Hop Presshops Hop Press Issue 52 front cover

Issue 52 – October 2002

 

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Contents

EDITORIAL Hop Press index

Many readers will already know from the national press that since our last edition another famous and greatly loved brewery has given in to the forces of Mammon. The last brew from the Brakspear Brewery at Henley-on-Thames will be being racked off into casks virtually as you read this sentence.

[Editor's note: we will have some of the last Henley brewed beers at the Eastleigh Festival - come along for a nostalgic last pint.]

The brewery at Henley is on a classic nineteenth-century town-centre site, one of the most attractive development opportunities that can be imagined. It is said to be valued, under the recent frenetic regime of Home County rising property values, at a conservative £10M. The closure of the site, a brewery for more than two centuries, will mean the loss of thirty loyal workers

The story of this loss is a sad commentary on modern business. For years Brakspear prospered modestly under the 'Whitbread umbrella' - they were 40% owned by the brewing giant - then the Monopolies' Commission report establishing the 'Beer Orders' forced Whitbread to sell. Set free, the independent Brakspear Brewery went from strength to strength (remember the 'freedom brew' Oh be Joyful?). The free trade was expanded enormously, new beers were introduced including pioneering ventures in organic and ultralow gravity beers, and contract brewing was undertaken.

But the burgeoning success contained seeds of its own destruction. The expanded free trade into the ever-growing pub chains (themselves a by-product of the Beer Orders) was at the expense of massive discounting, so greater production led to lesser returns. This resulted in a violation of modern business's most powerful juju - decreasing 'shareholder value.' The brewery board panicked and saw the wonderful site value as their lifeboat in what was only a slightly choppy sea.

A complex, and probably eventually doomed, plan has been cobbled together. Brakspear have signed a deal with Refresh UK, the company that took over the now closed Ushers Brewery in Trowbridge to add Brakspear beers to their range of contract brewed products (mostly keg or bottled beers but including some remaining Ushers, Gibbs Mew Bishop's Tipple and the beers from Wytchwood which they now own). Versions of the Brakspear beers will be brewed at the Burtonwood Brewery in Warrington but there is no clear commitment yet as to whether all the beers, or just a limited range (as happened with Ushers and Gibbs), will survive. Nor is there much hope that the flavours will be maintained after the unique two-stage fermenting method used at Henley is abandoned.

Possibly to sugar the pill for local opinion the closure announcement was accompanied by a statement from Refresh that they were "...looking for a site in the Henley area for a new purpose-built brewery" and that they would supply "beer for life to anyone identifying the optimum site." A few weeks later, the boss of Refresh, Rupert Thompson, claimed to have found twenty sites that met every specification so maybe someone has earned an easy liquid inheritance! Unless the beer has to come from this notional brewery in which case the wait may be a long one...

If perfect brewery sites are so commonplace along the banks of the Thames can anyone tell me why Brakspear did not lease one, build on it, transfer their production and their workers and only then realise the site value of the old brewery?

In reality, Brakspear is now no more than another pub company with some hundred plus pubs - not enough to gain the huge purchasing power of the big chains that maybe brought them to this state in the first place - but big enough to be a ripe pickable plum for one of these big chains to absorb. As their shares have no family or trust protection they are easy pickings, if the company is still independent in a couple of years time I will be pleased but very surprised.

Immediately after the news from Henley comes more unwelcome announcements from Manchester. The giant Interbrew is to transfer all keg beer production from the Strangeways Brewery (Boddingtons) to the huge Magor mega-keggery in South Wales. Interbrew chief, Stewart Gilliland said that this would "...enable Boddingtons Brewery to concentrate on the strengths of its heritage as a cask ale brewery." At first sight this looks like the sort of good news story we should be applauding, but a closer study knocks away the props from this rickety structure. The change is promulgated as a £3.5M cost saving and cuts 68 workers from the site. Strangeways is a big brewery and the cask beer production proposed can be accomplished in one day's production per week - this clearly cannot be a viable future. Local union leaders dismissed the statement as "pure hypocrisy" and are convinced that complete closure is only a short time away. Of course, Interbrew just say "we have no plans to ..."

