Friday 8 May 2020

Love Beer, Love Pubs

Due to the current lockdown situation many people find themselves in there has been a welcome upsurge in the amount of beer blogging, a pastime that had become much less popular since it became possible to say so much less in 280 characters on twitter. My own blogging has also been withering away, as to be honest I’ve got better things to do with my time. But Boak and Bailey reviving their call for Beery Long Reads has once again motivated me to get back to the keyboard about something I’ve been meaning to post on for some time, with an added topical twist.

Since the corona virus crisis started a number of theories have been offered about the origin of the virus. Most people are blaming the eating of bats, but eating bats is nothing new. We’ve had it happening years ago and I don’t remember any problems arising when Ozzy Osbourne ate a bat. Others blame a Chinese laboratory for creating the virus, but I think they’ve just been getting reality mixed up with The Survivors programme. 

Strangest of all, some conspiraloons are blaming 5G masts. Electromagnetic radiation creating a virus? I don’t get that one at all.

No, none of these theories ring true. As a person of faith the real cause of this terrible disease is clear. And his name is Des De Moor. This might come as a surprise to some, but bear with me. To his shame he wrote on his blog a screed titled “Love Beer, Hate Pubs”, much to the approval of a baying mob of godless beer geeks. As a punishment for this, and admittedly three years later but you know god does move in mysterious ways, a pestilence has been unleashed upon the land forcing pubs to close. And killing tens of thousands of people, but as I said, mysterious ways. Now that the pubs are shut are the pub haters happy I wonder? That god has shown us what the world is like without pubs will I hope force them to repent their wicked ways and beg forgiveness. Certainly a few Acts of Contrition and Hail Protzes are called for. But as we now have more free time on our hands let’s look at what Des wrote and highlight the error of his ways.

He starts by describing the link between beer and pubs as an accident of history, as it has always been possible to enjoy beer outside of pubs. These are the sort of words the devil might whisper in your ear to keep you away from pubs. For the evil lord knows that cask beer, that is beer served as god intended, is only found in pubs. So by staying away from pubs and drinking at home you are doing the devil's work.

Des does admit the symbiotic link between cask beer and pubs, but down plays the significance as beer can now be found in other places, like bars, coffee shops and farmers' markets in bottles, cans and 'craft keg' form. Note the dispense format conspicuously absent from that list! He then compounds his grave errors by actually encouraging people to drink from bottles when they're in a pub! After doing Satan's work he then praises cask beer, presumably to disorientate the faithful. Anything that stops people going to pubs and drinking cask beer is surely advancing Satan’s plan and being hateful to god. Besides which, cask beer really does taste better than beer served from inferior packaging formats.

He then moves on to pub closures and seems to me to be strangely ill informed. Talk of the smoking ban is dismissed as inconclusive, but whatever your views on it, it undoubtedly discouraged some regular pub goers. The high tax we pay on beer is also discounted as off trade beer is also taxed. That the high taxes means the price differential between on and off trade beer is increased due to the mark up, making pubs even less economically viable, is not discussed but surely is another big factor working against pubs.

That there are "certain problems with the pubco model" is conceded, shortly before he starts talking about how it works for some companies, presumably ones based in the Cayman Islands. If perhaps Des didn't hate pubs he would have talked to a few more publicans and found out how long they can work for so little return. Pubcos are certainly not an innocent party when it comes to pub closures, and Des does admit that the financial interest of pubcos might have nothing to do with running successful pubs compared to selling them for other uses. The Market Rent Option, which is meant to allow publicans to become free of tie on the beer they sell has not just been “slow and dogged by controversy”. It has been fought tooth and nail every step of the way by the pubcos, and they’ve been very successful too, which shows exactly how hard things are for publicans.

We then get on to trends in society and how people's homes are now more comfortable. Which I'm sure is all true but I don't see why it would make you hate pubs. Pub campaigners are characterised as being old fashioned and resisting social change as much as the loss of amenities that pub closures bring. That UKIP have a campaign against pub closures is said to be "no great surprise", but people from all sorts of political tendencies have also campaigned against pub closures so I really don't see what this is supposed to prove except trying to smear pub campaigners as being right wing little Englanders. 

Strangely he doesn't see how pubs are uniquely British, though he can see how Scottish pubs differ from English. I'm not really sure what to say about that one, other than I've drunk in a lot of establishments in a lot of countries and pubs are definitely distinctive. Though he's quite right about Scottish pubs, they tend to be more like bars than English pubs and all the worse for it if you ask me.

Rather disparagingly it's also claimed that pub campaigners are only interested in old wet led boozers with wizened regulars glued to the bar. No evidence is presented for this, but wet led pubs have certainly suffered more from closures so it's quite possible that there have been more campaigns to save them. That micropubs, tap rooms and restaurants are opening is praised which is where we get to the heart of matter. He really does hate pubs. That a dozen or so have closed near his flat doesn’t bother him as he doubts they sold any interesting beer. There’s a couple of things to say about this. Firstly not many places can lose a dozen pubs and still have plenty of good places to go drinking in. It might not be a problem if you live in London but what if you live in a village with only one pub and that closes? Mind you, Des does have previous form for London imperialism. Secondly, he is clearly the type of beer geek that is always seeking new things to drink and doesn’t care where they drink them or in what format. Which is fine if that’s what floats your boat, but personally if I can get decent beer in a decent pub I’m happy to stick with the same drink all night and though I’m pleased how the range of beers available has expanded over the years I don’t feel the need to be always seeking something new. 

Though alternative to pubs are opening, of the pubs that close no mention is made that many end up as shops or flats with nowhere for anyone to drink beer, traditional or modern. Instead we hear about the hard times he had in some pubs in his youth, and how social conformity was enforced. Before contradicting himself by mentioning how different groups and cultures had their own pubs. Certainly there are rough pubs, but there are also great pubs that make everyone welcome, and these include wet led traditional boozers. That pubs reflect society is hardly surprising so I don’t see why they should all be tarred with the same brush as the worst examples. And though he might not be sad when they shut are the wizened old regulars likely to start going to start drinking in trendy new tap rooms? I suspect not. Some might like to embrace the latest fashion, but if you’ve already found something you like I don’t see why fighting to defend it should be considered a problem.

Cold words of comfort are offered that "pub like establishments" will still cater for the demand for drinking beer in a social space. Which I'm sure is fine for those that hate pubs, but for those of us that love them nothing beats a proper pub. I've made so many friends in pubs, including many of my oldest and best friends. I had my living room furnished when I was in need thanks to learning who was getting rid of furniture via a pub, and if I want recommendations for a local tradesman I know where to ask. I might be wrong but I can't see any of that happening at a tap room, restaurant or shop. Pubs are a British cultural institution, and some of us happen to love them. They deserve to be defended.