ones.
Here’s a list of all the pubs we’ve visited more than once.
Drapers Arms | 150
Wellington Arms | 16
Highbury Vaults | 16
Barley Mow | 15
Zero Degrees | 14
Brewdog | 13
Small Bar | 11
Inn On The Green | 10
Grain Barge | 10
Hillgrove Porter Stores | 9
The Old Fish Market | 7
Bottles And Books | 7
Merchants Arms | 6
The Volunteer Tavern | 6
The Orchard | 6
The Annexe | 6
The Bank | 5
Bristol Flyer | 4
Strawberry Thief | 4
The Good Measure | 4
Golden Lion | 3
Royal Oak | 3
Commercial Rooms | 3
The Canteen (Hamilton House) | 3
The Old Duke | 3
Snuffy Jacks | 3
Hobgoblin | 3
The Hare / The Leveret Cask House | 3
Colston Arms | 3
The Grace | 3
The Victoria | 3
Christmas Steps | 3
Corner 33 | 3
The Cottage Inn | 2
Nova Scotia | 2
The Bridge | 2
Pump House | 2
Mardyke | 2
Hare On The Hill | 2
White Lion | 2
Robin Hood | 2
The White Bear | 2
Beerd | 2
The Sidings | 2
Gloucester Road Ale House | 2
Kingsdown Vaults | 2
The Knights Templar (Spoons) | 2
The V Shed | 2
The Royal Naval Volunteer | 2
Bristol Brewery Tap | 2
St George’s Hall | 2
The Gryphon | 2
The Greenbank Tavern | 2
The Oxford | 2
Are they really your top pubs?
Our top 10 includes two pubs that are there simply because they are close to our house – The Wellington and The Inn on the Green.
If you’ve visited more than once, does that mean it’s good?
Not always. We’ve had one accidental second visit, to St George’s Hall, a soon-to-be-closing Wetherspoons, having forgotten we’d already been.
Sometimes a second visit might be to check out a change in ownership or offer.
It might also reflect convenience. The Knights Templar, AKA Hellspoons, is right by Temple Meads station and so a convenient stop before catching a train. Now the bridge to The Barley Mow has reopened, and The Sidings has decent Harvey’s Sussex Best, we don’t expect to need to go there again.
But three or more visits and it’s probably safe to say we like it. (Although we’ve fallen out with the Hare in Bedminster now it’s the Leveret Cask House.)
Not quite science
Of course the keeping of this information distorts our behaviour from time to time.
If we’ve got a choice between two pubs, we’ll sometimes pick the one we think ‘deserves’ to be higher up the rankings. And we occasionally give a pub a swerve because it feels as if it’s coming higher up the charts than it ought to.
It’s still an expression of preference but… Well, it’s complicated.
There are certainly some pubs that would be higher up the list if they were easier for us to get to.
The thing is, your local is your local. Part of the magic of pubs like The Oxford in Totterdown or The Plough at Easton is that they reflect and serve the communities they’re in.
We’ll drop in if we’re in the area, and sometimes daydream about how nice it would be if we did live nearby, but it would be daft for us to schlep across town to go there every week because… We’ve got a local. One that’s, you know, local.
We wouldn’t necessarily expect these pubs to creep up the rankings in the next year, even though they are excellent.
Pubs such as The Good Measure, on the other hand, probably will, because they offer something distinct we can’t get close to home.
(And in that particular case, it’s reasonably handy for the Highbury Vaults so makes a good end to a St Michael’s Hill crawl).
Some thoughts on Bristol pubs
In general, Bristol pubs are good.
They tend to be friendly, even if they don’t always look it.
They’re extremely varied – hippy hangouts, old boys boozers, gastropubs, craft beer exhibitions, backstreet gems, family hangouts, and so on.
They mostly have real ale, even those that might not if they were in any other city. We reckon we’ve counted three (four if you think BrewDog is a pub) that didn’t have anything at all on offer.
They’re loyal to local beer, even if there’s no single dominant historic city brewery.
Your chances of finding Bass, Courage Best, Butcombe or some other classic bitter are very high. The likelihood of finding mild is almost zero. Hoppy beers tend to be hazy, soft and sweet. (Not that we’re grumbling but we do sometimes crave paler, drier beers of the northern variety.)
