Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - April 2002
Another brewing family succumbs to the lure of the quick buck
I was sorry to see that the McMullen family had decided to take the money and run by putting their long-established Hertfordshire brewery up for sale, together with its 135 pubs. While they didn’t have the highest profile amongst the independent family brewers, their AK and Country Bitter were both good, enjoyable brews. The likely outcome must be that the brewery will close, the pubs will be sold off to one or more national pub companies, and the beers at best will linger on for a few years as licence-brewed shadows of their former selves. It will be the same story as with our local former Vaux pubs, many of which are now keg-only, while in the rest - with one or two honourable exceptions - you’re lucky to find anything better than cask Tetleys or Boddingtons.
In this area, we’re lucky to have such a strong representation of good independent brewers with substantial tied estates, and enterprising free houses. But, across the country, while the best 5% of pubs are better than ever before on the beer front, in the majority of the pub stock independent brewers’ real ales are becoming ever rarer, particularly as staple, everyday beers rather than overpriced guests. Sadly this is yet another nail in the coffin of high-quality traditional beer as a mainstream product.
Everyone needs better public toilets, not just weekend revellers
In the centres of many major cities, there’s a growing problem of people - mostly, but not entirely, men - relieving themselves in public after the pubs have closed. In some places it has become so bad that it’s eroding the stonework of buildings. Manchester City Council are now proposing to tackle this by providing temporary outdoor urinals that remain below pavement level during the day but can be raised for use in the late evening, an initiative that apparently has been extremely successful in Amsterdam.
This has drawn a predictable wave of sanctimonious criticism that the council are only encouraging anti-social behaviour. But as long as people go out at weekends drinking beer in large quantities, the after-effects will be entirely predictable, and the choice is between taking action to alleviate the nuisance and simply sitting back and wringing your hands. The police have better things to do than rounding up the culprits, and only on Fantasy Island will post-pub crowds queue up to pay 20p a head to use a “Superloo”.
Of course, to a large extent local councils have caused this problem themselves by closing down the vast majority of their public toilets, which once included many urinals that were open 24 hours a day and so could be used after the pubs had shut. And surely a better all-round solution would be to provide free, permanent facilities that were available to the general public during the daytime, rather than just for late-night revellers.