Subjects: making history, the rise and rise of the craft beer festival, the landlord’s role in the London restaurant boom, and the big lie
Authors: Martyn Cornell, Jean-Paul Russek, Richard Negus and Paul Chase
Making history while living it by Martyn Cornell
It’s a strange feeling seeing events you lived through presented as history: people you know, and have known for years, interviewed respectfully as they recall the challenges and controversies of decades ago. In more than 35 years of involvement on the fringes of the beer business, as a writer, a journalist and a drinker, I’ve met a lot of people I can still say “hello, how are you?” to, and there must be a good three dozen of those people quoted in Brew Britannia, a look at the beer business as it has developed over the past half a century, which is published this month. (I even get a mention myself – page 151).
The writers of Brew Britannia, two beer enthusiasts from Cornwall named Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey, subtitle their book “The Strange Rebirth of British Beer”. It IS a strange rebirth, in many ways: as if vociferous action by campaigners for real motoring had managed to preserve the starting handle, the semaphore turn indicator and the mechanical choke, while encouraging hundreds of new small car manufacturers to open up across the country, which are turning out vehicles barely distinguishable from Morris Minors and Riley RMFs.
At the same time, however – and here I’m stretching this metaphor past its snapping point – some of those new small car makers have been inspired by America, and are making vehicles that look like the Terraplane, the Studebaker and the Packard. In all, enthusiasts agree, there’s never been a better time to be a British car-driver, with the motorist having more choice than ever before.
That’s only true about motoring in some weird alternative universe a considerable distance from this one, of course, but it IS true that the British beer scene today is utterly unimaginable from the perspective of 1963, where Boak and Bailey start their narrative, with the founding of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood. In that now distant past, the beers to be found in the pubs of Britain were much the same as they had been for perhaps a century, except that you could no longer find a pint of porter, the 19th century’s biggest selling beer. But more and more beer was being sold in what the SPBW called “dustbins”, or kegs, pasteurised and artificially carbonated, rather than in traditional casks.
Boak and Bailey give perhaps rather too much attention to the SPBW, which was much more a middle-class, middle-aged drinking club than a campaigning organisation, and which seems to have pretty much felt that the big brewers’ drive towards ease and convenience with keg beer would win in the long term, with traditional beer eventually vanishing. Covering the SPBW does, at least, enable them to take the story back a satisfying half-century: but nothing really begins to happen until the foundation of the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale (as it was) in 1971. This started as another middle-class drinking club but, because this one was started by much younger people, in their mid-20s, found the energy to actually tackle the mismatch between Britain’s big brewers, increasingly product-oriented, and the brewers’ customers, a growing and vocal slice of whom rejected what they were being offered on the country’s bar tops.
Not all customers rejected what the brewers were offering them, of course: and one could argue that Boak and Bailey should have given more emphasis to how much of a minority those vociferously in favour of traditional cask ale actually were, and how the overwhelming majority of new drinkers in the 1970s and 1980s were turning, not to hand-pumped milds and bitters of the kind their grandparents drank, but big-brand keg lagers of the kind their grandparents most definitely didn’t drink. Many Camra activists like to hope that the rise of lager in Britain was solely the result of massive advertising campaigns by the big brewers. Those massive advertising campaigns (which do get a mention in the book, and which have rarely been bettered – the “Heineken Refreshes The Parts” series, from Collett Dickenson and Pearce, from the 1970s, for example, was superb) certainly existed but the rise of lager was more down to the arrival of new tranches of young drinkers who were the same age as the Camra activists, but very much less inclined to be anti-corporate and nostalgic for the beers of the past. The youth of the early campaigners, incidentally, is another theme that deserves more exploring: few or none of Camra’s first chairmen were older than about 31, while today the campaign struggles to involve members younger than 35.
The book is at its best in winkling out some of the important but largely forgotten figures in the development of the British beer scene over the past 40 years: not just David Bruce (though he makes a fully deserved substantial appearance) and the Camra founders, but also Brendan Dobbin of West Coast Brewing in Manchester and Sean Franklin in Harrogate, who both pioneered the use of American hops by brewers in the UK, and John Gyngell and Christian Townsley, founders of what can probably be called “Britain’s first craft beer bar”, North, in Leeds in 1997. It points to the conference organised by Mark Dorber of the White Horse in Parson’s Green, London on India Pale Ale – IPA – in 1994 as one of the seminal events that led British brewers to appreciate massively hopped beers of the kinds that American brewers were starting to make (I was there, and I remember American brewers, including Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery, actually flew in with casks of their IPAs for people to try), and the enormous importance of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in awakening British brewer’ palates to the powers of American hops.
