Trade News – May 2019

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Global brewing giant AB InBev has decided to change its name for its UK operations. It will henceforth trade as Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I, to take advantage of the ‘power and recognition’ of the Budweiser brand. I’m sure that if I had conducted a poll among readers you could have come up with something more apposite. BBG, as I imagine they will come to be known, are moving their headquarters to Farringdon. New group president Paula Lindenberg told the Morning Advertiser, “We are a fast-paced, ambitious group that dreams big and we have exciting plans ahead for the UK and Ireland.”

APRIROSE ACQUIRE MORE PUBS

Further to my report in the last edition, Aprirose have now acquired a further 45 pubs from property company British Land for £130 million. These pubs are operated by the Spirit Pub Company, which is part of Greene King. They are spread out across the country but one of them is reportedly in Twickenham. This brings Aprirose’s estate to just short of 200 pubs and according to their chief executive, they are committed to ‘this exciting sector’.

ON YOUR BIKE

Urban Pubs and Bars have opened their 20th site, the Cyclist, in Balham. This is the former JD Wetherspoon site just down from the station. This is the third former JD Wetherspoon site that UPB have reopened, following those in Highgate and Stroud Green. The Balham site has undergone a £400,000 refurbishment and if UPB think that it is worth that sort of investment, you have to wonder why JDW closed it.

BEER BOUTIQUE CHAIN CLOSES

It isn’t just pubs. At the end of March, the Beer Boutique off-licence company entered into a creditors’ voluntary liquidation and all three of its shops, in Putney, Wandsworth and Tunbridge Wells, closed with immediate effect. They ended their farewell Facebook message with the following ‘For those looking to get their fix of craft beer in SW London, we would point you in the direction of We Brought Beer.’

FULLER’S NEWS

Fuller’s now describe themselves as a ‘premium pub and hotel operator’. I imagine that consequently they were very pleased to win the award for ‘Best Accommodation Operator’ in the recent Publican awards, organised by the Morning Advertiser.

Happily, they seem to be retaining an interest in beer. During May, milds from a number of breweries were available at the Harp in Charing Cross. This featured a beer specially brewed for the event by Dark Star. Simply called Mild (3.5% ABV) it was brewed with seven different malt varieties and only two English hops: Warrior and EKG. Only 35 firkins of the beer were brewed, most of which went to the Harp, although a few firkins may have appeared at other local Fuller’s pubs. 10% of the sales went to the Dark Star Foundation which supports causes local to Dark Star’s Partridge Green Brewery.

Fuller’s have recently reopened the Anglers by the river at Teddington after a significant refurbishment to this 18th century pub. In keeping with our Summer Pubs theme, the garden is our cover picture. The interior has been completely remodelled and a new first floor function room has been added.

Fuller’s have a site in Balham on a long lease which was originally the Jackdaw and Rook pub. The site was subsequently sub-let to a restaurant which has now closed down with the property reverting to Fuller’s. Curiously, they have applied to Wandsworth Council for a premises licence in the name of Jackdaw and Rook but have also put the lease on the market with agents AG&G. Covering all bases, I presume.

Readers will be aware of the dispute between Fuller’s and the licensee of the Coach & Horses in Soho, Alastair Choat, whom Fuller’s are trying to remove using a Section 25 notice. The Coach & Horses is the setting for Keith Waterhouse’s famous play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell, in which the journalist is locked in the pub overnight and muses on his life and times. As part of his campaign to remain at the pub, Mr Choat is staging performances of the play in the pub itself starring Robert Bathurst (of Downton Abbey fame). Performances run from 7 May until 1 June, so sadly readers may be too late to see it.

Ironically, apart from Wimbledon Brewery (see page 32) the only other London winners at the recent International Brewing awards were Fuller’s who won gold awards for London Porter and Frontier.

