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?