Finally, a third worry just coming to light concerns the Hereford cider maker, Bulmer. Just before their recently scheduled annual general meeting a strange £3.3M 'hole' was discovered in the accounts. Chief executive, Mike Hughes, formerly the head of Guinness's Park Royal Brewery in West London, resigned minutes before the meeting (which, not surprisingly was hastily postponed).

Together with a recent 26% fall in profits and forecasts of yet more earnings downturns to come this was the final straw heaped on investors' backs - Bulmer's shares tumbled.

This leaves Bulmers, a company with some solid physical assets but a depressed share valuation, very exposed. No one would now be surprised to see a take-over bid mounted on the cheap.

From a beer drinker's point of view the interest would then focus on the nation's largest beer wholesaler, Beer Seller, owned by Bulmer. Where either a take-over or a continuation of these financial weaknesses will leave them is a moot question.

 

VEGETARIAN DILEMMA Hop Press index

Pat O'Neill

Being a vegetarian for something like a quarter century and being a real ale lover for even longer must mean that I am approaching some record for continuous hypocrisy! The problem, of course, is that real ales are very definitely not acceptable vegetarian fare. 

At first sight this may seem quite surprising; you can't start with a mixture much more vegetable-like than some ears of barley, some flowery hops and a few cells of that most useful plant, yeast. And so it would be if the brewer then goes on to turn the result into keg beer or lager. The difficulty comes with cask ale or as CAMRA named it, real ale. With cask ale the beer is run into the casks without any filtration, taking with it live yeast which continues a slow 'secondary fermentation' giving the wonderful flavour improvement in comparison with the blandness of a keg beer. These yeast cells have to be removed before the beer can appear bright and sparkling in your glass; to this end the brewer adds 'finings' as the last thing before the cask is bunged up for delivery.

Finings are very strange, and why it was ever thought a good thing to try adding them to beer is a mystery that none of the (many) brewers I've asked could answer. Finings (the word is only used in the plural) is the brewer's name for isinglass. This is made by dissolving the dried swim bladders of certain tropical fish of the sturgeon family (mostly from South China and Vietnam) in a weak acid. The result is sticky, slimy substance, much like the white of egg. It is almost pure collagen, long-chain protein molecules that in the dissolved form are tangled up like a plate of micro-spaghetti. These molecules also have positive electric charges at certain points. Both the tangling and the charges are vital for their job to come.

Finings are added to the cask at a rate of a between a half and one pint per firkin (nine gallon cask) and get stirred into the beer during transport. When the cask is stillaged in the pub cellar and left 'to drop bright' the 'net' of long molecules slowly sinks to the bottom taking the yeast cells with it. Yeast cells have a natural negative charge on their surface so the positive areas on the collagen attract them and bind them tightly into the finings 'net.'

A few hours 'settling' and the cask is full of crystal clear beer with a layer of yeasty, fish-gutsy sludge at the bottom (just to complete the complications, there is also a similar sludge on the surface of the beer in the cask since a portion of the finings also rises up to the top!). And here is my hypocritical chance, the good beer has only used the fish but doesn't contain it! A pretty pathetic, but usable, cop-out.

For vegans and resolute vegetarians there is little cheer on the real ale front. Bottle conditioned beers are fine and, locally, the Hopback Brewery's Entire Stout, which is allowed to settle naturally without finings, is a lifeline.

 

BALLARDS Hop Press index

The first Sunday in December usually dawns with an early morning frost, maybe after weeks of rain. Regardless of climatic conditions, the day is eagerly anticipated by many local beer enthusiasts, as this is the day that Ballards Brewery launches its new "Old Bounder" beer. Started in 1986, to mark the 900th anniversary of the village of Elsted appearing in the Domesday Book, the first beer had an abv of 8.6% (!) and subsequent brews added 0.1% each year. There were a few gaps and hiccups in this progression, especially over the transition to 2000 but this year will see a seriously powerful 9.3% beer.