WETHERSPOON’S NEWS

JDW announced in March that it was selling 16 more pubs, although this time only one is in London or the South East: the Pennsylvanian in Rickmansworth. According to the Evening Standard (8 May), JDW have so far this year spent £70.9 million on purchasing the freeholds of pubs where they had previously just had a lease. This is a reversal of the policy of two or three years ago when they were selling the leases of pubs where they did not own the freehold.

For the first time, JDW’s most recent beer festival (March/April) featured some beers that were suitable for vegans. There were however no European beers following chairman Tim Martin’s decision in January.

The last financial report, for the 13 weeks to 28 April, saw comparable sales rise by 7.6% and Mr Martin said that he expected trading over the full financial year to be in line with expectations.

NEW CRAFT PUB

I was living locally, many moons ago, when the site over the Underground station at Hammersmith Broadway was redeveloped. The development included a Greene King pub, the Old Trout, which I never felt inclined to use. It has recently been closed but I’m pleased to report that the site has been acquired by the Craft Beer Co and initial reports are enthusiastic. It is at the Fulham Palace Road end of the concourse.

PUBLOVE OPENINGS

The PubLove pub company, part of Ei Group’s Managed Investments arm, are refurbishing two pubs and opening another in their growing chain of pubs combined with backpacker hostels. The pubs all also have a food offering. A £500,000 investment in the Grade II-listed White Ferry House in Pimlico has seen the number of beds available increase to 75. The Steam Engine in Waterloo is having an additional floor added at a cost of £750,000 which will provide 80 beds and make it the company’s biggest site so far. Next to come will be the Rose & Crown in Union Street, Borough (see page 42) in which they are investing £450,000 and which was due to open in May.

GASTROPUB AWARDS

In the Pub News column I mentioned the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs awards. As well as the Drapers Arms, seven other London pubs were listed. The highest placed three were the Harwood Arms, Fulham (5th), the Red Lion & Sun, Highgate (10th) and the Marksman, Hackney, (12th).

NEW BOSS AT GREENE KING

The Morning Advertiser reports that Nick Mackenzie will succeed Rooney Anand as chief executive of Greene King. He joins them from the entertainment company, Merlin, which operates various businesses such as Madame Tussauds, the London Eye and Sea Life aquariums. A qualified chartered surveyor, he has experience in the trade with Bass and Allied Domecq. He is currently a non-executive director of Thwaites, although he will be stepping down before starting with GK.

Mr McKenzie took over on 1 May 2019 but, despite good sales over Easter (up 2.4%), the share value immediately fell, although only marginally.

NEWS FROM SHEPHERD NEAME

The June beer from Sheps’ Cask Club will be Bella Birra, an ‘Italian red rye’ beer (4.4% ABV) which is a collaboration with Italian brewers MezzoPasso. There is a passport scheme linked to the Cask Club; details can be found at www.sncaskclub.co.uk.

Sheps are also rebranding their best known beer, Spitfire, which was introduced in 1990 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Kent’s T20 cricket team, sponsored by Sheps, are already wearing the new logo and the full ‘roll out’ will come during the summer, whenever that might be. It will also apply to Spitfire Gold, which was launched to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and Spitfire Lager, introduced to mark the 80th anniversary of the first flight of the iconic fighter plane.

THORNBRIDGE KEEP TO CASK

Not a London brewery, I know, but this is encouraging news from Thornbridge Brewery. In a press release they have announced that, against the background of a number of independent brewers returning to producing cask conditioned beer, for them it is business as usual. They report ‘a consistent demand for quality cask beer’ and in 2018 they brewed over 2 million pints of it! This follows expansion at the brewery near Bakewell, Derbyshire, which included extra fermentation vessels with a canning line to follow this year.

A RIGHT HANDFUL

Carling have introduced a new pint glass which, because it features vertical grooves and is narrower at the bottom, will enable customers to carry four pints at one go. Well, so they say. I would have thought that it rather depends on the size of your hands and if you can carry over two kilos.

Compiled by Tony Hedger