Categories
pubs

Lateral flow before you go

We’re writing this because it seems not everyone knows you can order more or less as many COVID-19 lateral flow tests as you like, for free.

Along with vaccines, which are understandably getting more attention, this is potentially a gamechanger in trying to prevent what we saw last summer – a slow build up of cases which, as we learned the hard way, can easily turn into something worse.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of doing one of these tests, it’s a bit fiddly first time, but we’ve now got into the rhythm of it. You get a result in 30 minutes.

We’re being encouraged to do them twice a week and report the results – but you don’t have to, if you’re worried about the government abusing your data.

They are not always reliable, and a negative test should not be seen as a green light to do what you want. However, if everyone who was going to socialise did one before they went out, and then didn’t go out if they tested positive, that could play a significant role in suppressing any third wave.

It’s not mandatory – at the moment, anyway – but feels like it’s something we could all do, pretty easily, to help protect our fellow customers, hospitality workers and society more generally.

We’ll certainly be doing them regularly. Anything to help pubs stay open for good and make them really feel safe.

Categories
breweries opinion

Recognition, demand and supply

It’s probably too soon to make this point but… Some breweries have done better than others in the past year, haven’t they?

It’s been a rotten year for everyone, obviously, but nonetheless it feels as if there have been, relatively speaking, winners and losers.

Now, because it’s bad taste to boast, not many breweries are admitting to having adapted to the difficult circumstances of 2020 with any success. We did, however, notice this interesting piece on an accounting industry institute body’s website:

All that time spent on spreadsheets modelling scenarios paid off in May. This is when we switched our bars/taprooms to bottle shops. As only one staff member is needed to manage a bottle shop, it’s kept costs low. They’ve done an amazing trade because they’re based in suburban areas. With everybody working from home, customers regularly visit on their daily walks.

And Jeff Alworth has covered some similar stories from the US:

We breweries of course sell beer by the case, and here in Oregon you can buy three cases at a time, per person.  So it’s pretty easy to stock up with minimal trips out of your house. I don’t think any of us realized this advantage when this all started. But in my mind it explains everything about why breweries were able to better survive this economic/epidemic crisis. Sure, delivery helps. But restaurants can do that as well and they haven’t fared nearly as well as we have. It’s funny, because it reminds me of the fact that for hundreds of years one of the main reasons people drank beer was because it’s safer than water. During this past year it’s been safer to pick up beer at the brewery than food at a restaurant—again due to the packaged durability of beer.

Breweries that rely entirely on the pub trade have obviously been at a disadvantage but those which rely on a certain type of pub trade even more so. The cut-price cask ale merchants, that is, whose beers nobody is ever delighted to see on the bar, but which they might tolerate at £2.50 a pint when everything else is a quid more expensive. Makers of rough and/or dull beer designed to please landlords with margin to make rather than drinkers. Let’s be honest, we’ve got Wickwar in mind, now deceased, but you’ve probably got a local equivalent.

Those which have done better, we suspect, are those whose names live near the front of everybody’s minds – the ones with fans, the ones that people will cross town to drink.

We ordered a box of Oakham beers this week, for example, because we haven’t had a pint of Citra in more than a year and missed it. In the past year we’ve also ordered from, among others:

  • Thornbridge (reliably great)
  • Good Chemistry (local, interesting beer, reminds us of The Good Measure)
  • Lost & Grounded (local, proper lager)
  • Fyne Ales (Jarl, Jarl, Jarl)
  • Elusive (varied styles, always interesting)
  • Cheddar (local, solid, reminds us of The Drapers Arms)
  • Bristol Beer Factory (local, reliable, reminds us of The Grain Barge)
  • Harvey’s (Sussex Best is the best)
  • St Austell (in honour of Roger Ryman, reminds us of Penzance)

We have tried to find ways to explore new breweries – selection boxes from online retailers, our standing order with The Drapers Arms delivery service – but when you’ve got to choose your weekend beer no later than Tuesday, you tend to stick to what you can trust.

As well as good beer, and the ability to distribute packaged beer directly to consumers, the breweries on the list above are known and liked. (Or were, at least, until the small brewers duty relief disaster.) They’re either old and venerated almost by default or they’ve invested serious time and energy into making themselves known through strong branding and an active online presence.

It will be interesting to see what’s on offer in UK pubs this time in 2022. Could there be (again, feels rude to say it) a survival of the fittest effect? Or will we find ourselves missing beers we couldn’t order to drink at home, or forgot existed?

Categories
pubs

The value of the unattainable pint

A full year has now passed since our last pre-lockdown pub trip during which time we’ve developed a little game we play when we’re out walking: how much would you pay for a pint in that pub over there, right now?

A normal pint, that is, under pre-plague circumstances – just one hour of normality, arranged, we assume, by some red-nosed relative of the ghosts from Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

Back in April 2020, it was The Crafty Cow that first prompted the question. A big Greene King pub on Horfield Common in North Bristol, the Cow isn’t a pub we especially like. But after a month without any pubs, it suddenly began to look quite appealing.

“Twenty quid,” was Ray’s answer.

“Meh… Ten,” said Jess.

Well, what about a pint in The Drapers Arms? Ah, now, that’s different. At least £75, we both agreed. By May, it had crept up to £100 and even the Crafty Cow was looking like a £50-a-pint delight.

