In 2020, I can officially celebrate 10 years of being paid to write about beer and pubs.
I tell you this because, of course, I want you to raise a pint with me, but also as it got me thinking about the relative merits of looking back as well as forwards. This led to it dawning on me that new year’s resolutions would be better made in autumn than January – to give us all time to prepare for putting grand plans into action. But real life is rarely that well organised, something busy licensees and bar staff know only too well.
Nevertheless, there follows a look ahead to the coming year – although it’s fair to say it’s more wish list than ‘Mystic Soph’ predictions.
I’ve been inspired by news from Thornbridge Brewery that it will celebrate 15 years of brewing with a monthly collaboration cask beer. Even more so that they’ve chosen to do this with other breweries of a certain pedigree, with names such as St Austell, Timothy Taylor’s, Harvey’s, Adnams, Burning Sky and Rooster’s among them. I’ll admit that not all the beers strike me as the most obvious choice for cask ale recipes, but of all the incoming beer news I’ve received lately, this is the most exciting. My challenge will be finding pubs to try them all in.
Cue first of my wish-list items: with the digitally obsessed age we live in, someone must soon invent a platform (to include standard website and mobile app) for pubs to post genuinely up to date information on what cask ales they are currently serving. It should probably involve cellar-based tech that would enable beer name, brewery and ABV to be uploaded, along with time and date, in one click as the relevant beer goes on sale. One thing that won’t change is that cask beer drinkers are pub-goers. The dearth of information about what’s currently on the bar continues to amaze me and I’m sure pubs miss out on custom for want of spreading the word.
Don’t forget the ladies
Persuading women that the pub – and beer – is for them, remains a hill to climb but something licensees must not ignore. This year is the 50th Anniversary of the first Women’s Liberation conference in the UK but how many pubs will be bold and creative enough mark it?
Low and no-alcohol beer seems to be on a massive roll – which shows no signs of abating in 2020. Its first boost of the new year comes from news that those overlords of UK craft beer, BrewDog, are upping their stake in the category with the opening of a dedicated alcohol-free bar in London. Despite BrewDog’s spin being ‘Drink All You Can Jan’ and calling it their ‘anti Dry January’, I fear any endorsement of going dry might amount to pubs shooting themselves in the foot. The industry might do well to be circumspect about the trend and try to see beyond the short-term gains. For example, might we be told that selling more low and no-alcohol beer is the solution to the beer duty issue and there’s no need to cut tax?
The outlook for the year ahead is rosy and positive if you ask leaders in the sector, or so they seemed to be telling The Morning Advertiser but, for the first half of the year at least, I anticipate people will batten down their financial hatches and be careful what and where they spend. Pubs will need to work especially hard to get people through the door this year.
Beer quality will be fundamental. If someone has less to spend and can only afford a pint or two, those pints (whether cask or keg) need to be the best or they won’t return.
Food quality will be another bone of contention. If your pub grub is little better than a microwave meal, this year might be when customer patience wears thin. My hope is pubs can rise to the challenge and will look at pop-ups or chef takeovers as a potential solution. Get it right now and customers will remain loyal when finances aren’t so tight.
My personal resolution is a sort of back-to-basics one. I’ll be on a mission to rediscover the simple pleasure of beer and pubs, that’s not overshadowed by the less positive aspects of 21st century life. Despite the concerns I raise above, I’m optimistic about what I’ll find.