Monday, 28 September 2015

BRAPA - Micro Pubs : a special report

Good evening all,

If I'm going to stay on top of this challenge to tick off every GBG (Good Beer Guide) listed pub in the UK on a year to year basis, I'll need to keep my finger on the pulse in terms of pub culture.

And as we speak, here in September 2015, the buzz phrase of the moment is "micro pub".  Since receiving the new 2016 GBG, it's evident how many are appearing as new pubs for me to tick off.  It's important, therefore, that I embrace them, which is just as well because I have been very impressed with what I've seen of them so far........

So What is a Micro Pub? 

Okay, so they may lack the traditional feel of a historic old pub but their aims are simple and create a perfect pub atmosphere.  They are freehouses so they sell an interesting range of cask ales.  They shun all electronic devices and TV's so conversation is the only hubbub you get here.  I find the average micro pub goer seems to be between 30-45, a good male and female mix, seem quite a discerning bunch, not normally annoying!  The food they sell is traditional pub snacks like scotch eggs and pork pies, no gastro nonsense or restauranty feel which as you might know by now, is my overriding pet hate in BRAPA pubs.

Note there is nothing specifically listed about dimensions of the building, I guess micro as in "microbrewery" and minimalistic as much as literal "size".

Possible downsides (for a small percentage of my readership) seems to be a lack of blackcurrant cordial(!) whilst the obligatory one unisex toilet is the thing I most dislike, especially with my bladder!

Why Have They Got So Popular Suddenly? 

Having read the wonderful "In Search of the Perfect Pub" (which is probably already out of date but does touch on this 'phenomena'), it's like a mini pub revolution, almost like a protest.  This is because pubs are generally tied by pub companies and breweries and licensees have to pay extortionate amounts and cannot even put on the beers that they are passionate about.  Also, there are so many microbreweries producing amazing new beers who can't flog them to pubs because of this tie.  You only have to look at somewhere like the Black Swan in York to see how frustrating this is.  The same 5 biggish branded beers for many years now, all have had their moment in the sun, but now unless they are kept extremely well, seem rather old and tired.  The pub meanwhile, is a superb old building that admittedly, a micro pub is going to struggle to recreate the atmosphere of, especially on a cold winter's night where the roaring fire comes into it's own.  But overall, I count myself blessed to be embarking on BRAPA just as the micro pub revolution is taking off.

Micro Pubs BRAPA History

My first was the micropub that opened third - the Just Beer Micropub in Newark but I didn't really enjoy it due to "Chris Irvin Syndrome" and I didn't know micro pubs were going to be a "thing" then.  My second experience on Ulverston A-Z day was in the Snug in Carnforth, the eleventh to open.  This epitomized what is great about them.  Tiny but lots of exciting beer, a man giving us free pasties, friendly staff and locals, very basic and unpretentious.

In the last year, I've been to some crackers.  Beverley's Chequers stands out, as does Hereford's "Beer in Hand", Wolverhampton's "Hail to the Ale", the "Cuckoo" in Toddington and the "Gravity Station" in Cardiff to name a few.

Micro Pubs BRAPA Future

In BRAPA terms, at the moment they are probably most valuable as pre-emptives but I will be keeping the list on Wikipedia close to me as a point of referral, though even I can see 3 or 4 that are missing from their list that I am aware of.  There must be 150 plus by now.

Kent seems to be the main county for micro pubs (where the founder opened the first one) but I'd argue they are most relevant in places where real ale doesn't do so well.  This might explain why York doesn't have one yet (and probably shouldn't) but Middlebrough suddenly has FOUR.  Yes, not just the GBG listed Dr Phil's but the Twisted Lip which a girl told me about on Saturday, and two others I've noticed too!

I should be going to one in Hebden Bridge tomorrow but alas, no, more on that story on Wednesday!

I'll leave you with a nice stat I've nicked off Wikipedia (that's a reference by the way).  Only 0.4% of pubs selling real ale are micro pubs.  BUT 3 of the 16 CAMRA finalists for pub of the year are micro pubs, probably because they can afford to focus on keeping quality local microbrews in fine condition with none of the rubbish that goes with it.

Long live the micro pub.  I'm only just scratching the surface.



  1. This is meant as a compliment but I won't object if you take it otherwise and lamp me, but that report somehow reminds me of John Craven investigates on Countryfile.

    May I suggest that there is no fixed definition of a micro pub, hence all the variations on the theme, eg some being not so micro?

    The landlord of the original in Kent probably had an idea for a pub, fitting pretty much the stereotypical description of a micro pub and hit upon the phrase, which has been copied (that is not meant as a slant against anybody - just the best word I could think of) across the country. I am willing to bet that said Kentish original is small, indeed as we know most of the early ones are. As the phenomenon grows, there will be other variations in style.

    I would also point out that some pubs which predate the micro pub revolution could be called micro pubs, of course they aren't known as such because when they opened there was no such thing. The Euston Tap is one such example, small, free house, wide beer range, no food, no telly, no blackcurrant. You could make arguments for the Hop and Vine (I'd say food too substantial and beer range too small but it is within the two man band) and the Donny Brewery Tap seems to fit the criteria, including opening recently enough, but not classified as such.

    The micro pub spirit is also carried in more traditional pubs, which are surely disqualified counter intuitively but correctly for previously being a pub (I'd say that is something missing from your definition, converted from something else), places like the Southampton Arms.

    I have tried not to be too controversial in that lot. My favourite feature is the lack of a telly.

    Right, I'm off to research the buses (or hopefully not lack of) to or from Elton & Orston. Don't be surprised if I make a very out of the box suggestion of a post match tick. I would appreciate seeing you after the game as I trust you to tell me accurately how terrible or otherwise the game was.

  2. Tom, I do like Craven and Countryfile so would take that as a compliment!

    The Kentish original opened 4 years before the second one so think you are right. But having stumbled on idea, Mr Micropub (not his real name) has advised future ones on opening. He now has formed a Micropub association so he's made it his own.

    Euston Tap does feel like one! Are stairs allowed?

    Think Hop n Vine is more of a euro style bar cafe place like my recent Fox in Shipley and Leeds North Bar, though differences are subtle.

    I will email separate about Nottingham as there's been a development, but sit tight for now, report on last night will be up this evening pre Great British Bake Off!


    1. I trust that you have researched the fact that Mr Micropub isn't his real name. There will always be key differences, many out of the landlords control such as the premises available. If the only premises available are too large to be micro, you're not going to only open half the premises just to be small enough. That could be part of the reason for the non micro micro pubs.

      I don't see why stairs shouldn't be prohibited.

      The Hop and Vine calls itself a real ale cafe bar (I think that is the wording), so despite not liking the place you're bang on the money.

      I'm puzzled intrigued and slightly excited by the prospect of a Nottingham development. You know I like predicting so here goes: you wouldn't replace one of the planned pubs with a pre-emptive, therefore, either you have found out that something opens early, thus replacing the pre-emptive with an actual use for your red pen that is actually a yellow highlighter, or there has been a change in plan for the day. Bernard not turning up, whilst highly disappointing, wouldn't materially change things. The most plausible change I can think of is not going to the game. I'm going to predict that there has been a cock up with match tickets and thus you haven't got any.

      Do I get a prize if I'm right.

      I don't imagine the Bake Off starts that late, so Hebden Bridge and hopefully Mirfield report should be imminent. I'm highly excited. Come on City!