Boak and Bailey are also interesting and insightful on the rise of “craft keg”, a term which means nothing to the public at large, and not much even to the pub trade, but which is a subject of ferocious debate among the “beerati”. “Craft keg” is also, very probably, the “next big thing” on British bar tops, as pubs look to improve their offer: for those that don’t know, “craft keg” is beer made by a small brewer, usually to a non-traditional recipe, that is served by outside pressure, like the sort of keg beers Camra was founded to fight against, but which is almost certainly not pasteurised and quite possibly not filtered either. Its supported say the craft keg movement, of which BrewDog is the leading proponent, delivers consistent, flavoursome, exciting beer, in contrast to the often boring cask beer scene. “Craft keg”, though not found under that name, is effectively the only sort of craft (ie made by small producers) beer to be found in the United States, and, indeed, the rest of the world. Camra, naturally, hates it and will have nothing to do with it. Few British brewers are entirely “craft keg” (Lovibonds of Henley on Thames is another) but an increasing number of craft beer bars offer both a bank of handpumps and, on the wall behind, a row of taps for craft keg offerings. “Ordinary” licensees are beginning to find out about them, and you don’t have to have the gain on your crystal ball turned up too high to predict that a “craft keg” offer is going to be increasingly seen on many bartops across the whole country.
Overall, Boak and Bailey have produced an excellent guide to the journey British beer has taken in the past half-century, well worth reading whether you lived through it or not, simply to understand where we are now. Where we will be going next, of course, we won’t know until we get there – but the drinks in 2064’s beer glasses are likely to be as different to yet the same as today’s beers as 1964’s are.
Brew Britannia: The Strange Rebirth of British Beer, by Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey, Aurum Press Ltd, 298pp, £12.99.
Martyn Cornell is managing editor of Propel Info
The rise and rise of the Craft Beer ‘Festival’ and why they are good for the sector by Jean-Paul Russek
I have just returned from the opening night of the Liverpool Craft Beer Expo held at the Camp & Furnace close to Liverpool’s old docklands area. This is one of a number of craft beer events (rarely called ‘festivals’) – I’ve recently attended Craft Beer Rising at the Truman Building in East London, the Indy Man Beer Convention at the very atmospheric Victorian baths in Manchester and Birmingham’s Beer Bash, held in July. There are others but it strikes me this specific style of event for the genre only really started two to three years ago.
This is not a Camra beer festival versus craft beer events comparison, I love both, and cannot wait for GBBF, or my more local Peterborough Beer Festival in August. However, these craft beer events are becoming a feature on the industry landscape, are not going to go away anytime soon and should be welcomed as a positive step forward.
The Liverpool Craft Beer Expo (LCBE) was a sell-out event over its four days. There were 200 beers on offer, with a separate “Cider Den” and a “Whisky Lounge”, together with a premium “burger and dogs” stall (the veggie “dogs” were delicious). Beers were listed with their main details on a giant screen, while in front a DJ played cool old-school tracks to the mix of mainly 20 to 30-somethings. This was foremost an event all about (great) beer, but the whole event, set in an urban warehouse-style environment, with its long benches encouraging everyone to actually talk to each other, added to the relaxed but upbeat vibe.
These are my other observations of the LCBE and other craft beer events in the UK: There is always a mix between cask and keg. LCBE was close to 50/50, others events slightly more keg beer. Both are featured in equal standing and highlight the great beers in each category. But I never sense a “craft versus keg debate”, just a chance to try something new.
There is always a list of brewers represented that defines the genre. This is more profound in the Northern craft beer events than London’s Craft Beer Rising. Typical brewers represented include Tiny Rebel, Magic Rock, Brew Dog and Arbor – and relatively new brewers such as Burning Sky and Siren. Each event also, quite rightly, nods to more local offerings. In the case of LCBE, one of the local breweries was called, appropriately, Liverpool Craft Beer Company. The company had a beer on offer called Zombie Apocalypse Emergency Plan, a wonderful 12% Double IPA – though I drank more of their 3.8% ‘Icon’.
I have mentioned the age range of my fellow guests at the event: I was comfortably one of the older ones in my, ahem, late 40s. That would not necessarily be the case in a “regular” beer festival. There was a decent male and female mix, too. But those of us who have been going to beer events in the past few years has surely seen this mix improve anyway.
All beers are served in a half-pint glass that is part of the entry price, or you can buy one-thirds; no pint glasses at this or other craft events I have been to. At the Manchester’s Indy Man Beer Con, event, it is one-third glasses only. Prices are at the premium end. Most of the beers at LCBE were £2 for a half (some less, several more) in a city that is not exactly the priciest in the UK. Either way I did not hear any complaints on pricing, and this is after a circa £10 entry price. You are encouraged to try different beers and styles at these events and they are a great entry point for those who are not sure about craft keg beers. LCBE was also a beer ticker’s dream, by having a literal and handy tick of list in the very smart programme – perfect!