Not that Ballards concentrates only on the production of strong winter ales. The most popular brew is Best Bitter (abv 4.2%) and the amber coloured, clean tasting Trotton Bitter (3.5%) is very popular in summer months. The name of this brew comes from the location of the original brewery, at Cumbers Farm, Trotton, just over the county border in Sussex. The farm was owned by Bruce and Nancy Ballard, parents of Carola Brown, who founded the brewery with her husband Mike in 1980. In 1985 a pub was purchased in Elsted Marsh, near Midhurst and the brewery was moved to outbuildings behind the pub. The Elsted Inn was sold in 1988 and the brewery moved again to its current site, a unit in a small industrial estate at Nyewood. The compact, modern brewery uses whole hops (Fuggles, Golding and Phoenix) and the malt is milled on site. Mains water is used but it is 'Burtonised' to give it the characteristics of the well water of the midlands brewing capital. The yeast comes from Ringwood Brewery. In addition to the two bitters mentioned regular beers also include Nyewood Gold (5%) and the full bodied Wassail (6%). Production is in the hands of head brewer Francis Wilson, who has been with the brewery since 1980. In addition to the four permanent beers a number of occasional and seasonal beers are produced including Midhurst Mild, Golden Bine and On the Hop. The brewery has a weekly peak capacity of 60 barrels (over 2000 gallons) and on average 1500 gallons passes through the six conditioning tanks each week. In addition to this draught output Ballards bottles its own beers, all of which are bottle conditioned.

To return to the beginning of this article, the knowledge of the prevailing weather at the beginning of December is ingrained in the memory because the launch of the new beer at the Ballards Brewery is followed by a walk between four local pubs, including the one-time site of the brewery, the Elsted Inn. While some use the roads, purists go direct, traversing muddy fields and windswept hilltops. Arrival by a new group of travellers at each pub is accompanied by tales of searches for boots lost in mud and the taking of wrong routes following over enthusiastic examinations of the qualities of the new vintage. The event raises money for local charities, and never is a pint so welcome or deserved as when the destination is reached at last. Long may the tradition continue.

 

AUTUMN FESTIVAL Hop Press index

Rob Whatley

As the end-paper advertisements show (but not in this online version!), the next Eastleigh Beer Festival is almost upon us. Once again it will be at the Nightingale Centre, in Nightingale Avenue on Friday, November 1st and Saturday, November 2nd.

The format will be much the same as for previous festivals at the centre - a free entry session Friday lunchtime (12 noon until 3:30) and a ticket session Friday evening (18:00 until 23:00); Saturday lunchtime (12 noon until 16:30) is also free entry and the evening (18:00 until 23:00) a ticket session. The evening entertainment will be the celtic folk band 'Heelstone' on Friday and the blues singer/songwriter Martin Osborn on Saturday.

Tickets for evening sessions are £3.50.

 

CAMRA ON THE MARCH? Hop Press index

The membership of CAMRA appears to know no bounds. A surge in new members signing-up during this summer has brought our membership numbers up to an astonishing 66,000.

It is only just over a year since membership passed the 60,000 line, something that then was considered remarkable. Where do we set the goal posts now? 66,000 still only represents just one member for every pub in the land, surely we can get two, so at least they can have a conversation!

Year on year the Great British Beer Festival at Olympia produces a greater flux of new recruits and this year was certainly no exception with almost 900 visitors joining, 250 more than last year.

Another valuable innovation that the Campaign has made this year is introducing the ability to join on-line via CAMRA's website (http://www.camra.org.uk/join). This simplest of routes is currently producing over 100 new campaigners every month.

A pleasing aspect of the increase is the rising number of women personally signing up, giving the lie to the tired old adage that real ale is 'man-thing.' Of the current membership, over a quarter (26%), are women although about half of this number are joint members with their partners. But the present ratio of new primary memberships is now running at well over 25% women (at the Peterborough Festival a huge 37%) before allowing for any extra from joint memberships.

Equally encouraging is the rate of young members joining, the under-26 age group are joining at double the rate of last year. This will keep up the Campaign's vitality and maintain the flow of new ideas.

Our local branch, which covers Southampton, the New Forest, Eastleigh and Winchester, is one of the larger groups, not far from 1000 strong. But we always welcome new members, why not fill in page 28 and join us!

 

2003 Good Beer Guide front cover ON SALE NOW Hop Press index

On September 23rd the 2003 edition, the thirtieth, of CAMRA's flagship Good Beer Guide was published and it is in bookshops now. We shall have some at the Eastleigh Beer Festival but if you can't wait they can also be obtained directly, postage free, from CAMRA's St. Albans headquarters (www.camra.org.uk).

