Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - July 2014
Joules deserve praise for building up an estate of proper pubs in the old-fashioned way
IíM SOMETIMES accused of purveying a relentless diet of doom and gloom Ė which is in a sense the point of this column in the first place. However, one positive development of the past few years has been the growth of Jouleís brewery and its associated pub estate. The name is taken from a well-known brewery in Stone, Staffordshire, which was taken over by Bass and closed in the early 1970s. Their original premises were in Stone, but they have now developed a purpose-built brewery just across the Shropshire border in Market Drayton.
Rather than going down the route of developing nationwide distribution, they have followed the more old-fashioned course of building up a tied estate within about thirty miles of the brewery, and only selling to the free trade within that area. They have concentrated on producing a standard range of high-quality, but fairly mainstream and accessible beers, and have eschewed ever-changing weird and wonderful specials. Their flagship beer, Joules Pale Ale, is a classic balanced Burton-style brew in the mould of the original Draught Bass and Pedigree, which to my palate is one of the best everyday beers produced by new breweries in recent years.
None of their pubs are closer than about thirty miles from me, so I canít say Iím a regular visitor, but whenever Iíve come across them Iíve been impressed. While most of them offer food, they very much remain proper pubs rather than identikit family dining outlets, and the ones I have visited have been carefully and expensively restored and have interiors of considerable character. Theyíre not cheap in Sam Smithís or Wetherspoonís terms, so arenít targeted at the downmarket value drinker. Possibly the one people from the Manchester area are most likely to have encountered is the Cross Keys in Chester close to the Old Dee Bridge.
However, itís difficult to avoid the impression that the development of the Jouleís tied estate is to some extent a labour of love depending on some deep pockets. If it was an obvious commercial winner, then others would be doing the same, but in general they donít appear to be. Having said that, if someoneís doing something right we might as well both celebrate it and enjoy it.
Pubs may be shooting themselves in the foot by offering a dusty welcome to e-cigarette users
ON A RECENT visit to my local, I was confronted by an officious notice stating that the use of electronic cigarettes was not allowed anywhere inside the pub. The reason usually given for this policy is that it may be difficult for bar staff to distinguish between electronic and ďrealĒ cigarette use and thus lead to customers flouting the smoking ban. However, the smell of tobacco tends to be a dead giveaway, and surely it is something that pubs can manage rather than taking the easy way out of a blanket ban. The fact that something looks vaguely like something else is not a good reason for prohibiting it and, if some customers find the sight of e-cig vapour unnerving, then pubs always have the option to restrict them to a designated area.
At a time when so many pubs are struggling, it canít make sense to turn away customers wanting to pursue an entirely legal activity. Also, given that e-cigs have been widely adopted as a way of helping people to quit tobacco, pubs could be accused to standing in the way of efforts to reduce smoking prevalence in society. If you force users outside with the smokers they might reach the conclusion that they might as well go back to tobacco. And if pubs that have banned e-cigs close due to lack of trade theyíre likely to be seen as having helped bring it on themselves.