Craft beer and the wider choice of events you can go to specifically enjoy these beers is only going one way right now, and that is upwards. It is increasingly hitting a more knowledgeable mainstream and dare I say younger market. If the choice, and, to a certain degree, quality this sector brings to the table is generating future beer drinkers in an overall declining market, then everyone in the industry will win. The specific craft beer events such as the one in Liverpool widen the market and gain new entrants. If you have not been to one yet, I encourage you to give one a go.
Jean-Paul Russek is a partnership development manager for Punch Taverns and also the company’s regional cask and craft beer champion. He is also a member of the American Homebrewers Association and a Cask Marque Ambassador
The landlord’s role in London’s restaurant boom by Richard Negus
With 11 new restaurants opening every month in the capital last year, the part played by landlords in blocking or boosting the sector’s expansion should not be underestimated.
London is now regarded as one of the world’s best dining destinations. The capital is home to many of the industry’s most innovative and talented chefs, and provides a wide array of restaurants catering to all tastes and budgets. Demand for restaurant premises has never been higher, from established operators and new entrants alike, and with landlords spoilt for choice, it is London’s landlords who are influencing the dynamics of the capital’s restaurant scene. But are they stifling or fuelling growth and innovation?
According to Harden’s Restaurant Guide, the number of new restaurant openings in London during 2013 was 134, while approximately half that number of restaurants closed during the same time. By my calculation, more than 80% of the restaurant openings replaced existing restaurants. This “churn” of restaurants is not unusual, and according to the Restaurant Association, one in two new restaurants fail. If anything, this is encouraging for operators seeking to break in to the market.
The UK restaurant market is dominated by leasehold properties, one reason being that restaurateurs generally only require part of a building, that is, ground and basement/first floor. This is even more so in London’s multi-storey buildings. The other reason is that restaurateurs prefer to concentrate their capital investment on their business, rather than in bricks and mortar. There are two main routes to acquiring a restaurant property, which are either direct from a landlord on a new letting, or by purchasing an existing restaurant property or business.
Landlords of restaurants are no different to landlords of other commercial property and will look for a strong tenant covenant, that is, a tenant with a good balance sheet and proven track record, as this will have a direct impact on the landlord’s asset value. In London, though, landlords of estates, such as Shaftesbury, Crown, Langham, Grosvenor and so on, are just as concerned about finding the next exciting restaurant concept, in the knowledge that this can attract customers to their estate, which in turn increases occupier demand and asset values as a result. The big London estate landlords own some of the most valuable tracts of property in the UK, and consequently can afford to gamble with tenant selection, because if the restaurant fails there will be a queue of occupiers eager to replace it.
However, restaurant leases are invariably for 20 or 25 years, because of the requirement by tenants to spread their substantial fitting-out costs and/or purchase price, and while a tenant may be “cutting edge” at the start of the lease, after ten or so years the situation can be very different. There is every likelihood that the occupier will change a number of times during the lease term. Failing tenants can be costly to landlords, with rental voids, empty rates liability, enabling works (stripping out, landlord improvements) for the next tenant, rent-free periods, and so on. Hence landlords will not wish to easily release a strong tenant, such as PizzaExpress, Prezzo or Frankie & Benny’s, for an untested new entrant.
It is in the landlord’s best interest to manage control of the identity of their tenant, but at the same time the tenant, who will be making a substantial commitment to and financial investment in the landlord’s property, will require a means of exiting the lease, if, for some reason, the business does not succeed or falls on hard times.
By and large, recent developments and lettings by the landed estates have improved the diversity of restaurant menu offers in London, and these landlords have shown an intuition and understanding of the sector and actively encouraged talented restaurateurs to open in their properties. Shaftesbury and Capital & Counties provide excellent examples of this in and around Covent Garden.
The same, however, cannot be said for independent landlords, whose tenant selection is more likely to be driven by short-term financial decisions/fear of breaching banking covenants, and so on, and hence may look to use every opportunity to frustrate a sale by their existing tenant if this results in a “weaker” tenant coming in. As such, independent landlords will demand security in the form of a rent deposit (which can be as much as six or even 12 months’ rent) and/or personal guarantees.
