When I cut my beer-drinking teeth on Home Mild and Wards Bitter back in the 1980s, pubs were about beer. The chances of getting a gourmet meal, let alone a good quality wine or a decent coffee was, in most cases, remote. Actually, hardly anyone apart from posh people drank wine and, as a nation, our appreciation of good coffee was practically non-existent.
How things have changed as pubs have evolved to meet the needs and expectations of today’s consumers. These days tens of thousands of people spend hundreds of pounds a year on fancy coffees.
Over the recent bank holiday weekend I visited a local pub with my family where the service, food, beer, wine and coffee were every bit as good as I would expect from the very best restaurants. Pubs have upped their game and continue to evolve. While there will always be those ‘wet-led’ pub businesses which specialise in beer and don’t worry too much about their food offer, this is not the direction the overall market has taken.
You’ll understand my frustration then, that if you turn this on its head and look at the wider hospitality sector, a decent British craft brewed beer in a typical restaurant, hotel bar, sports club or some other ‘casual dining outlet’ is as rare as hen’s teeth.
OK, there are some, but generally speaking it is very much the exception to the rule.
With 1,500 of them almost every community has its own local brewery these days. It’s unfathomable that a hotel bar or a restaurant with a stunning wine list does not offer excellent beer from a British craft brewery, especially when SIBA’s research shows that a third of people would use restaurants more if they could get their hands on a decent craft-brewed beer.
As pubs sell great food, great coffee and great wine, it’s now time that the wider hospitality sector woke up to smell the beer. The global explosion in craft beer is the clearest possible indicator that it has entered the mainstream. Any licensed outlet not stocking beer from UK craft brewers is letting the beer revolution pass them by.
Innovation in brewing and packaging means great beer comes in all formats and that means it meets the needs of all businesses.
Pubs will always offer a unique amenity, not least in great conversation, but it’s only a matter of time before enjoying a selection of craft brewed beer in restaurants, hotel bars and elsewhere becomes the norm.
When this happens a whole new market for Britain’s craft breweries will be created.
Mike Benner is managing director of SIBA