And we’re still finding good pubs: we only visited The Annexe for the first time late last year; The Coronation in Bedminster we discovered for the first time a couple of months back. No doubt in the final hundred or so there will be a few more crackers.
We’re not as scientific about cataloguing pub openings and closures as the local CAMRA team in the excellent Pints West magazine but our feeling is that pubs are not closing as fast as they were and that more pubs or other drinking establishments are emerging.
Unsurprisingly, reflecting national trends, pubs are more at risk in poorer areas, and are (re) opening in wealthier or ‘up and coming’ parts of the city.
This has made us think hard about what makes pubs attractive to us – although granted, we’re not necessarily typical customers.
Yes, it’s important for pubs to have a unique selling point to stand out (that’s the pub with the heavy metal, or eight types of cider, or amazing cheese rolls) but, when it comes down to it, our drinking habits are primarily influenced by convenience.
Last night at our local, The Drapers Arms, we enjoyed perfect London Pride: solid foam, dry bitterness, a subtle note of leafy green, wrapped in marmalade, with a lantern glow.
Delightful as this was, it also triggered a sense of frustration, because lots of people won’t believe us, because they don’t believe that Pride can be that good, because they’ve never had a pint that isn’t half-dead.
The thing about beer, and cask ale especially, is that all the subtle variables make recommending or endorsing any particular product a risky business.
It’s as if you’ve told people about a great song…
…and then when they try to act on your advice and listen to it they get, nine times out of ten, the shred:
Or like giving a film five stars but the only version on the market is the studio cut, pan-and-scan, VHS-transfer with burned in Dutch subtitles.
That’s why these days we tend to talk about specific pints or encounters rather than saying “Pride is a great beer” or “Tribute is fantastic”.
Or, alternatively, give mild endorsements with multiple caveats.
The best you can hope for, really, is that a beer will more often be good than bad when people encounter it in the wild.
A footnote: The Drapers had Pride’s beer miles listed as 6,120. It’s not as if it’s being brewed in Japan in the wake of the takeover, of course, but ownership matters.
Tennent’s has been producing lager since the 1880s and Scotland became a lager drinking nation long before England.
We knew we wanted to drink at least one pint of Tennent’s on our trip to Scotland but didn’t expect to like it quite as much as we did.
Despite the ubiquity of Tennent’s branding around Glasgow – big red Ts jut out from pub fascias all over the place –it actually took us a little while to find the opportunity: either the pubs we found ourselves in had something else we wanted to try, or they had no Tennent’s tap at all, replacing it with something more upmarket from breweries such as Innis & Gunn or Williams Bros.
We had our first taste at The Pot Still in central Glasgow, served in tall, branded glassware with a whip of shaving-cream foam, and bubbling furiously.
What were our expectations? Low, if we’re honest. We’d noticed a couple of other fussy buggers expressing affection for it but wondered how much that might be down to contrariness or sentimentality.
But we liked it.
Now, we choose our words carefully: liked, not loved. It’s good, not great. We enjoyed it but it didn’t make our toes curl with delight.
Isn’t that enough, though? To be able to go into almost any pub and order a pint of 4% lager for a reasonable price and enjoy drinking it?
We asked our Twitter followers what they thought and their collective judgement, though it falls on the wrong side of the middle line to ours, feels fair:
POLL: I’ve drunk Tennent’s lager and I think it’s…
Tasting notes feel redundant as it’s hardly a deep or complex beer, but we’ll try: it’s more sweet than bitter but in a wholesome way that suggests grain, not sugar; the high carbonation stops it feeling sticky; and there’s sometimes a wisp of lemon zest about it.
After our initial encounter, we found ourselves ordering it even when there were other options. After a long day walking in the sun, it was perfect – gets to your thirst, fast. In a questionable pub which looked like it needed hosing down, it was a safe option, and tasted just as good. It certainly suited watching Scotland v. England on a big screen in a pub in Fort William. In Spoons, it beat Carlsberg’s relaunched ‘Danish Pilsner’ hands down, though the latter was just fine.
Of course this positive reaction is partly down to us taking pleasure in drinking a local product on holiday but, look, you know us by now – these days, we don’t force ourselves to drink things that aren’t actually giving us pleasure.