Are British pubs dying out?

The Newport Inn

Yesterday, The Metro ran a feature entitled ‘Is this last orders at the bar?’ reporting on the mass closure of pubs in Britain. This piece was extremely timely, as just the other night we shared a short film on our Facebook about a pub back home in Hampshire.

This pub, The Newport Inn, is a local institution in the Southampton area, as it hasn’t changed a bit since 1948. Unfortunately the pub, owned by Fullers Brewery, recently closed following the sad death of the landlady.

Zombie Companies

It is estimated that around 9,682 pubs closed this year, but many don’t close for the same reason as The Newport.

They are closed by what MP Greg Mulholland describes as ‘zombie companies.’ These large pub companies (or pubcos for short) are not only zombies, but are also devils, as they are in a process of asset stripping. What are these assets being stripped exactly? Our dear beloved pubs!

Two of the biggest pubcos are Enterprise and Punch Taverns, and between them they have axed more than 5,000 pubs between 2008-2012. Some of the luckier pubs are sold to new owners who keep pulling pints, but some face a more tragic fate.

Wrecking Ball

If you thought Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball was bad then you will agree with me that the wrecking ball that will crash into these pubs is a monstrosity. After the pubcos fling their pubs to the side like Woody and Buzz were in Toy Story 3, they are knocked down to be reborn as blocks of flats and more than 200 have been converted into supermarkets since 2010.

With about 24,000 pubs owned by pubcos, many more will have their beer stained bars replaced with supermarket checkouts and where once stood a proud one armed bandit, you’ll find a vending machine coughing up Fanta and Coke.

A New Hope

But don’t fret, there’s still hope yet. Proposed reforms would see pubcos being monitored as well as the tenants being allowed to buy from other suppliers. This would pave the way for microbreweries, who, like Luke Skywalker, would step up to the plate and save the galaxy from the Dark Side; or in this case, the pubcos.

Microbreweries would gain greater access to hundreds of pubs and will be able to capitalize on the renaissance of traditional brewing. In the last year alone, 187 breweries have opened which makes a total of 1,147 microbreweries in Britain. These breweries are estimated to produce more than 12,000 different beers brewed across the country.

We hope breweries will follow in the footsteps of the likes of Tiny Rebel who have opened their own pub The Urban Taphouse in Cardiff.

Although hundreds of pubs will suffer, the future looks bright, and we will hopefully see the pubs change hands from the pubcos to the breweries.

What do you think? Comment us below or tweet us at @thegrillbarrel

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4 thoughts on “Are British pubs dying out?

  1. The death knell has been heard for pubs in Ireland as well, there is hope from the microbreweries which are multiplying at a great rate!

  2. The changing nature of British pubs is complex enough to warrant a book, and societal changes have played as big an impact as the role of the pubcos. There’s a cyclical nature to it – the pubcos were once successful breweries themselves in many cases, who found it more profitable to focus on their estates, and expand them, giving up brewing gradually and then completely.

    Will today’s tiny breweries be tomorrow’s pubco giants?

    To play devil’s advocate, change is good. There are so many awful pubs out there it’s no wonder so many are closing. It’s sad when good pubs get caught up amongst the casualties but overall pubs are doing better in order to stay relevant.

    • Societal changes do play an important role such as the smoking ban, an increase in bargain booze type shops as well as a surge in people preferring to go to a restaurant to eat and drink as opposed to a pub, but I would say that it’s sadder to see a pub close due to a process of asset stripping by these big pubcos.

      I do agree that change can be good, especially if it sees pubs going back to their roots as opposed to having their goals fixated on simply making money. Let’s just hope that the breweries who are taking over and opening pubs, stay focused on producing good ales and don’t get distracted by the dollar signs..

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