Thursday 29 May 2014

The Landlord

No, this isn't a post about the best known product of Timothy Taylor, fine product when well-kept it no doubt is. No, in my increasingly reckless journey down the road of iconoclasm, I'm going the write about the person who runs The Pub.

Imagine. You go to the pub, probably for a swift pint before your evening meal. There to greet you is a jolly, ruddy-cheeked chap with sideburns polishing a glass. He knows your name, and is pouring your drink before you even order it. And again, before you even finish that one. As the night closes in, he will listen to the tales of your day with a sympathetic ear, all the while making sure your glass is fuller than your life's events makes it seem. Then, at the end of the night, when you're somewhat the worse for wear, he will gently shepherd you out and back off home, never presuming or offending, but making clear he has your best interests at heart. He closes the doors, to begin the nightly task of making sure his pub is as spick-and-span as when the doors opened that day. Then he turns in, happily reassured by the knowledge that the cycle will begin anew at noon the following day.

Or so the popular image goes. Sadly, the actual experience of tenant landlords in current times sadly exposes this as a myth. The BBC has reported a study that Publicans have one of the lowest levels of job satisfaction, and the Morning Advertiser says many are struggling.  As you've probably read elsewhere, the pincer of falling on-trade drinks sales and pub company/brewery pressures are likely to be behind this. It's a wonder anyone wants to take on a pub at all.

So why be a tenant landlord of a pub? You own the actual business, but you're unlikely to own the building itself or the infrastructure that supports it. When you fail to meet targets, or displease your masters, you're likely to be evicted. Thus losing both your job and home in one go. And even if you do manage to be a success, your rent will likely be raised as a reward.  The salaried manager has none of this, he or she just collects the money and goes home. While they can be pressured and fired, they won't become homeless and a guaranteed a certain amount of cash each month.

Is it now prudent to "call time" (pub article cliché #1, sorry) on the concept of the tenant landlord?  To me, it seems a model of employment left over from the 19th Century, never mind the 20th. I presume it worked when landlords were owner-proprietors, but when they live in a company building to sell that company's products, it seems to be a relationship based on exploitation and coercion. It almost goes without saying that the biggest (and possibly only) pub success of the last 20 years, Wetherspoons, is exclusively salary-managed. I assume that most of the hipster crafty places are run on similar lines, too.

As far as I can see, there are precious few reasons to keep the tenant model going. The only thing it does is attract people with the promise of liberty, but only providing indentured servitude.

Sunday 25 May 2014


The breakfast of champions
What with beer being almost fashionable these days, we now have a whole different type of "beer writer" than we had even 10 years ago.  Whereas the likes of Roger Protz and Michael Jackson would talk about a beer for its inherent taste and drinking qualities, today you'll get writers discussing "food matching".

A lot of this is down to an only partially hidden inferiority complex about beer. Wine was the drink of the well-to-do, and was consumed by the glass with a meal. Beer, on the other hand, was swigged by the pint by poverty stricken proles. So, when the whole crafty thing blew up, it was decided (probably subconsciously) that to make beer more " classy" , having it with food was the way to go.

I'm sure the foody beery types such as Yvan Seth and Melissa Cole, to name but two, get something out of this.  And I'm equally sure their audience understand it.  I would have thought "food matching" with any drink to be entirely subjective, as no two people's taste buds and sense of smell are exactly the same. But there you go.

As for me, I'd be terrible at it. I had many traumatic incidents involving food as a child, and thus now eat very little of what could be termed good food. I will happily eat pizza four days a week - goes well with Thornbridge Jaipur, I've found. I say four, because that's about the amount of actual meals I have.  The rest of the time, I'm out drinking, and subsist on beer, milk, chocolate and energy drinks. (My uncle once criticised me for this, saying I'd end up like my grandad, who lived on Special Brew and baked beans.  So, I'm going to end up dying in my own home after a short illness at 72).

I suppose the above marks me out as a philistine as far as food goes, and my opinions of how things taste should be entirely ignored. I will state, however, that I've only had one day off sick in 5 years. The reason why? Food poisoning. Lesson learned.

Friday 23 May 2014

Jaipur £3.30 a Pint

Not many pubs close and then reopen in the 2010s. I assume it's far more remunerative to sell them off for development, or just demolish and flog the land. Surprisingly, though, one such pub which this hasn't happened to is The Moorbrook, just outside Preston's city centre.

After spending what I presume to be a not inconsiderable sum on the Lamb & Packet and The Sun, Thwaites seem the have thought this particular pub as surplus to requirements (as they do with a lot of other things, apparently). So, it went up for auction. And, as you'll be surprised to hear, it was bought by "developers".

This is where the tale gets peculiar. For whatever reason, the developers backed out, and as such The Moorbrook went to the second-highest bidder, the people behind Preston's celebrated venues The Continental and The Ferret. Naturally, they wanted to keep it as a pub.

So. The Moorbrook has spent the last three months being refurbished as a crafty place. If nothing else, it saves money as, due to Thwaites policy of neglect, it came mostly ready-distressed. In fact, even when the place had only been open an hour, I saw the brass footbar hadn't been polished.  You can never tell with these refurbishments what exactly is original or been carefully installed.  Welsh Dresser-like display for the spirits behind the bar? Could be original, I suppose. Knackered looking chairs and stools? Were they inherited from the previous owners, or selected for their dishevelled qualities at a furniture clearance?  One thing I certainly know - the blackboards are new.
"We don't serve Brasso here anymore, mate"
And the beer? Well, you can tell they've been aiming for those of the Crafty persuasion as Darkstar Hophead was on the pumps. While they have Thatcher's cider on, there's no Foster's or Strongbow. Thwaites Original is a permanent fixture, presumably as a sop to any of its previous clientele who decide to wander in.  Tellingly, they have a Craft Keg IPA. Best of all, though, on opening day, Thornbridge Jaipur was on sale. At £3.30 a pint - a good 80p less than anywhere else (excepting Spoons) I've seen it.
Wasn't always the middle of nowhere on North Road, Preston
All in all, the refurbished Moorbrook is a work in progress, which is fair enough on its opening day. The place is in a peculiar location (smack in the middle of a retail park just off the A6) with little passing foot trade, and its signs are obviously the old Thwaites ones painted/masking taped over. The bottle selection may need some improvement, but I suspect they're limited by fridge space. But as central Preston's only craft beer place, it's a welcome development.

It's not replaced The Tap House in my affections, but it's good to have somewhere to go in town where the beer is reasonably good and isn't a cavernous hellhole or a dismally decorated dive. And they're on the same bus route even....