New research released to mark the launch of the Good Beer Guide 2016, shows 70% of all pubs now serve real ale*, compared to just a third when the book was first published in 1975.
Rather than just traditional pubs going back to their roots though, it seems a different type of drinking establishment is gaining momentum and getting real ale into thirsty drinkers’ hands: The micropub.
The growth of micropubs – from zero ten years ago to a predicted 200 by the end of the year – has helped to get real ale into spaces a traditional pub couldn’t fit, filling the gaps on our high streets and improving choice for beer drinkers.
Roger Protz, Editor of the Good Beer Guide 2016 says: “Micropubs prove the old saying that ‘small is beautiful’. Many of them are based in disused buildings, they have low overheads and can offer beer at sharper prices than many traditional pubs. They have carved out a new relationship between drinkers, publicans and brewers.”
The first micropub, the Butcher’s Arms in Herne, Kent, is based, as the name suggests, in an old butcher’s shop. It was launched 10 years ago by Martyn Hillier, who was named CAMRA’s Campaigner of the Year for 2015 for his inspirational work in launching the Micropub Association and encouraging beer lovers to open small pubs in empty premises.
Hillier says there are well over 150 micropubs in the UK – all of which serve real – and that he expects this to grow to over 200 by the end of 2015.
“Micropubs go back full-circle to how pubs used to be, when people actually talked to one another. If you get fifteen people together in a nice environment then conversations are going to spark.” But Martyn is keen to stress that beer is equally important too “The quality of beer is parallel to the conversation and is the reason people visit in the first place – real ale is central to everything for us.”
The pub’s beer casks are mounted in the old butcher’s freezer room, where there’s room for just eight casks. Overhead’s are minimal and the biggest start-up investment was installing air conditioning to keep the beer fresh and cool, taking the total spend on the pub to just £5,000.
The single room pub has space for 10 people sitting and 20 standing. “The record number of customers has been 37 – and that was like being on a London Tube train!” Martyn says. See our interview with Martyn here.
The success of the Butcher’s Arms quickly spawned more micro-pubs in Kent. Herne Bay now has two while Margate has three and Dover four. A former funeral parlour in St Peter’s near Broadstairs lives up to its roots by specialising in holding wakes.
Prices are also kept keen by the low overheads and customers are involved in choosing what appears on the bar by requesting beers for the pub to order, with a focus on locally sourced micro-brewery beers.
Editor Roger Protz adds: “Micropubs are appearing like mushrooms at dawn and are offering beer lovers choice, keen prices and convivial meeting places. They now exist as far north as Northumbria, across into Lancashire, in Wales and the West Country. There are two in that bastion of beer-making, Burton-on-Trent, which is not short of traditional pubs as well.”
The Butcher’s Arms and over 4,500 other independently-selected pubs feature in this year’s Good Beer Guide.
*Research conducted using CAMRA’s WhatPub database and CGA-CAMRA Pub Tracker.
There are 53,444 pubs in the UK, of which 37,356 serve real ale. This equates to 69.89%.