News, Nuggets & Longreads 1 December 2018: Stats, Social Clubs, Suburban Pubs

Here are all the blog posts, articles and news stories around beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from Norway, Maine, to Canley.

First, something with a bit of weight behind it: UK government’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published a report on the health of the pub market. The overall conclusion it reaches is that, yes, lots of pubs have closed in the past 20 years, but “the total turnover of pubs and bars has held up, remaining flat since 2008, once inflation is taken into account”.

There’s also an interactive tool which will give you a readout for your town or city, e.g.

ONS chart on Bristol pubs -- down from 375 to 285 since 2001.

The report suggests increasing employment in the pub trade might be down to the growth in food service, and a trend towards bigger rather than smaller pubs. (But we wonder if the introduction of RTI in 2013 might also be an influence, effectively ending  informal (unreported) employment in most sectors.)


Children's party at a social club.

Historian of clubs Ruth Cherrington has written about her memories of playing bingo with her parents at the Canley Social Club and Institute in Coventry, and what it all meant:

Our local club was conveniently situated just across the street from our house on a postwar council estate. Mum told us that Dad was thrilled to bits when plans for the clubs were drawn up in the late 1940s. Having a local place to drink and play games like billiards and cribbage over a pint or two meant he would no longer have to trek to his old haunts on the other side of town. Like many local men on the estate, he threw himself into setting up the new club on the land allocated by the Corporation specifically for that purpose. The club opened in a wooden hut in 1948 and affiliated to the Club and Institute Union in 1950.

(PDF, unfortunately.)


Norway, Maine, brewpub.

At Beervana Jeff Alworth has taken a moment to breathe and reflect on how ordinary it has become to find decent and interesting beer in unlikely places:

Human experience requires constant recalibration, and mine occurred about halfway through my dry-hopped pilsner, Impersonator. I was focused on the overly American hop character and lack of assertive malt flavor when it hit me: I am in a brewpub in Norway, Maine. My critical apparatus had been set to “world standards.” I quickly recalibrated to “18-month-old brewpub in rural Maine,” and all of a sudden it was looking mighty impressive. There were no flaws in that or any beers we tried, and part of my complaint was, admittedly, preference (I don’t want to taste IPA in my pilsner).


Debit card illustration.

We wrote about cashless/cardless pubs and bars earlier this week, and it’s a topic generally in the air. David Holden at Yes! Ale reports the reality on the ground where consumers are expected to carry both cash and cards if they expect to visit more than one venue in the course of an evening:

Yes, I had to go back out in the wind and rain but at least I am in a position to get cash out at six o’clock in the evening. I don’t have to go into an open branch to get cash. In Koelschip Yard I was in the position to open my wallet and draw a card out to make a payment. There are many reasons why not everyone can do this. These reasons may be why one potential customer has to “give this one a miss” or ask their mate “Do you mind getting the round in here?”.


Hofmeister lager.

And here’s another reality check, from Paul ‘no relation’ Bailey: beers that you can’t actually buy, even if you really, really want to, might as well not exist. His experience was with the award-winning revived version of Hofmeister.


Vintage illustration: McSorleys

We were surprised to come across someone this week who didn’t know Joseph Mitchell’s brilliant 1940 essay on New York City tavern McSorley’s, AKA ‘The Old House at Home’. So now, in what might be a one-off, or could become a regular feature, welcome to Classics Corner:

It is equipped with electricity, but the bar is stubbornly illuminated with a pair of gas lamps, which flicker fitfully and throw shadows on the low, cobwebby ceiling each time someone opens the street door. There is no cash register. Coins are dropped in soup bowls—one for nickels, one for dimes, one for quarters, and one for halves—and bills are kept in a rosewood cashbox. It is a drowsy place; the bartenders never make a needless move, the customers nurse their mugs of ale, and the three clocks on the walls have not been in agreement for many years.


And how can we not finish with Hilary Mantel doing her version of 20th Century Pub?

Want more reading? See Alan.

UK Brewery Numbers and Employment

The boom in the number of breweries in the UK has caused a buzz but isn’t the only important number: how many people are actually employed in making beer?

We pondered this question back in 2013 and it came up again recently in discussion at Jeffrey ‘Stonch’ Bell’s blog.

So we finally got out the copy of the BBPA Statistical Handbook 2012 we borrowed from Beer Today 18 months ago (sorry, Darren — we owe you several pints and your book back) and added some more recent numbers from the Business Register and Employment Survey (BRES) 2012 (revised) and the BBPA website to come up with this table:

Thousands employed in making beer (excl. malting) No. of Brewing Companies
1995 19.8 481
2000 19.5 500
2006 14.8 642
2007 13.9 667
2008 13.9 725
2009 15.1 745
2010 14 824
2012 13.4 1252

That suggests that, though there are more breweries than there have been since before World War II, the number of people employed in the industry is shrinking. In fact, we can put a rough number on it: in 1995, there were approximately 41.2 employees per brewery (EPB); in 2012, that was down to 10.7.

As to why that EPB number might have fallen, consider the picture illustrating this post: it’s from 1977 and shows men from Watney’s Mortlake brewery employed in the bottling hall, bottled beer transport division, road safety, the building department, draught beer transport… And there was a permanent team producing newsletters and magazines.

This isn’t necessarily bad news but it’s something to chew on.

Knowing our luck with dates and numbers lately, we’ve probably made a catastrophic miscalculation above. Let us know if/when you spot it in the comments below and we’ll fix it ASAP.

How Many Pubs Are We Actually Losing?

We were surprised to note from Ron Pattinson’s very useful compilation of beer- and pub-related statistics that the number of pubs in England and Wales increased in the forty years up to 2001.

What is particularly confusing is that numbers from the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) seem to show the opposite. Here they are plotted against each other on a graph:

Graph: UK Government statistics (England and Wales) via Ron Pattinson vs. numbers given by the  BBPA.
UK Government statistics (England and Wales) via Ron Pattinson vs. numbers given by the BBPA for the whole of the UK.

Perhaps the BBPA are defining ‘pubs’ very precisely? Guess we’ll have to save up for a copy of their Bumper Book of Statistics to find out.

We haven’t yet identified a set of UK Government figures that deal specifically with pubs over a very long period, but the graph below is based on their numbers for licences to sell alcohol in England and Wales for 1960 to 2010. (We’ve also used UK population stats from Wikipedia to give a rough on-licence-per-head indicator.)

Graph: on licenses, off licences and on licences per head.

Even assuming that a good number of those new licences are for cafes and restaurants, this doesn’t seem to show a catastrophic collapse in the number of places where booze is available.

This is, of course, just an early morning pondering session, and we’re not drawing any firm conclusions just yet, but we do have a theory: if pubs are closing en masse, it is in post-industrial communities, and is a symptom of localised economic decline rather than a wholesale rejection by communities of the very idea of the pub.

We’ll let Ron have the final word, from a note accompanying his statistics page: ‘All I can remember are pub closures and derelict boozers on every other corner. Just shows the value of subjective observations.’

Can anyone point to reliable statistics on the numbers of pubs opening and closing, ideally from a source other than an industry or lobbying group whose argument depends on a story of woe?