Marvellous Micropubs

 ‘A Micropub is a small freehouse which listens to its customers, mainly serves cask ales, promotes conversation, shuns all forms of electronic entertainment and dabbles in traditional pub snacks’ – Micropub Association

There seems to be a sense of impending doom of late when discussing the state of the pub industry, mostly because so many are closing (reportedly up to 29 a week) However, there has been something of a quiet revolution happening that should be of great encouragement to pub-lovers everywhere – the rise of the micropub.

The trend kicked off back in 2005 when Martyn Hillier decided to convert his off-license in what was formerly a 14ft by 12ft Butcher’s shop in Herne Bay, Kent, into a pub, but a very particular type of pub. He didn’t want to serve lager or have any form of entertainment, just a place where people who appreciate good beer could come for a pint and a chat. The mircopub was born. Since then these pint-sized pit-stops have become the venue of choice for beer lovers who pine for the more traditional British pub experience.

For a start, they have stripped back all the gimmicks meaning no TV screens, no menus, no music – just as Hilliar intended. Good ale and good company are the order of the day. The ‘good company’ part is a real selling point of the micropub, encouraging conversation and integration, which is not difficult when you consider the super confined environments (more on that later).

Micropubs continue to shy away from the entertainment route of sports and fruit machines, instead focusing their attentions on creating a retreat from the everyday demands of our modern day hyper-connected lives. Some even go so far as to outlaw electronics completely, One Inn the Wood in Petts Wood, Greater London, has a charity fine box where people are expected to deposit a donation should they use their mobile phone on the premises. You have been warned.

Of course, the ‘good ale’ part is very important, too. Quality of beer is something that these pubs pride themselves on, and the level of expectation that comes with being a micropub means they very much live or die by their selection and upkeep. Thankfully, from what i have seen and heard, the majority seem to be rising to the challenge. Not being tied to any particular brewery means they can stock whatever they want from whoever they want. Unsurprisingly that usually means local beers from local breweries, therefore supporting the local economy while also maintaining the quality of the product through shorter delivery journeys – everyone’s a winner!

Now, back to those super confined environments. Cleverly taking advantage of the Licensing Act of 2003 with the intention of keeping overheads to a minimum, landlords tend to set up shop in small spaces no bigger than your average high street sweet shop. But as well as saving money on rates, the snug spaces influence the interactions of the clientele. Such close proximity to your table neighbours naturally encourages a convivial atmosphere and generally makes it feel more like a gathering in a friend’s kitchen rather than various separate groups who happen to be in the same building.

And you don’t have to worry about what you’re going to talk about because often the quirky choices of location lead to some rather interesting backstories. I recently visited a newly opened micropub in Southend that used to be the town’s public toilet – lots of chatter stemming from that one. Other notable histories include a former left-luggage room in a North-East metro station, the prison of an 800-year-old priory, and the former stable block of a funeral directors which still sits adjacent. A little bit of quirk is always a good conversation starter.

These qualities are what add to the overall appeal of the micropub, and the good news is, they are succeeding. My local micropub, The Office, was named CAMRA’s North East Pub of the Year 2017. No small feat when you consider the former town toll-house, which can hold around 30 people at capacity, only opened in 2014. And they aren’t alone – micropubs have become a fixture of many of the CAMRA award categories and this month it has been announced that Wigan Central have made it to the final for National Pub of the Year.

They may not be for everyone, but they are undeniably serving a demographic which was otherwise neglected. And with the number currently standing upwards of 300, and an all-time high of applications being submitted, it would seem that this new corner of the market shows no signs of slowing down, which is music to the ears of many – myself included. Long live the micropub!

Find a marvellous micropub near you.

Star Pubs & Pubs Awards 2017

This year’s Star Pub & Bar Award winners have been announced, honouring licencees working with Star Pubs & Bars. With 14 categories ranging from Best Cask Pub to the somewhat more modern Best Use of Social Media the awards cover all manor of efforts made by pubs throughout the year. Edinburgh’s Barrelhouse Bar & Grill took the top award of Star Pub of the year.

