"Sticking my head out of the trench, I peered out into the gloom of no-man’s land in an attempt to see what the other side were up to. To my utter amazement a group of botanists were wandering about, clearly engrossed in excitable debate; presumably over some new plant species they’d discovered. Whatever it was it must have been pretty special as all appeared oblivious to the bullets and shells flying all around them."
I have to admit I don’t really know any beer writers personally but their love of beer is self-evident and such passion is to be applauded. However, what I find difficult to comprehend is why people who profess to have such a love affair with hop-based products appear so reticent to enter into the debate surrounding pub closures?
Their stance appears to be ‘we love beer don’t want to get involved in the whole pubco debate’. My response to this would be if they’re as passionate about pubs and beers as they claim then they have little option but to get involved.
Several years ago I watched a highly revealing documentary about the fashion industry where obsession with self-congratulations and sycophantic back slapping were the order of the day. All followers of fashion appeared overcome by a seemingly overwhelming compulsion to quite literally fall over themselves in their haste to heap praise upon some designer’s latest collection.
'Ooohs' and 'Aaahs' it seems are the only acceptable response. And of course if you ‘Oooh’ and ‘Aaah’ loud enough you get invited to all the best parties.
Unfortunately, awkward issues such as sweat shops, where people toil in miserable conditions for a pittance, or malnourished models agonising over whether to eat a biscuit or have yet another cigarette to quell hunger pangs are conveniently ignored.
So my dilemma is this. How can writers who claim to be passionate about beer display such little regard for establishments that allow their beloved drink to be savoured in a unique atmosphere that is the British pub?
Presumably they conclude it’s not their fight. If so, then it’s a convenient cop out. The issues surrounding tied pubs affect us all, whether we like it or not.
- Whenever you walk in a pub and pay over the odds for a pint it affects you.
- Whenever you walk in a pub and find a highly restricted choice of beers on offer it affects you.
- Whenever an aspiring new brewer can’t get their product to your pub because they can’t afford to offer the level of discount pubcos are demanding it affects you.
- Whenever you walk in a pub and note the obvious lack of investment it affects you.
- Whenever you walk in a pub and find yet another churned landlord in place it affects you.
- Whenever a pubco sells yet another of its assets to a supermarket chain or property developer with scant regard for the needs of the local community it affects you.
Closures are reaching epidemic proportions yet the issues surrounding pub closures and the plight of tied tenants continue to be met with stony silence by those whose sole preoccupation appears to be the analysis of the latest products to come onto the market.
Is it possible that any still remain blissfully unaware of the catastrophe that is unfolding around them?
I find that rather difficult to believe. In his latest column for the PMA, Phil Dixon makes reference to a beer that generates a mere 33.7% profit margin for a tenant whilst acknowledging that paying the rent and making a profit on these figures is a “conundrum” he can’t solve.
The fact of the matter is such low margins merely highlight what campaigners have been saying for some considerable time - the incentive for tied tenants to sell beer has all but gone.
Rob Willlock’s point with regard to the annual pubco beer escalator is equally valid. The industry has made much of punitive government fiscal policy in recent times, rather less about the continual price hikes that allow pubcos and brewers to offset the impact of plummeting volumes.
This conflict of interest illustrates a fundamental flaw of the tied model.
On the one hand we have pubcos, willing and able to hike prices, on the other licensees desperate to see prices come down in order to have any chance of survival.
For the tied model to work trust and fairness must exist. Unfortunately the system is geared to allow one side to continuously manipulate it at the expense of the other. The net result is that the only beneficiaries of tied tenants selling beer are pubcos and brewers.
Of course no consideration is given for the impact of such short sightedness upon their ‘partners’. In fact it is difficult to see how the concept of ‘partnership’ can fit into this particular equation.
Of course it doesn’t. Much of the carnage we are currently witnessing can be directly attributed to a business model that continues to restrict consumer choice and grossly inflates the retail cost of beer; allowing pubcos and brewers to line their pockets at the expense of both tenants and consumers.
Does the fact that tied tenants have long since lost any incentive to sell their beloved pint not get the alarm bells ringing for the multitude of beer writers out there?
If it doesn’t then it should. I know of a number of tenants that have chosen to take up the FOT option on bottles – unsurprisingly barrel sales in these outlets have dropped like the proverbial stone as landlords push bottled beer and lager products in a desperate attempt to boost margin.
The purists might turn their noses up at such practices but it is a trend that is likely to continue as more and more tenants feel obliged to shun the barrel and embrace the bottle in order to ensure the nostrils remain above the waterline.
Many beer writers appear at best complacent, at worst disinterested in the plight of tied tenants. Perhaps they’re content to continue accompanying Emperor Nero on stage with their collection of musical instruments?
However, there is a ray of hope out there. A recent article by Roger Protz shows that one beer writer at least feels the time has come to discard the lyre and adopt a more global outlook.
The time has surely come for others to follow his lead.