Saturday 28 November 2015

7 out of 10 pubs serve real ale

Great news: research* has shown that 70% of pubs now serve real ale'. However, I note that CAMRA says that "micropubs [are] leading the way". I tend to find hyperbole irritating, and this statement is a good example. There are in the UK:
  • 53,444 pubs.
  • 37,356 pubs serving real ale.
  • 150 micropubs.
This means that micropubs represent 0.4% of real ale pubs. The oldest, the Butcher's Arms in Herne, Kent, is now 10 years old, and yet the turnaround in real ale's fortunes goes back a lot longer than that, as we all know. While I fully agree micropubs are a very welcome addition to the real ale scene, I am struggling to see precisely how they are leading the way. As this hype was contained in a CAMRA press release about the next Good Beer Guide, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised: commerce often supplants reality when you've a product to sell.

Still, the good news is that nowadays we generally don't have to hunt very hard to find a reasonable pint as we had to in the past. I say 'generally' because there are certain types of areas in the UK that remain real ale deserts, such as some economically depressed areas, many council estates and anywhere else devoid of a middle class voices and, more importantly, comfortable disposable incomes. The attitude is clearly any old smooth rubbish for the masses. 

* Research conducted using CAMRA's WhatPub database and CGA-CAMRA Pub Tracker.


  1. I'm going to call bullshit on that. I have a feeling I did that about three months ago when the figure was 55%. For the same reason - the existence of loads of pubs without real ale which are not on WhatPub. Still, a BrewDog opened yesterday in neighbouring Big Town, and it's freaking AWESOME. Well, pretty good, anyway. No real ale. Although it is (and I wonder if it is unique in this) underneath a Wetherspoon.

  2. It's like the article in this month's What's Brewing about key-keg which talks about the "renaissance of British brewing in the last ten years", presumably referring to the hundreds of "craft" and microbreweries which have opened, but completely ignoring the independent regional breweries which have been producing decent beer for far longer than that.

  3. Wetherspoon has about 2.5% of 'real ale pubs' but claims to sell 10% of cask beer by volume, so I'm more inclined to think that they are leading the way. It is more telling that cask volume is down by about 75% since 1973 (see Curmudgeon's posting on 19 November) and market share seems to have been around 17% of pub sales for many years - a diminishing or at best static volume spread across more pubs is hardly good news in terms of quality, although I would guess that average container size has been going down over the years. I would prefer CAMRA to concentrate on quality not quantity - the 'real ale pub' with a solitary handpump knocking out a pint of vinegar every now and then isn't doing much for the cause.

  4. I'd agree micro pubs are not relevant. Though they are a specific niche designed to appeal to a CAMRA type drinker, so will be seen as relevant by them.

    As for 70%. Cool. I'm all for choice. Whilst I drink cask beer, I wouldn't drink it in a lot of pubs. Plenty of pubs I go in I drink the cask. Plenty of pubs have 1 dusty pump and a room full of punters swerving it.

    What others have commented. Maybe quality is a greater success than quantity.

  5. I'd agree that quality is the issue nowadays, both the quality of the original product and the way it is kept.

    We seem to be going through a 'small is beautiful' phase, but I've had boring beers in micropubs. Small breweries are just as capable of producing bland or unattractive beers as larger ones: one in particular has yet to produce a single beer that I like.

  6. Surely there are a lot more than 150 micropubs now in total. Some are listed on the Micropub Association website, but there are many others which have not registered with them.

    1. I think you're probably right. CAMRA said in September "Hillier [who opened which the first micropub] 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."

      200 would take the percentage to 0.53%, which logically means that 99.47% of real ale pubs are not micropubs.

  7. Very good point about hyperbole, and in the comments about plenty of those 70% offering real ale not doing it very well consistently (even the ones in the Beer Guide).

    I suspect there have been nearly as many Marstons/Greene King/Spoons new builds in the last 2 years as Micropubs, whose beer quality isn't always as great as you might think.


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