Sunday, 19 August 2012

The Ever Present PubCo

So far, this blog has discovered a number of disappointing or even downright dire pubs, and has mentioned that there is a reason for their state which will be explained later. So now I’m taking a brief break in the review process to talk about PubCos – the companies that run tens of thousands of pubs around the UK – and their involvement in the business.

Queens Park, Crewe

As I mentioned when talking about the Big Six brewing combines of the 1970s and 80s, most pubs were tied houses – that is, they sold only products of the brewer that owned them, as well as whatever the brewer produced under licence or sold via reciprocal agreement. Licensees were forced to buy wines and spirits through the brewery or its wine merchants, at a premium over supermarket prices.

Most of those tied estates have now passed to the PubCos. And the regime is not so different to that which went before: licensees are still forced to buy through suppliers specified by the PubCo, and at whatever price the PubCo dictates. Some aspiring entrants to the pub business have found themselves taken to the cleaners by a combination of their own naïveté and unrealistic PubCo revenue projections.

So which Crewe pubs are under the control of the PubCos? Of the ones already reviewed, the Cumberland Arms – where two keg beers had run out – has its lease for sale and is part of the empire of Admiral Taverns. We will encounter them again. The Merlin – a huge modern pub now reduced to weekend opening – has been scheduled for refurbishment for some time by Punch Taverns.

In fact, the longer the Merlin languishes in its unrefurbished state, the more likely it is that the site, already surrounded by recent build housing, will be sold off and the pub demolished. It wouldn’t be the only such casualty in the area, and if there is so little trade, it would be easy to argue that the business is beyond recall. Punch continue to suggest in its advertisements that the work will go ahead. Sometime.

And the Raven, steadily deteriorating down in Brookhouse, is owned by the S&N Pub Company, who are not enjoying much success in getting anyone to take it on. Now, no suggestion is made that the PubCos should behave like community charities, but the contrast with the old school of brewers’ tied houses is stark. Crewe has Robinson’s, Marstons Pub Co, and Lees tied houses.

These total seven pubs – two reviews yet to come – and all are doing reasonably. Moreover, all seven offer cask beer and one, the Duke Of Gloucester, is an outstanding pub. The thought enters that the PubCos might be more ready to cash in their assets first, rather than consider the community. The later reviews will not change this perception.

Something to consider when you’re letting your pint settle.

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