Complete list of winners:

Best Bar Team
Caygill & Smith, Barrelhouse Bar & Grill, Edinburgh

Live Sports Venue
Blind Tiger Inns, The Talbot, Euxton, Lancashire

Team Training 
Hickory’ Smokehouse, Hickory’s Smokehouse at Burton Green

Heart of the Community
Tony and Michelle Grierson, The Reiver, Carlisle

Famous for Food
Claire Hall, the Spread Eagle, North Shields

Most Family Friendly
Graham Anderson and Sharon Stanton, the Eastfield Inn, Bristol

Best Outdoor Pub
Edward O’Neill, The Crown Inn, Farnham Royal, Buckinghamshire

Pint Perfection
Dianne Irving, the White Mare, Beckermet, Cumbria

Best Cask Pub
Wickwar Wessex Pub Company, The Jersey Lily, Bristol

Marketing
Iain Pert and PG Taverns, The Jolly Botanist, Edinburgh

Best Use of Social Media
Nick Livingstone, 7 Saints, Prestwick, South Ayrshire

Best Newcomer
John Corbett and Natasha Gleeson, The Rose & Crown, Heston, London

Retailer of the Year
Martyn and Lynda Cripps, The Longboat Inn, Penzance, Cornwall

Star Pub of the Year
Caygill & Smith, Barrelhouse Bar & Grill, Edinburgh

 

You should eat out today – A case study

The Sunday roast is a staple of the British week and regularly voted one of the best things about us (even beating a cup of tea and queuing – which are definitely things we enjoy as a nation). But as much as a home-made dinner is lovely, it has its downsides and sometimes the best option is to just head down the pub. But if you are struggling to convince yourself that outsourcing is the right thing to do on this lazy Sunday, I have complied this handy list of supporting arguments that should do the trick. Ahem…

1: No cooking

Let’s start with the obvious – you don’t have to do anything. Don’t get me wrong, I know that some people find cooking enjoyable, therapeutic even (I am not one of them, but each to their own) and home-cooked food is by far one of the best things on earth when done well. That being said, having a delicious roast dinner appear in front of you as if by magic with absolutely no effort on your part is a joy that everyone deserves to experience once in a while. Preferably on a Sunday when you probably can’t be bothered to do anything.

2: No dishes 

There is no enjoyable way to do the dishes – this is an unfortunate fact of life. Scraping all the plates and trying to figure out where is best to start so you don’t have to replace the manky water after 2 minutes. Then to add insult to injury a piece of soggy food has the audacity to touch your hand *shudder*. No thank you. And don’t think owning a dishwasher makes it any better. It takes approximately 200 pieces of kitchenware to make and consume a Sunday dinner and none of them were designed to fit in your appliance together. Then after all that you end up having to wash the pans by hand anyway so you’re back to square one. In the pub, the dishes disappear as magically as they arrived. Ta-Da!

3: There’s always one…

People have preferences because people are annoying. I can say that because I am one of those annoying people. I (controversially?) prefer mash to roasties, enjoy over-cooked beef and NEED to have mint sauce on absolutely everything – heathen. Trying to kindly and calmly adhere to these kinds of predilections whilst balancing 7 pans of veggies on a 5-hob stove is a bit of a nightmare and you deserve better. Unfortunately, you can’t swap your family, so if you are forced to entertain such bothersome guests, the pub is where those things are no longer your problem. Et voila, everyone is fed and happy and you don’t find yourself screaming into a tea-towel in between peeling carrots.

4: Alcohol on tap – literally

What do you fancy? Beer? Wine? G&T? Whatever it is, they’ll probably have it. And even if they don’t, they’ll have something else that you didn’t even know you wanted but you definitely do now. It beats resorting to the half empty bottle of Chardonnay someone left in the fridge after that party you had in the summer.

And finally, …

5: Two words 

Dessert.Board – “Oh, hello there, yes, I’ll have one of everything, thank you.”

