The Dying British Pub?

There is little dispute that one of the reasons Portland is the country's best beer town is because we have such a vibrant pub culture. It creates a community of beer drinkers whose appreciation grows geometrically, rather than in bottle-by-bottle increments. Although I haven't run the data, I suspect a strong correlation exists between density of pubs and craft beer sales. Maybe it's just a matter of being an Oregonian, where local is best.

In any case, my spidey senses are going crazy over recent reports that pubs are dying off:

Pub closures have soared to a record high – 36 a week – as drinkers choose to buy cut-price alcohol for consumption at home.

The British Beer and Pub Association said 936 pubs ceased trading in the first six months of 2008. Pubs are shutting nine times faster than in 2006 and 18 times faster than in 2005.

The BBPA fears closures will gather pace, with the imposition of above-inflation rises in beer duty. Almost 2,000 pubs are expected to close by the end of the year. "There will be many thousands of closures – probably 6,000 in the next three or four years," warned Mark Brumby, a City analyst with Blue Oar Securities.

The reason, according to British beer writer Roger Protz, is supermarket discounts. His just-released Good Beer Guide suggests that they're actually selling beer at a loss to get new shoppers.

Since 2002 beer prices at off licenses and supermarkets have fallen by seven per cent, while pub prices have increased by 24 per cent, because of increased beer duties and red tape, the guide says...

"When a pub closes the community's heart is ripped out and dies," Protz said. "It's a particular problem in rural areas, where the village pub is the heart of the community. People go to pubs for friendship, conversation, to enjoy an affordable meal, or just quietly read a newspaper."

The Bright Side
Much like in America, there seem to be two beer cultures. The one that's being threatened appears to be the mass-market variety. The Sun reports that "punters" stay at home to save money and also to smoke (which has been banned in pubs). Most of the deep supermarket discounts are on big national brands or imports like Foster's. (Another factor: there also may be a glut of pubs now, as well--there are more pubs at any time since WWII.)

On the craft side of the slate, however, things are looking rosier:
More than 70 new small brewers have opened in the past year, according to 2009 Camra Good Beer Guide published today. Such is the proliferation that the UK now has 550 breweries – more than at any point since 1945. And while lager sales are falling, with a 10 per cent plunge for the leading lager Stella Artois, bitter ale brewed by members of the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) rose 11 per cent in 2007.
So maybe things are just coming into equilibrium, as British beer drinkers trade in their Foster's and pick up some tasty draft cask.
Jeff AlworthEngland, News2 Comments