The Guide is bigger than ever at over 800 pages yet, again, the price has been held at £12.99. No self-respecting real ale drinker's bookcase (or briefcase?) is complete without a copy.

Although the Guide lists the five thousand best beer pubs in the nation (including Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the various offshore islands) it has another unique feature not shared by any of the rival publications, the brewery listing. This lists every brewer of cask ale from the mighty internationals to the smallest home-brew pub, their beers with tasting notes from trained CAMRA tasters and details of how to visit them.

The editorial section has articles from prominent writers on the contemporary beer/pub/brewery scene. Former Python, Terry Jones, writes a thirtieth anniversary paean to the Guide claiming that liking real beer is a "litmus test of civilisation" and considers that a society that continues to produce good beers is a healthy society.

Editor, Roger Protz, waxes eloquently on the surviving seventeen pubs that have featured in every one of the thirty editions. Unfortunately we do not have one of this 'magnificent seventeen' in Hampshire, but there is one in neighbouring Dorset, the superb Square and Compasses, overlooking the Channel at Worth Matravers in Purbeck, a must visit pub.

There is even some cheering health advice from Tim Hampson who lays out the scientific evidence for sensible beer drinking being a benefit to health.

A third of the pub entries are new this year so if your one of the many Guide users who only buy one every few years, this is the year. The pub scene changes ever faster, don't be stranded at last year's passé bar.

 

THE PRINCE RIDES OUT AGAIN! Hop Press index

That cartoon countryman, the Prince of Wales has been getting himself into something of a two and eight with his addiction to correspondence!

So country pubs may not have chosen the best time to enlist his aid in publicising their plight. However, the country pub is in real danger - something that attracted admiring visitors from around the world could go the way of the steam plough, only to be found in a theme park.

The Countryside Agency, the British Beer and Pub Association and Business in the Community have joined forces (following CAMRA's lead) in a bid to save country pubs.

They have produced a policy leaflet, The Pub is the Hub, to try to encapsulate ideas that could help the country inn survive the storms of twenty-first century economics. Our idiosyncratic monarch-in-waiting has put his green ink to paper to provide the pamphlet's foreword.

Prince Charles says that pubs need to draw on their resourcefulness and resilience and adapt to the changing circumstances. "Practical action, not just fine words is what is needed," he adds.

The Prince launched the campaign in the Craven Heifer, at Stainforth, North Yorkshire. The pub not only serves a fine pint of Thwaites but is also a post office and a grocery store. Special pensioners' lunches are served once a month to fit in with 'pension day' at the post office. The pub rounds off all this by offering bed and breakfast.

Of course, the troubles of the country pub were issues on the recent 'Countryside March' but they were entirely overlooked after the attention grabbing by the single issue, contentious fox hunters.

The White Hart at Blythburgh in Suffolk, the Pint and Post at St Giles on the Heath in Devon and CAMRA's 2001 Pub of the Year, the Blisland Inn, near Bodmin in Cornwall are among others that now offer postal services. At the Diamond in Butterknowle, County Durham, you might just come out richer than you went in since it has incorporated a bookmakers [how is this legal? - Ed.] But such sins have been banished from the Weir Hotel near Bacup in Lancashire where Sunday services are conducted for the church less village. Whilst they cater for spiritual health, the Cock at Combe in Oxfordshire attends to the bodily form acting with a pharmacy for prescription pick-ups.

The fight to save our country pubs is taken up in the new 2003 Good Beer Guide in an article by Jeff Evans, current Beer Writer of the Year.

The Pub is the Hub pamphlet and details some of the pubs mentioned, together with others, can be obtained from the Countryside Agency, 0870 120 6466.

 

Letters iconLETTERS Hop Press index

Branch member, Dave Etheridge, recently wrote to his MP about the Government's position on ending the scandal of short measures. This is the reply.

Regarding the matter of full pints, the government is proposing to strengthen consumer protection against being served short measures of draught beer and cider on licensed premises.

