Monday, 15 June 2015

Reflections on Merseyside GBG pubs

Flicking through the current Good Beer Guide (GBG), I wondered out of curiosity how many of its
pubs I'd been to. I'll never know because I'm not going to spend days ploughing through the whole thing, so I decided to limit myself to Merseyside, which took about 10 minutes. I live in Southport at the northern end of Sefton, which also includes Formby, Crosby, Bootle, Maghull and Aintree. Yes, Aintree race course is in Sefton, not Liverpool.

In Southport itself, my record is 100%, as you'd expect, and in Liverpool city centre, all but one (the Clove Hitch on Hope Street), but I decided to work it out by Merseyside's five constituent boroughs:
  • Sefton: 18 out of 19. *
  • Liverpool: 21 out of 26. #
  • Knowsley: 0 out of 2.
  • Wirral: 1 out of 16.
  • St Helens: 2 out of 7.
  • Whole of Merseyside: 60%.
My first thought was how my pub visits within Merseyside have rarely ventured into three (Knowsley, St Helens and Wirral) out the five boroughs, for which I have little excuse since public transport in Merseyside is generally quite good. 

My next thought was how uneven the distribution of real ale pubs is in Merseyside, with the whole of Knowsley having only two pubs in the GBG, and St Helens seven. If I were to try to explain it, I'd suggest that the greater the economic deprivation, the fewer the real ale pubs. Even in better-served boroughs such as Liverpool and Sefton, there are fewer real ale pubs in the less well-off parts; for example, Kirkdale has one in contrast to Liverpool city centre's nineteen, and in Sefton, Bootle has two while Southport has nine.

A simplistic explanation would be that real ale is mainly a middle class concern, but from experience I wouldn't agree. It would be wrong to assume that everyone who lives in Southport or who drinks in Liverpool city centre is middle class and therefore well off - they're not - but in areas where there is generally considerably less disposable income, there is less room for choice. I've lived in Kirkby in Knowsley, and there are far fewer pubs than in Southport, and I get a similar impression when I've been to Huyton, also in Knowsley.

My conclusion, based I'll admit on subjective observations rather than hard statistical facts, is that the uneven distribution is economic rather than class-based. This is not splitting hairs: being working class does not automatically mean being poor, just as being middle class is no guarantee of being well-off, even though in both instances there can be some correlation. The fact that non-real ale pubs in economically disadvantaged areas are often struggling and sometimes closing, even though there are often fewer to begin with, suggests that lack of money is the problem, not a class-based dislike of poncy real ale, because that hadn't been an option anyway. 

It's surprising what thoughts my casual flick through the GBG has provoked, but they are only my opinions, not a sociological thesis.

* - The one exception is the Frank Hornby, a Wetherspoons in Maghull.
# - I mean all of Liverpool here, not just the city centre.


  1. But why are the pubs in less well-off areas less likely to serve cask beer in the first place? After all, like-for-like it's no dearer than keg (often cheaper) and this certainly wasn't the case thirty or forty years ago.

  2. In my experience (despite Pi's accusation of me only going to middle class pubs), pubs in less prosperous areas sometimes pay less for keg beer that's getting close to the sell-by date. How do I know? A couple of licensees have told me.

    In addition, wastage with keg is much less than cask, because if you don't sell a keg in a week, it won't have gone off, unlike cask. Even if you pay the same price as cask, you'll never have to pour undrunk keg beer down the drain. If your turnover is nothing like a busy city centre pub, you're not going to risk your meagre income pouring rancid cask - and money - away.

    30 or 40 years ago we didn't have smoothflow, the saviour of keg ales.

  3. Another factor was probably the shift from brewery to pubco ownership. A brewery may have an interest from an image point of view in as high a proportion of its pubs as possible serving real ale, whereas a pubco isn't really that concerned.


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