As more pubs close could the future lie in a new breed of micropubs?
PUBLISHED: 12:35 30 January 2013 | UPDATED: 15:15 19 January 2016
As more pubs close could the future lie in a new breed of micropubs? Emma Mayoh pulled up a stool at Lancashire's first. PHOTOGRAPHY BY: KIRSTY THOMPSON
The Snug at Carnforth Railway Station is far from your average pub. There’s no music, no lager, no jukeboxes or fruit machines. Inside you’ll find a library of books to choose from, comfortable stools, a friendly face to chat to and an ever-changing selection of real ales from small, independent and often local breweries.
You won’t find any gastropub food, just a few nibbles of cheese and crackers, pork pie, pickled egg, pork scratchings, crisps and peanuts. But what stands out most is its size. It is tiny with just 300 square feet and room for around 35 people. The Snug is one of an increasingly popular new breed of drinking place, the micropub.
Over the past few years, the popularity of these no frills venues has soared. Low set up costs and less demanding hours – you can’t open for as long as a traditional pub – have led the way for several micropubs across the country. The Snug is thought to be the only micropub in Lancashire. The nearest one is in Derbyshire.
The Snug was set up by Gregg Beaman, a 53-year-old originally from Gorton who spent most of his career working for medical charities. It was last year, within weeks of reading about this type of pub, that he became hooked on the idea and set to transforming a former ladies’ clothing shop into the pub at the railway station.
Gregg runs The Snug with help from wife, Julie. He’s worked with and been offered advice from other micropub owners in the country. But at heart of the business is a no-nonsense, simple approach to appreciating real ales.
Gregg said: ‘I’ve had people come in and ask for lager and they’re been surprised that I don’t have any. But it’s encouraged them to try some new ales and quite often they’ve discovered they like them.
‘I also get very passionate real ale lovers coming in here too and they seem to really enjoy it. They like that they can come in and try different beers all of the time. They would soon tell me if they didn’t like one too.
But that’s part of the fun. A lot of the beers come from Lancashire and Cumbria but we do have guest ales from other areas too. For me it’s about having good quality cask ales and people enjoying good conversation and good company.’
Less than 12 months since the doors opened, The Snug is a success. There’s a strong trade from people catching the train and on a weekend this tiny venue is packed to bursting. Gregg doesn’t have big business plans; he is more than content pulling the pints behind his tiny bar. He would also like more micropubs to open in the county.
He said: ‘I’d like to think this is a place with a relaxing atmosphere where people can come and escape the noise and hectic nature of your usual pubs. We’re definitely a more traditional ale pub.
‘I think the idea of micropubs is absolutely fantastic and could not encourage people enough to do it. I’ve set up the kind of pub I would want to go in but I think there are a lot of people who also love this style of place.’
Barrel of fun
Micropubs are reminiscent of the original public houses which took off with the abolition of beer tax in 1830. This meant that a ratepayer was permitted to sell beer without a licence.
There was an explosion in the number of these public houses where the beer was often sold from the kitchen. As the business became more sophisticated the drinking spaces in houses were separated so you could have a taproom in some establishments while genteel folk might prefer somewhere with a parlour or lounge.
This latest development is due mainly to little known changes in the licensing act in 2003. According to The Micropub Association it ‘permits the change of use from a shop to a public house, and does not allow your friendly regional brewer to challenge the granting of a new license.’
The association adds: ‘It takes only a relatively small outlay to set up your own micropub - the lease of a small shop, an air conditioning unit/ cellar cooler, lavatory, sink and a few tables and chairs. Compare this to leasing a conventional public house and the sums soon become bonkers!’ For more information go to www.micropubassociation.co.uk