The proposal is to amend the Weights and Measures (Intoxicating Liquors) Order 1988 to ensure that the quantities in which draught beer and cider are sold comprise not less than 95% liquid, including the liquid (but not the gas) in any head or froth. The proposals will ensure that the consumer is served 95% liquid as a minimum. In practice this will mean that most pints will be 97% liquid or more.

The proposals will not prevent consumers from requesting a top up if they are dissatisfied with the quantity that they have been served.

The new proposals will protect Britain's 15 million beer and cider drinkers from short measures with new £1000 fines and powers to remove landlords' licences. This change will give consumers better value for money and deliver the equivalent of an extra 60 million pints a year.

The proposals strike the right balance between delivering a better deal for consumers without damaging the brewing industry and hitting beer and cider drinkers with higher prices and pub closures.
Currently, 20% of draught pints are less than 95% liquid. The licensed trade's own voluntary guidelines recommend that a pint should not be less than 95% liquid, and that top-ups should be given if requested. But under existing laws trading standards officers can only act if drinkers are short-measured by at least 10%.

Under these proposals bar staff will have to serve beer drinkers a minimum of 95% liquid in a pint, which is equivalent to an extra 60 million pints in a year. Landlords who ignore the new regulations would be liable to prosecution for short measure and face £1000 fines. Persistent offenders would run the risk of losing their licence.

The Department has consulted widely with all the relevant bodies. It will now work closely with the beer trade to ensure that consumers are fully informed of their new rights. This will include pubs clearly displaying that consumers can ask for a top-up at no extra cost if they are not satisfied with their pint.

These proposals strike the right balance between delivering a better deal for consumers without damaging the brewing industry and hitting drinkers with higher prices. The cost to the industry of serving 100% liquid would be £133 million which would have severe cost implications for smaller pubs with low profit margins.

John Denham MP, Southampton Itchen

As a piece of spin this takes some beating but the last paragraph seems to contain the industry's admission of guilt without any attempt to sanitise it!

 

PUB NEWS Hop Press index

Rob Whatley

West End is in danger of becoming a pub-free zone if closures continue at their current rate. The companies who purchased two former Whitbread pubs in the village have decided to cash in on the market value of the sites on which the Lamp & Mantle and Sportsman stand. The Spirit Group, owners of the Lamp & Mantle, claim that they were made an offer they couldn't refuse by Southampton based property developers, Orchard Homes and Development. After the pub ceased trading at the end of June a 'suspicious' blaze destroyed much of the interior. Eastleigh Council has made an application to list the exterior of the building, though even if this is successful it is unlikely that it will reopen again as a pub.

The Laurel Pub Company, who run many former Whitbread houses, then exchanged contracts with property developers McCarthy and Stone for the Sportsman. The sale of the pub is conditional on permission being granted to build 46 sheltered apartments and eight flats for key workers on the site. Unlike the Lamp & Mantle, the Sportsman is still trading - as evidenced by the large sign outside which states, 'Yes, we are still open'.

Ironically, while both of these pubs are under threat, Greene King has applied for an extension to the West End Brewery which, together with the threatened pubs, is close to the new Hampshire cricket ground, the Rose Bowl. It is hoped to stage international fixtures at the new ground in the next few years. Inspections of the ground and surrounding facilities were recently conducted to check that facilities were suitable. Let's hope that local pub provision was not amongst the criteria being checked.

Continuing with the theme of pub sites being used for housing, the new owners of a former city pub, the Royal Albert, were in trouble with the council after it was claimed that they had made unauthorised alterations to the grade II listed building. The former Gales outlet is to be converted to 12 flats. Another city pub site is also likely to be used for housing. Permission has been sought for 28 residential units in three blocks, after the demolition of the Seaweed Inn, Weston Lane.