Probably the best way in for most new entrants to the restaurant market is to purchase an existing restaurant, partly because newcomers will be unable to compete with established and proven operators for the new lettings and, more likely, they just won’t get to hear about them. A premium (price) will need to be paid to a restaurateur to persuade them to sell, and this will reflect the value to the purchaser of the fixtures and fittings, the condition of the property and any goodwill associated with the restaurant business. In the vast majority of cases in London, the purchaser will strip back and refurbish the restaurant from “shell”, perhaps salvaging some of the kit, extraction equipment and the plumbing for toilets, and hence the premium will be little more than “key money” to secure the premises. Acquiring an existing restaurant not only requires terms to be agreed with the restaurant owner but also the landlord, who will still have an opportunity to approve/block the transaction, because of the requirement in most commercial leases for sales (assignment) of leases to obtain the landlord’s consent.
It is perhaps worth mentioning that there is no Rightmove or Zoopla for restaurant properties, and while a small number of restaurants are advertised in the trade press/on their websites, these are invariably secondary/tertiary restaurants in suburban locations. The vast majority of London’s restaurant sales involve a restaurant estate agent and occur off-market, that is, without the knowledge of the general public or restaurant customers. The reason for this is that restaurateurs are not keen to publicly advertise their premises being for sale, because of the potential damaging effect this can have on the restaurant’s business, not to mention the reputation of the restaurant owner.
It will be the agent who will have their ear close to the ground, and be aware of potential sales. Just as new entrants to the restaurant market will need to impress the landlord, if they are to have luck finding a site, then invariably they will also need to convince the agent (who only gets paid on success) that they are worth the agent investing his or her time in them, otherwise a prospective buyer will be overlooked in favour of more acquisitive purchasers.
Assuming a restaurant site can be found and terms agreed with the restaurant owner, the landlord will still have their say, and while it is usual for the landlord to be required to act “reasonably” when considering a tenant’s application to dispose of (assign) their lease, in practice there are many opportunities for the landlord to frustrate the sale. This is particularly true if the landlord is unhappy with the new tenant on offer, which can be for various reasons, for example, the proposed operation is an Indian or Thai restaurant which will emit smells that detrimentally impact the landlord’s adjoining property. With most restaurant leases, the use refers to “restaurant with Class A3”, but few specify the type of menu to be offered, which in any event may be unenforceable. I have used this approach in the past to persuade a landlord to accept a surrender of the tenant’s (my client) lease by trying to force a sale to an Indian restaurant.
The landlord may also not wish to rely on the existing restaurant tenant’s marketing of the premises to find a new tenant and believe that a “better” tenant can be found if the landlord were to take control of the marketing, particularly if they were able to erect a “To Let” board over the property. Remember, the tenant’s motive is to secure the highest price for the restaurant, not the best tenant for the landlord.
I was recently involved in exactly this situation in Soho, where a new company purchaser offered a substantial premium, only for the landlord to decide that they were unhappy with the proposed occupier and hence matched the premium offer and accepted a surrender of the tenant’s lease. The landlord used the opportunity to let the property to a tenant of their choice, taking a lower premium, but higher rent.
The composition of the tenant’s existing lease is in many ways just as important as the property and location. Here are just some of the reasons why a purchaser may not be able to proceed with a purchase without seeking clarification from the landlord:
• The permitted use in the lease may not support the proposed tenant’s use, for example, it does not allow takeaway
• The alienation clause (conditions relating to a sale) are too onerous/restrictive requiring personal guarantees
• A rent review may be outstanding/pending, and accordingly most purchasers/tenants will want to try to get an idea of the landlord’s expectations on rent
• The lease term may be approaching its expiry, and invariably the purchaser will wish to know if the landlord has any intentions to redevelop the building or take the property back for their own occupation
• The lease may not provide automatic rights of renewal (security of tenure) and the purchaser will want to know if the landlord will support the grant of a new lease
When a landlord’s absolute approval is required to permit a sale, then, unfortunately for the tenant, this is the landlord’s opportunity to dictate terms and, in some cases, extract value from the transaction, particularly where high premiums (representing “key money” rather than value for the restaurant business as a going concern) are being exchanged for prime sites.
During two recent restaurant disposals that I was involved with, the landlord mentioned the possibility of scaffolding being erected (for maintenance reasons), which of course could be in place for many months and have a devastating effect on a restaurant’s business. This caused one deal to collapse.
Landlords of prime properties, where tenant demand is always strong, clearly hold the upper hand in negotiations, and any prospective tenant will need to impress and possibly remunerate the landlord to get their attention. If a new entrant is to impress a landlord, then they will need to demonstrate to the landlord that their new restaurant business will be a success, and provide a convincing business plan. In particular the purchaser and new tenant will need to identify WHY their offer will work, WHO it will appeal to and HOW their plan will be delivered. Proof of funds, references, market analysis, menu, experience and background of the new restaurant team, “mood” boards detailing the restaurant design and forecast profit-and-loss accounts should be included in the proposal.
