Pubs and the economy

by Steve Renshaw

Over the last six months, CAMRA has been highlighting the importance of the community pub. In July, we pointed out the amazing amount of charitable fundraising done by pubs. And then, in October, we focused on how people use pubs to celebrate landmarks in their lives.

This month, we’re looking at the contribution pubs make to the economy. Pubs employ over half a million people, and the pub and beer industry adds £19 billion each year to the UK economy.

However, the pub trade remains very precarious. January is traditionally a very quiet period for the industry and there will be many businesses that go to the wall during the month. CAMRA has issued promotional packs to around 7,000 pubs across the country to encourage customers to support their local at this time of year.

At a national level, CAMRA continues to press parliament to protect and support pubs. One of the issues at the top of the agenda is the reform of the large pub companies’ beer tie. This is the system that requires tenants to buy their beer from the pubco, often at grossly inflated prices. It’s a topic I’ve covered previously in this column, but now we’ve got an interesting case study in Lincoln.

The Vine Inn on Newland Street West was owned by Punch Taverns. Over the last few years, between periods of closure, it limped along with temporary landlords running the place. Smooth-flow bitter and standard lagers were the main beers stocked, with real ale only occasionally available. Given the changing demographics in that area of the city, it’s not surprising that an old-style, street-corner boozer struggled to make a profit when the landlord had to pay inflated prices for his stock.

Saddled with massive debts, Punch Taverns have disposed of over 1,100 of their pubs since August 2011. So it’s no surprise that they were happy to sell the Vine when Lewis De-la-Hey, backed by his father Nigel, made an offer.

The fabric of the pub was very neglected but, following extensive works, it now has a fresh, contemporary look. And, as reported in the Echo, it re-opened in early December with the new name of West End Tap.

Building up a customer base may well turn out to be more of a challenge than refurbishing the fabric of the pub. Lewis is certainly aiming at a very different market. There are five handpumps on the bar with an ever-changing range of real ales, including ones from local microbreweries. Premium keg beers from global brewers are available from dispensers on the bar, while the four taps built into the wall are reserved for more interesting Belgian and US craft beers. A good selection of international bottled beers is also available.

Although the pub has no trade kitchen, there are plans to offer cold platters of locally-sourced food. The pub also supports the local economy with the employment of four young people as bar staff.

I’ve visited the pub a couple of time now, and it’s a really pleasant place to have a drink. Lincoln CAMRA wishes Lewis every success in his venture. Being free of tie certainly gives him a much better chance of making a go of it.

And what about the beer? On my recent visit, there were no local beers so I went for a pint of Hophead (3.8% ABV) from Dark Star Brewery in Sussex. It’s a pale golden ale with a fruity, hoppy aroma. As the name suggests, it has a bitter taste with citrus hints. An excellent session beer.

Don’t go dry this January, support your local pub instead.