Elsewhere in the Southampton there has been a spate of name changes to city hostelries. The most high profile was the Anglesea Tavern in Albert Road North which, presumably in an attempt to boost pre and post-match trade, has been renamed the Le Tissier [Arms] Feet. On our visit there was no real ale available but the clips on the pumps that had been turned around showed Ringwood Best and a 4% abv brew named 'Le Tissie Ale'. In Bevois Valley, the former Albion, which has recently been trading under the name of The Study, has now been renamed Sobar. What can this mean? Another change may signal the start of the end for the fake Irish pub. O'Neills in Oxford Street has become the White Star Tavern and Dining Rooms. The emphasis is very much on the food trade but the handpumps showed that Bass and Courage Best were on sale when we visited. In the same area, the Smugglers in Bernard Street has become The Office for reasons that are quite inscrutable. While O'Neills may be on the wane, Greene King's Hungry Horse chain continues to expand in our area. The latest addition to the stable is the Cat & Mouse, known for most of its life as the Bitterne Brewery, and as in the case of the last name change there is a competition to find yet another name for the pub after £250,000 of refurbishment. The Square (formerly the Square Balloon) is also changing its name, to the absurd Baja Beach Club. The change coincides with gaining permission to open until 2.00 a.m.

Extended opening hours are also in operation at Eldridge Pope's new pub in Above Bar, the Toad at the Park, a venue with a capacity of 420! Another potential new venture at the other end of town is the Dock Gate Four Bar and Grill. The location of which would be the ground floor and basement of South Western House. Such a venue was always planned to be part of the redevelopment of the former Cunard offices and hotel. Staying with hotels, plans to convert rooms above the Standing Order into a 'Wether Lodge' have now been abandoned.

To the east of the city, the Obelisk was refurbished earlier in the year. Plans for an extension at the Hop Inn, in Bitterne Park were overtaken by events when a suspected arson attack hit the pub in June.

There has been a lot of activity surrounding the local pubs in the far east of our region. The Wheatsheaf at Shedfield, which was one of the few free houses in our area, has been purchased by the owners of the Flower Pots at Cheriton and another Shedfield pub, the Vintage Inn has been put on the market. In Waltham Chase an application for a two storey extension to provide staff accommodation and 15 guest bedrooms at the Chase Inn has been rejected by planners as being an intrusion into a local gap area. Changes at the Hampshire Bowman, Dundridge, involve the licensee. The pub is now being run by a former barmaid who in recent years had been running the Shoe at Exton.

In the Forest, another of Greene King's food-oriented pub chains, Appletons, has added the Old Beams at Ibsley to its estate. The restaurant/ bar St Jacques at Copythorne has changed management. The Fox and Hounds in Lyndhurst has been bought by a private buyer after being sold by Enterprise Inns who had acquired it as part of the former Whitbread estate. And in East Boldre, plans have been submitted by Enterprise Inns to convert the function room and cellar into three holiday lets at the Turfcutters Arms.

The much needed new pub for New Milton may eventually be built as a further application to convert the Old Barn in Gore Road into a pub with 10 guest bedrooms has been submitted. We have documented the loss of pubs in New Milton in previous editions of Pub News and further losses for drinkers will occur with the closure of bars at New Milton, Ringwood, Applemore and Totton recreation centres. The closures come because the healthy patrons are not drinking enough to keep profits up!

We have spied a new variation in pub name changes. Such changes are usually made in an attempt to attract new custom to a pub. Usually this involves giving the pub a more 'modern' name. Sometimes it may occur at a pub that has built up a bad reputation over the years. The new variation appeared in recent advertisements for the Cricketers in Chestnut Avenue, Eastleigh. Following a change of management the new adverts state that the pub is located in Chandler's Ford. Presumably this is an attempt to suggest that the pub is located in a more upmarket area. This will be of little benefit in terms of attracting increased business if customers can't find the pub.

In the last edition we made mention of potential pub closures in the Winchester area. We are pleased to say that one of these, Chimneys (long ago the Weeke Hotel), has had a refurbishment and is still operating under the Laurel Pub Company.

Finally in this edition of pub news we pay tribute to one of the most famous former licensees in our area. The death was recently announced of Graeme Jameson, who for many years ran the Wykeham Arms in Winchester. Graeme, who died from cancer at the age of 61, took over the pub in 1984 and turned it into one of the most famous and successful pubs in the country. The pub was featured in all guides, including the Good Beer Guide. Graeme gave up the day-to-day running of the pub when it was sold to Gales in 1998. He is survived by his wife Anne, children Tom, Sophie and Caroline and grandson William, to whom we send condolences.

