Since the first one opened in 2005, micropubs have been springing up all over the country. In 2012, I wrote about Just Beer, the one in Newark, which had been named CAMRA’s East Midlands Pub of the Year.
And now, at last, Lincoln has a micropub. The Hop & Barley, located at 417 High Street, opened its doors at the end of May, and it’s proving to be a great success.
The concept is simple. Set up a one-roomed pub in a small retail unit, sell mainly real ale, and minimise overheads. With no television, gaming machines or loud music, you encourage your customers to chat with one another and create a convivial meeting place. It seems like an old-fashioned idea, but it works.
The original micropub is the Butcher’s Arms in Herne, Kent, which is housed in a former butcher’s shop and measures 14ft by 12ft. It was the brainchild of Martyn Hillier, who was named CAMRA’s Campaigner of the Year for 2015 for his work in setting up the Micropub Association. The organisation’s website currently lists over 250 micropubs.
The Hop & Barley is run by Steve Marston, the owner of Cathedral Heights Brewery at Bracebridge Heath. He has built a bar across one corner of the former hairdressing salon. Cooled beer casks behind the bar feed the four handpumps. There are also cooled boxes holding real cider. The only other alcoholic drinks available are a single craft keg beer, plus vodka and gin.
Steve is keen to point out that this isn’t a brewery tap for Cathedral Heights. Although his own beers may appear on occasions, the focus is on regularly-changing ales from microbreweries across the country. And the growing pumpclip collection on the wall is evidence that he is true to his word. In its first ten weeks, the pub has served over 120 different real ales and ciders.
We called in at nine o’clock on a Sunday evening, to find a dozen or so customers enjoying a drink. Most full-sized pubs would be fairly quiet at that time but the Hop was buzzing with conversation. With a maximum capacity of just over twenty, it felt really cosy and welcoming.
And what about the beer? On this visit, I had a pint of Waimea (4.4% ABV) from Kennet and Avon Brewery in Wiltshire. Waimea is a hop variety from New Zealand, and I was expecting a hoppy, golden ale. However, the beer was darkish amber with a toffee aroma which, I’m guessing, comes from crystal malt. The combination produced a lovely, fruity flavour with the characteristic bitterness of the hops coming through at the end. You could say that it was Hop & Barley in perfect combination.