My experience is that landlords are generally aware of new restaurant tenants’ vulnerability and will seek as much security as possible in the form of a rent deposit and, where possible, personal guarantees. Perversely, the cause of most restaurant failures is shortage of cash flow and a landlord taking a substantial sum of the tenant’s cash reserves through demanding a deposit will be putting that tenant at even greater risk of failure.
With restaurateurs prepared to pay over the odds to secure sites, London’s landlords are in the driving seat and, as such, are able to influence the capital’s eating-out market. As eating out in the UK continues to grow, landlords are becoming more knowledgeable about the sector, and, hopefully, will be influenced as much by the restaurant business proposal as the short-term financial impact on asset values.
Richard Negus is a director at AG&G, and a specialist in the valuation and sale of pubs and restaurants. He has more than 25 years of experience in the sector and has bought and sold more than 500 restaurants. This article appears in the current edition of Propel Quarterly magazine
The health lobby and the technique of the Big Lie by Paul Chase
The Big Lie is a propaganda technique. The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kampf, about the use of a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” Goebbels went on to practise the technique in his poisonous narrative of an innocent, besieged Germany striking back at “international Jewry.” The phrase was also used in a report prepared during the war by the United States Office of Strategic Services in describing Hitler’s psychological profile: “His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.”
The above description articulates precisely the propaganda techniques used by today’s anti-alcohol health lobby campaigners. The constant litany of scare stories and the remorseless anti-alcohol propaganda – “never allow the public to cool off”; demonising the alcohol industry, and denying that its attempts to promote responsible drinking are anything other than self-serving – “never concede that there might be some good in your enemy”; targeting high-strength alcohol and problem drinkers in order to leverage stricter controls on all drinks and all drinkers – “concentrate on one enemy at a time”; exclude the drinks’ industry from public policy formation – “never leave room for alternatives”; creating folk devils – ‘Big Alcohol’, and rhetorical typologies – the binge drinker, the chronic drinker, the lager lout, the delinquent pre-loader. But above all, the deliberate misuse of statistics to inflate the problem.
One of the most notorious examples of academic misuse of statistics is the Sheffield Alcohol Pricing Model, produced by academics from Sheffield University. According to the Sheffield Alcohol Pricing Model, one of the biggest gains from adopting a minimum unit price for alcohol would result from fewer people losing their jobs because of alcohol misuse. But someone sacked for misusing alcohol is immediately replaced by someone else. There is only an economic loss if the job goes, not if the employee goes.
No less a figure than Thomas Babor (see the section of the book entitled “The whole population approach: a new paradigm is born”) has justified the use of junk science in the cause of the “greater good”. Babor accepts that studies like Sheffield’s are “not scientifically credible”, but that is OK because they serve a higher moral purpose: “In a democracy, politicians and policymakers often need to be shamed into doing the right thing, and costs to society have the ability to shame, blame and even defame,” he says. “It is the simple, single monetary figure that captures public attention more than anything else.”
So never mind if it’s policy-based evidence rather than evidence-based policy as long as it fools the public and bamboozles the politicians into doing “the right thing”. Telling lies is OK, provided a noble purpose is served.
I have likened the propaganda techniques of anti-alcohol health lobby campaigners to the techniques employed by Hitler and Goebbels. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not saying these campaigners are fascists; merely that their propaganda techniques are strikingly similar to those historically used by fascists. I think these people are sincere, even well-meaning, which is not at all the same thing as saying their conclusions are either honest or accurate.
The best example of the “Big Lie” in relation to health lobby statistics is the claim that there are 1.2 million “alcohol-related” hospital admissions a year. This is based upon a false counting methodology called “alcohol-attributable fractions”, which has been largely repudiated by the Department of Health. We now know that the true figure is nearer 300,000, and that these admission episodes are generated by around 100,000 people many of whom are admitted twice, three or even four times in a given year. Those from the health lobby who continue to quote this false statistic either know this information is false, but are so wrapped up in their own self-righteous moral certainties they keep repeating it because they feel that the ends justify the means; or they have repeated the Big Lie so often that they have not only convinced others of its truth, they have convinced themselves.
I am left with the thought that a man who lies to others is merely hiding the truth; a man who lies to himself has forgotten where he has put it.
The above is an abridged extract from Paul Chase’s forthcoming book ‘Culture Wars and Moral Panic – the story of alcohol and society’, to be published in July. Paul Chase is a director of CPL Training and a leading commentator on on-trade health and alcohol policy