Last week, having not drunk in (outside) a pub since early October, we asked ourselves the question again as our constitutional took us past The Oxford in Totterdown and concluded that, Christ, we’d probably pay £200 to be able sit inside and drink a single pint of Bristol Beer Factory Fortitude with a packet of crisps.

Playing this game is almost painful, at times. It also usually leads to the melancholy thought that, actually, if there was a cash-based system for temporarily restoring normality, we’d use it to see our parents in Somerset and London respectively.

But perhaps it also bodes well for the fate of pubs in the long run. Not only are people dreaming about them but they’re also itching to spend. Or maybe that’s just us.

Categories
bristol pubs

Notes on pubs in Tier 1+

Humans are terrible at risk assessment, aren’t they?

People who were not going out when new cases were at around 20-30 a day and were stable or falling, are now happily visiting pubs with cases at 250 a day and rising. Great British Common Sense in action.

Graph of cases in Bristol showing steep rise.

Daily cases in Bristol as of 30 October 2020 via Public Health England.

At the time of writing, Bristol is in something the local authorities are calling ‘Tier 1+’ and is, we think, the biggest English city not to be facing higher-level restrictions.

We’re not really sure why – the rate of infection is actually higher than in some Tier 3 locations.

It’s possibly because hospital admissions remain low (although we know how that goes) or perhaps we just haven’t flashed up on the superforecasting spreadsheet yet.

Tier 1 isn’t completely unrestricted. It still requires pubs and restaurants to be closed by 10, seated table service and masks to be worn when not seated. As for who’s allowed to meet where… Well, this is part of the issue.

We seem to have moved completely away from principles – try to minimise your social contacts – and into a series of overlapping and confusing rules that give the impression that all is well and that you have permission to socialise.

This, plus limited support for pubs, along with a sense that it might all be taken away any day now, creates this weird moral pressure for consumers like us who love pubs and desperately want them to survive.

We’re not the only people we know who have upped our pub-going in the last month, despite the fact that it’s almost certainly more dangerous now in Bristol than it’s ever been.

Even in the comparative luxury of Tier 1, things certainly don’t feel normal.

We spent an hour in a pub in a student area on Saturday afternoon, sitting outside near the entrance, and saw some perhaps understandably bizarre behaviour.

“How many are you?” asks the bouncer.
“Er… two groups of four.”
(The limit is six.)

Then there was this:

“Please put a mask on if you’re standing up and moving about the pub.”
“I can’t. I’m only going for a fag. Uh, I’ve lost it.”
“Have a disposable one.”
“Ugh, fine, whatever.”
The mask is crammed into a pocket.

The staff were working so hard, and doing their utmost to stay cheerful, but it must be utterly soul destroying dealing with this lack of consideration, day in, day out, while knowing you’re still probably not making enough with reduced opening hours to pay the necessary army of greeters and serving staff.

Having said that, a few times lately, we’ve gone out with the intention of supporting our favourite pubs only to find them too busy to accommodate us.

It’s good news for them, maybe, but also worrying.

When you see a pub full to (reduced) capacity with condensation running down the windows you can’t help but think… What the hell are we doing?

This was inspired by Rowan Molyneux’s excellent piece about moving into Tier 2.

Categories
pubs

Could all this help the neighbourhood pub?

Is it wrong to poke around in the ruins looking for something to be optimistic about? Maybe, possibly, all this will help revive the neighbourhood corner pub.

Of course we can only ever be tentative and won’t be remotely surprised if things go in the opposite direction, towards disaster, but indulge us.

First, we know that city centres are struggling as many people continue to work from home.

The narrative has coalesced around coffee and sandwich shops but central pubs, too, rely on commuters hanging around for a pint or two with colleagues.

Without birthday drinks and leaving drinks and fuck-it-it’s-Thursday drinks, they’re reliant on determined, deliberate pubgoers.

The few times we’ve been into town lately, pubs and bars have seemed quiet – handy for distancing purposes but not if you want to pay staff, pay suppliers and keep the lights on.

Local pubs out in the suburbs, meanwhile, though also struggling, seem to be doing a little better.

After all, sticking your nose in at the local is low commitment: you wander round and if there’s space, you stay; if not, you wander on, or get takeaway. And if it gets uncomfortably crowded, you can go home.

The Foresters Arms, a pub near us, has struggled through the last few years with periods of closure, changes of management and a basic Guinness-n-sport offer in an area which has all but fully gentrified.

Now, though, it’s buzzing seven days a week. We’ve never seen it so busy or so alive. Peeking through the side door on our daily walks we’ve noticed quite a few of the regulars from The Drapers Arms in the (sensibly distanced) crowd – not their first choice, perhaps, but maybe somewhere they’ve come to appreciate in recent months.

We’ve certainly become less fussy. On Monday, at the end of a long walk to Keynsham, we ended up drinking Peroni in an edge-of-town pub and loving it. Well organised, spacious and friendly beats central in 2020.

On that note, we’ve also wondered if this might be the saving of some of those big inter-war pubs you find on the outskirts of towns.

A year ago, people talked about ‘rattling round sterile barns’.

Now, as our ideas of busy and close have been forcibly re-calibrated, that’s distinctly more appealing.