Local Brewery News Hop Press index

Rob Whatley

Triple fff Brewery from Four Marks, near Alton won two gold medals at the Great British Beer Festival, held at Olympia in August. Pressed Rat and Warthog won the mild category in the Champion Beer of Britain Competition and Moondance achieved the same status in the best bitter category. All the category winners go forward to the final where the overall winner is chosen. Moondance came third behind the overall winner Deuchars IPA, from Edinburgh's Caledonian Brewery.

This represents a fine achievement by Triple fff Brewery, which only started brewing in 1997. They had been represented in the competition in each of the last three years but until this year had failed to pick up a prize. Alton's Pride also made it to the competition but didn't get to the top three in its category. This win comes at a particularly good time for the brewery as it has just opened its first tied house, the Station at Alton.

Ringwood Brewery has been building up its tied estate gradually over recent years. The latest of its pubs to open is the Angel Inn, which is adjacent to the Guildhall in the centre of Poole. A further addition, the Crown (which was originally called the Shire Horse) in Winterborne Stickland near Blandford, was due to open in late September.

The official opening night of the Angel also saw the launch of the brewery's new autumn beer Huffkin. The 4.4% abv brew is named after a Kentish teacake.

 

THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY ... Hop Press index

Pete Horn

It is a commonplace to bemoan the inept management of British industry and to despair of the nation ever achieving the productivity expected in the twenty-first century. The behaviour of our glass manufacturers seems to fit this stereotype.

Last year Britain's last two remaining drinking glass manufacturers, Ravenhead and Dema, apparently managed to compete themselves into liquidation. How this can be in a market that must be one of the least volatile and most predictable it is very hard to imagine. All of the millions of glasses pubs use must now be imported.

Needless to say, the foreign makers do not produce the same range and types that we have become used to. One that will be missed in the saloon bars of the Home Counties is the dimple mug. "I'll have that in a handle" may become a lost refrain.

We have been able to see for some time that our glass makers were going nowhere in their marketing from our purchases of badged, souvenir glasses for beer festivals. As a national organisation CAMRA orders hundreds of thousands of such glasses annually and over the last five years it has been getting progressively more difficult. 
Locally, when we started buying glasses for festivals such as the annual Eastleigh event [November 1st and 2nd this year, see this link for details - Editor's plug] we could just order whatever number required, from one of the suppliers.

Then it seemed that they decided that they did not want to be bothered with taking individual orders and we had to deal through a middleman 'bar supplies' organisation (which was then Autobar, itself virtually a national monopoly). The next twists were to ratchet up the minimum order quantities and to enhance the prices beyond the prevailing inflationary levels.

The increase in order quantities was the killer blow for small festivals - for half pint mugs the minimum went up to 120 dozen, more than 50% over what a festival the size of Eastleigh would need. For this reason we were forced to adopt non-handled 'straight' glasses, for which the minimum numbers were (for no obvious reason) less.

For our bigger Southampton festival, where we use several thousand glasses, in pint sizes, we were forced back to straight style by enormous price hikes for mugs.

This demise of the British glass industry obviously left openings for other entrepreneurs and a number of promotional material companies have now entered the business. Their more flexible terms mean that at this year's Eastleigh festival we will be able to offer a choice of mug or straight glass - although the mugs will need an extra 50p, unfortunately.

 

NEW ENEMY AT THE GATE Hop Press index

Until the end of the '80s, the beers which you were offered in most pubs were determined by the big national brewers, the evil 'big six' that CAMRA had fought for twenty years.

After the Monopolies' Commission came down against the big brewers and the Government brought in the 'Beer Orders' in 1989 everything should have been rosy, the guest beer provisions should have allowed an ever growing band of small and micro brewers into these vast tied estates as of right. But, the treacherous scheming of Lord Young left a fatal loophole - the Orders only applied to brewery companies. Before the ink was dry the big battalions were divesting their tied houses into non-brewing pub chains, quite outside of all provisions.

Now, a decade on, the British licensed trade is dominated by these pub chains or 'pubcos' as they are usually known. Some are vast - Enterprise Inns control almost ten thousand pubs, Punch Taverns over five thousand. The result has been a big problem for landlords, a disaster for the beer drinker but an utter catastrophe for the small independent brewers.