So there you have it, if that doesn’t convince you, nothing will.

Happy Sunday Funday!

Britain’s Most Dog Friendly Pub!

Stopping off for a couple of pints while out for a nice walk with the dog is one of life’s little pleasures, so it is no surprise that dog-friendly pubs are becoming more and more popular in the UK. A survey conducted by DogBuddy.com – the online dog-sitting platform – has found that 64% of dog owners research dog-friendly pubs before paying them a visit, which makes sense considering 38% say that they have left or been asked to leave a pub due to a no-dog policy.

But for those establishments who do welcome our four-legged friends, DogBuddy has decided to show some appreciation and, for the second year now, have awarded pubs up and down the country with regional titles leading to a national winner. The initial vote is open to the public with the final decision of overall winner being left to a panel of experts from the RSPCA, Snuffle Dog Beer, The Morning Advertiser, Your Dog magazine, and Richard Setterwall, founder of DogBuddy.com.

Well, today that winner was crowned, and the honour has been bestowed upon the Fox & Hounds in Theale. The general manager, Jayne Tilsley, is said to be delighted with the award and emphasised the how much she and other staff members enjoy the company of a good pub dog – with or without their owner. She told The Morning Advertiser “Our neighbour’s dog, Lord Dobbington of Sunnyside, regularly brings himself to the pub for a solo visit.” Which I think is officially the best quote I have ever seen in print.

For their triumph the Fox & Hounds will receive a DogBuddy “Dog-friendly Pub” national winner plaque and trophy, as well as a year’s supply of dog treats, delivered directly to the pub, which I’m sure Lord Dobbington and friends will appreciate immensely.

Click here to find pooch loving pubs near you.

Autumn Internationals: Fixtures & TV coverage

Week 1

Saturday 4th November

Japan v Australia

International Stadium, Yokohama

5:40am

Barbarians v New Zealand 

Twickenham, London – Live on Sky Sports

3:00pm

Week 2

Saturday 11th November

 Italy v Fiji

Stadio Angelo Massimino, Catania

2:00pm

 Scotland v Samoa

BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh – Live on BT Sport/BBC

2:30pm

 England v Argentina

Twickenham Stadium, LondonLive on Sky Sports

3:00pm

Wales v Australia

Principality Stadium, CardiffLive on BBC/S4C

5:15pm

Ireland v South Africa

Aviva Stadium, Dublin – Live on Sky Sports

5:30pm

France v New Zealand

Stade de France, Paris

7:45pm

Week 3

 Tuesday 14th November

France v New Zealand

Parc OL, Lyon

6:30pm

Saturday 18th November

Italy v Argentina

Stadio Artemio Franchi, Florence

 2:00pm

Wales v Georgia

Principality Stadium, Cardiff Live on BBC/S4C

2:30pm

England v Australia

Twickenham, LondonLive on Sky Sports

3:00pm

Scotland v New Zealand

BT Murrayfield Stadium, EdinburghLive on BT Sport/BBC

5:15pm

Ireland v Fiji

Aviva Stadium, Dublin – Live on Sky Sports

5:30pm

France v South Africa

Stade de France, Paris

7:45pm

Week 4

Saturday 25th November

Italy v South Africa

Stadio Euganeo, Padova

 2:00pm

 Scotland v Australia

BT Murrayfield Stadium, EdinburghLive on BT Sport/BBC

2:30pm

England v Samoa

Twickenham, LondonLive on Sky Sports

3:00pm

Wales v New Zealand

 Principality Stadium, Cardiff Live on BBC/S4C

5:15pm

Ireland v Argentina

Aviva Stadium, Dublin – Live on Sky Sports

5:30pm

France v Japan

U Arena, Paris

7:45pm

Week 5

Saturday 2nd December

Wales v South Africa

Principality Stadium, CardiffLive on BBC/S4C

 2:30pm

 

Please note: All kick-off times are shown in GMT