It should now be widely known that British pubs are in a deep crisis. The cause of this is not the beer duty escalator or the smoking ban – it is that their owners are waging war against them.
Many people still think pubs are owned by breweries. In reality huge numbers of pubs are owned by pub companies or “pubcos”, which are essentially property developers. These rent or lease the pubs to tenants who are then obliged to buy their beer from the pubco at inflated prices – up to 60% above the market price.
In the past the biggest pubcos borrowed heavily against the value of their pubs in order to buy more pubs. They now find themselves up to their ears in debt and desperate to pay it off at the expense of their tenants. As a result tenants find themselves faced with ever-increasing rent demands and extortionate beer prices. It’s no wonder that so many pubs are closing.
There is an alternative to struggling along until the pubco finally drives you into bankruptcy. The Black Lion in Kilburn has chosen an unusual form of resistance: they have stopped selling draught beer entirely.
Last night they threw a “draught wake” with the last keg, and from today will concentrate on wine, spirits and organic bottled beers.
It’s hard to think of a more spectacular indication of the damage the pubcos are doing to our pubs.
Find out about the campaign for pubco reform at fairdealforyourlocal.com.
There is really only one headline for this story, but I am given to understand the Black Lion will not be as miserable a place as the pub in the song.