The pubcos quickly took their lessons from the way supermarkets control their suppliers and they set up systems to screw the last drop of profit out of brewers. Huge discounts are demanded, intensely bureaucratic supply arrangements insisted upon, 'listing fees' have been introduced and, of course, none of these so-called economies of scale are passed on to the publicans or the customers.

The discounts involved are truly enormous and very, very secret. A barrel (36 gallons) of an ordinary session beer, which would be priced by most regional brewers at about £250, will have a discount of at least £100 asked for (ie demanded) before it is graciously accepted by a pubco. From the biggest breweries 'national agreements' frequently mean beers are supplied at only 50% of list price.

If the publican, and then the drinker, saw any of these discounts then the extortion could, perhaps, be justified as being in the public good - but they don't. A recent clerical error in by an office worker at Scottish Courage, exposed in the licensed trade's Morning Advertiser, said it all. An Enterprise Inn's publican received an invoice from Courage for his weekly order, an invoice that should have gone to Enterprise headquarters. The goods for the week totalled £1,171.03 but Enterprise subsequently charged the tenant £2,000.42, no further comment needed.

Supply to most of the big pubco pubs has become almost prohibitively complex for most small and micro breweries. Punch Taverns have their beer supplies contracted to the national distributor, Beer Seller, but to be allowed to supply a brewer must deliver only to the Birmingham depot, even though the beer may be destined eventually for a pub in the brewer's own village. No guarantees of order quantities are given, so a micro-brewery in Cornwall might take a firkin to the Midlands for eventual delivery to a pub in Penzance!

Listing fees are perhaps the most extraordinary and outrageous of the pubcos' moneymaking wheezes. This scam was directly copied from our loveable, cuddly supermarketeers. For a micro brewery to have its beers listed by the pubco's head office as available to its tenanted pubs the brewery must pay an up front fee for each beer to be listed. Punch Taverns charge £1,700 to 'list' a beer for six months - a brewer with four ales would have to stake a nonreturnable £13,600 for a years listing, without any guarantee of an order.

On top of these iniquities (more accurately, as a result of them) the pubcos are flush with cash and they are using this to put another knife into the body of small brewers. They are avidly buying up individual free houses and small pub groups, removing what last few percent of the open market was still left.

The effect of the giant pubcos on the market for the small independent brewers is so dramatic that the beneficial results of the recent introduction of progressive beer duty are already being undermined. Nick Stafford, who owns the Hambleton Brewery in North Yorkshire, said recently: "There's no point in having progressive beer duty if we are denied access to market. In my area, the pubcos are buying up all of the pubs that come on to the market. There are fewer and fewer free houses and fewer outlets for our products. Our market is shrinking and the pubcos are only paying lip service to choice."

SIBA, the Small Independent Brewers Association, is becoming increasingly despondent about the situation and the fact that Government seem to have no understanding of what is happening to the industry. The crisis in shrinking markets is occurring just as the Government is proposing to scrap the Beer Orders entirely and to not put anything in their place. Yet more and more SIBA members are becoming convinced that without new legislation the market strangulation will be as bad as in the days of the evil old 'big six' - the very thing the Monopolies Commission set out to investigate!

Instead of scrapping the Beer Orders the Government could resolve the whole issue at a stroke with a one-line piece of legislation - keep them and add "or pub-owning company" to the definition of who should be required to allow a guest beer provision. SIBA chairman, Paul Davey, sees this as the only resolution to a worsening situation.

With no likely legislation, SIBA are trying to negotiate other ideas with the big chains. One is the 'red label' scheme. The aim of this is to allow small brewers to deliver directly to pubs but for all of the paperwork to be co-ordinated and sent to the pubco's central office. But the pubcos are deeply suspicious of anything that takes even a little from their central control and the scheme has not yet materialised.

Progressive Beer Duty, the innovative energy of our small brewers, and a renewing interest in quality beer should herald a bright future for real ale, but the pubcos may spoil it all.

Hop Press issue number 52 – October 2002

Editor: Pat O'Neill
1 Surbiton Road
Eastleigh
Hants.
SO50 4HY
023 8064 2246
hop-press@shantscamra.org.uk

© CAMRA Ltd. 2002

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