With the news of the law changes regarding the tied system, a wise old man (ok, wise might be pushing it- it was actually Great Paul) said that as a beer website we needed a position on such a monumental change and we should have a blog about it. Sounds easy enough doesn’t it? But few things in life are simple and when you look into the issue this isn’t a straightforward good news or bad news scenario.
Several lively discussions later, we don’t have a Fourtharch.com position on the changes but then given that we are a website and not a political party or anyone in the trade, do we have to have a position?
What we have learnt is that we all have different opinions on the subject and that we all care passionately about pubs and beer, frankly as far as I’m concerned I think that is far more important than whether or not pubs are tied to purchasing their beer from a brewery. What pubs need is to be full of people drinking good beer and putting the world to rights in good humour and good company.
If the pub is full, everyone wins- customers get a good atmosphere and both the landlord and the brewery make money. As a pub goer, is it top of my mind when I go for a pint, how is the profit on this beer split between those that make it, those that sell it and how much goes to the government? Well, no, I’m more concerned its a good pint and that its at a reasonable price, although I confess to the occasional complaint about how much of the money goes to George Osborne (at time of writing, although Gordon Brown has taken most of the stick during my drinking years!). Perhaps there would be less debate on this issue if the pub industry was thriving.
That said, there are some things that we could broadly agree on about the ending of ties. Good, well run, previously “tied” pubs will have more freedom and with that hopefully more choice and variety and should they retain more of the money, then potentially either nicer pubs or cheaper pints. That freedom should also make it easier for smaller breweries to succeed and with greater competition there should lead cheaper and better beer. It’s also a freer market that way and so it is arguably fairer in allowing greater competition. So we’re all agreed then, its a good thing! Err, no actually, that was just the case for…
The flip side to this is that it makes it more difficult for pubs that aren’t doing so well- we know that breweries that lease pubs and now can’t charge a premium for their beer will still want to make money, so they will up the rent and that will put pubs out of business. Granted in some cases it will be because they weren’t particularly good pubs to start with but my worry is that once you knock down a pub, that’s it, you can’t rebuild it and bring its history back. I think we have enough pub closers as it is and I’d rather a struggling pub was able to keep going in the hope that one day someone will come along and revive it.
The obvious losers in this are the bigger breweries that have tied pubs as they will make less money and that’s a worry as well. We talk about big breweries but we aren’t talking about huge multinational conglomerates, we are still talking about relatively small businesses with production at one site and employing relatively few people at that site. I don’t think we are talking about great corporate machines, we are talking about businesses that have grown from small family establishments started by people who loved their beer and, as consumer of their products I don’t particularly want to see those breweries struggle.
Like many things only time will tell, hopefully we will see new life breathed into the industry and smaller breweries thrive but larger breweries still survive.