Micropubs are both a throwback to the past and the way forward for pubs, according to micropub founder, Martyn Hillier. These small pubs, usually in converted shops, a butcher’s in Martyn’s case, focus primarily on cask ale and good conversation. The ales are often chosen by the customers themselves and are an additional outlet for breweries of all sizes, especially microbreweries.
Martyn set up the Butcher’s Arms in Herne Village, Kent, in 2005, with a small investment. He reckons it costs around £5,000 if you need to convert a shop and set up a cool room to store the beer. According to Martyn, it’s the ideal second career for a middle aged man (although some of the micro pubs are run by women) who has taken early retirement, lost his own local pub and wants something enjoyable to do with his time as well as being his own boss. Landlords of micropubs can choose their own hours as well as employing members of their families if they choose. All the micropubs have proved to be a success, and although they won’t make you wealthy, Martyn reckons he profits around £20,000 pa, they provide value to the community and to the economy, with a combined turnover of at least £6 million.
The essence of the micropub is its friendly atmosphere with a landlord that is always on hand, a choice of cask ales and no distractions such as music or gaming machines. The pubs are under the VAT threshold and can charge relatively low prices for their beer without being too cheap. Martyn points out that it’s easier to get a license than it was before 2005 and that it should be fairly easy to get change of use from a shop to a pub, and that even those who may object to the change of use, as they did to a planned micropub in Derby, can then become its regular customers once they recognise what a micropub has to offer.
In terms of stocking real ale, the Butcher’s Arms aims to have two or three regular ales and then a couple of new beers, as Martyn believes that his customers like continuity rather than being faced with a completely new range on every visit. The beers are served by gravity and anyone wanting a taster can try a small sample in the cold room direct from the cask. As you would expect the range changes according to season, meaning darker beers for winter and golden beers in the summer. Martyn selects beers by visiting beer festivals and pubs, but most importantly by listening to his customers who tell him what they like. Adnams delivers direct as do a number of microbrewers.
Martyn is evangelical in his approach and has set up the Micropub Association which offers advice on opening a micropub and hosts a website which lists all the micropubs. He has said that every microbrewery should have at least ten micro pubs as an outlet for their beer and is looking forward not just to the first 100 micropubs, but the first 10,000!
Update December 2014
The number of micropubs reached 100 in December 2014, see details of all the pubs here