Friday, 23 May 2008

Smoked out

Someone complained to me that he had gone out into the rather limited outdoor drinking area of one particular pub and found it full of smokers. Now I couldn’t help thinking he was really talking to the wrong person, but this was something that was always going to be an inevitable consequence of the smoking ban. If they’re not allowed to smoke indoors, where else are they supposed to go?

If you don’t like the situation, then the best thing to do would be to campaign for the ban to be reversed so the smokers can have their own room inside - where they would prefer to be anyway - and those who enjoy fresh air can go outside. It also underlines the point that I made before the ban that it could not be regarded as a final settlement and there would inevitably be pressure for further restrictions on smoking - and thus further erosion of the trade of pubs.

The tipping point

This is an interesting report on comments by the chief executive of Mitchells & Butlers in which he says we have now reached a tipping point in terms of value for money between the on and off-trade. Up to a point, people have been prepared to pay more in the on-trade for atmosphere and conviviality - and, for some, the availability of cask beer - but the latest duty hike combined with the economic downturn are likely to push many drinkers over the edge. Already, much of the serious session drinking that used to take place in pubs has moved to private homes (and has also by and large moved from draught bitter to canned premium lagers).

Now, even ordinary social drinking is being called into question when in many outlets just a couple of pints will set you back over a fiver. I’m not exactly on the breadline, yet I do wonder where some of the people who seem to be in pubs most nights of the week get the money from. This is yet another factor that raises serious doubts over the long-term prospects for the wet trade in pubs. Maybe operators will have to realise that the days of year-on-year above inflation price rises are over, and they need to look at shifting many outlets to more of a “value proposition” along the lines of Samuel Smith’s and Holts.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Slipped differential

Not so long ago, it was axiomatic that beer prices in the South-East tended to be at least 50p a pint more than those around here. But recently, I’ve noticed the gap narrowing and even closing altogether. Many pubs in this area, especially those in the more affluent parts, seem to have put through inflation-busting rises that have resulted in £2.40 for a pint of ordinary bitter being commonplace. Yet recently I spent a few days in Buckinghamshire in and around Aylesbury, and found prices generally in the £2.50-£2.60 region. Indeed I encountered the premium Old Hooky in a fairly smart pub at a bargain £2.25, which you would be unlikely to find in a similar pub here. Price differentials now seem to have more to do with the perceived social status of the establishment than with geographical area.


I see Heineken are now looking at introducing 24 oz glasses so they can serve their beer with a “genuine Continental head”. It would be ironic, given all CAMRA’s futile campaigning on the subject, if the impetus for a revival of oversize glasses came not from the real ale sector but from lager.

Monday, 5 May 2008

It includes what?

I see that Stella Artois is now being advertised with the slogan "Only four ingredients - barley, hops, maize and water".


Now, I'm not one to argue that only all-malt beers are worth drinking, and indeed many of the finest British ales include brewing sugars. However, you would think that if they included an inferior substitute ingredient in the mash they wouldn't be so keen to shout it from the rooftops.

And whatever happened to yeast?

Maybe the likes of Beck's should get in with a campaign saying "Only four ingredients - barley, hops, yeast and water".