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Matthew Eley

Matthew Eley

Matthew Eley

Matt Eley is an Inapub contributor. Follow him on Twitter @mattheweley

25.4.2012 Matt Eley
altIn the last couple of days two celebrities have been involved in serious debates around the matter of alcohol and drugs.

One of these was a politician and the other a comedian.

But I have no doubts about which one I would take seriously.

Actor, comedian and former heroin addict Russell Brand yesterday gave evidence to a panel of MPs on the subject of drug addiction and his experiences of being treated by the system.

He turned up in a black vest and flamboyant jewellery, as befits his image, and spoke wisely and articulately on a subject that he has first-hand experience of.

Now contrast that to the Radio Five Live programme ‘Drunk Again’ hosted by Ann Widdecombe.

The premise was that former Tory MP and celebrated dancing buffoon Ann would head around town with a group young professional women to see why they liked to get absolutely blotto of an evening.

The usual clichés were trotted out about women drinking ‘shots’ (heaven forbid) and how town centres are no go areas on a Saturday night for normal members of society.

Now I am not saying that alcohol consumption is not an issue in this country but let’s get a bit of perspective here. Alcohol consumption in this country is in decline. People are drinking less - the statistics revealed as much in the first five minutes of the show

Nobody likes to see people puking on the pavements at the weekends but this is not as widespread as Ann and the Daily Mail would have you believe.

The vast majority of people who drink in this country do so for social reasons and not to go out and cause problems for themselves and others, yet this side of drinking is rarely explored on television or radio.

I don’t believe you have to be an expert in a subject to make a programme or broadcast about it but was Ann really the right person for this job? I am sure she has read and studied a huge amount about alcohol but what can she really know about being young, going out and wanting to have a drink?

For the girls on the show it must have been like having your granny out on a Saturday night, trespassing into a world that in a practical sense she is entirely unfamiliar with.

Ann may protest that the programme was not about those who just want to have a bit of fun but these things rarely come across that way. They end up demonising a section of society who by and large just want to have a drink, relax and maybe a bit of a jig. If it goes beyond that the vast majority of people feel the regret and remorse the following day.

Yes, there are some who have a serious problem, but this is a very small percentage of people who go out to pubs, bars and clubs
 
Back to our man Russell. He told MPs that he would much prefer it if politicians regarded drug addiction as a disease rather than a criminal justice matter and that those involved should be treated with compassion.

Could it be argued that the same approach is required for the minority of people who drink to excess on a regular basis?
Nobody is saying that it is not a problem, but are we really tackling it properly as a society?

The more we demonise those who can not drink responsibly the further away we are from helping them deal with their own demons.

Matt Eley is the editor of Inapub. Follow him on Twitter @mattheweley
Matt Eley
17.4.2012 Matt Eley
altI was a very lucky boy at the weekend as I had the pleasure of being invited along to the John Smith’s Grand National.

By the time I got there my luck had run out somewhat as I came away much lighter in the pocket than I had started the day.

That really is by-the-by though because I never expect to win at the races and just being there and enjoying the day is the main draw for me. Witnessing such a close finish was pretty incredible too, though by this stage my horse, Shakalakaboomboom, was going backwards.

Being at Aintree also gave me the chance to go out in one of my favourite cities in the country later that night.

There are certain places that hold good memories and always seem to offer a cracking night out. For me Liverpool is one of those places.

It has a great mix of party pubs, boozers and bars; the people (and I know this is a generalisation) are more often than not welcoming and keen on having a laugh.

I had a slight concern that Saturday night in Liverpool could be fraught with tension. For while 40,000 happy Reds were travelling back from Wembley, there were an equal number of blue Blues.

The combination of 80,000 football fans meeting up with the 70,000 folk who had spent a day at the races could have been troublesome. As far as I could see it was nothing of the sort.

The pubs were packed and full of fun and one of the key ingredients seemed to be live music.

We visited the famous Mathew Street – home of The Cavern, The Grapes, and a load of other places frequented by The Beatles some 50 years ago. Their legacy lives on here as bright young things, and slightly older and more jaded ones, take to the stage to provide entertainment.

It reminded me just how enjoyable a spot of spontaneous live music can be. Most of the pubs and bars were free to enter and had a fairly simple set up with one or two musicians belting out covers.

It provided a great focal point in every pub and it didn’t take long before groups of people were joining in to have a good old sing song.

For me, live music, when done well, provides a great energy in a pub that you just can’t get from a DJ or a juke box.

And now with the laws changing to allow live music to grow pubs should really be able to capitalise.

The Live Music Act is expected to become law by October and, among other things, this means venues with a capacity of up to 200, will not need a special licence to host live acts.

It is a cutting of red tape that should help pubs and hopefully replicate the talent and atmosphere I experience in Liverpool at the weekend.

Matt Eley is the editor of Inapub. Follow him on Twitter @mattheweley 
Matt Eley
13.4.2012 Matt Eley
altOne of the oft heard mantras in the pub trade is that the value of the offer is key.

The considered view is that most customers are not looking for something cheap but they do want to feel that whatever they pay they are getting what they deserve or more for their money.

This week I had two examples that I believe perfectly highlight the importance of value.

On Tuesday a friend and I went to a pub with a great reputation for food and prices to match. We had three courses, a bottle of wine and ended up spending the best part of £100.

However the food and wine was superb and the member of staff who looked after us was charming and knew what he was talking about.

He explained why gurnard was becoming more prevalent on menus (it was mighty fine too) nodded in approval at our choices (thus making us feel what we knew we were talking about) and offered to get extra bread, water, and to order a taxi when we were finally ready to leave.

It was the kind of experience you would want and expect from a high quality restaurant but it was delivered in a pub that you would feel equally comfortable turning up in flip-flops, shorts and a t-shirt (if you’re lucky at this time of year) and lounging at the bar with a pint.

Put it this way, we left having spent a good whack of cash but I know that when I am I that area again I will head straight to that pub (The Harwood Arms in Fulham in case you were wondering).

However yesterday I paid about 20 per cent of that price for two burgers and chips, onion rings and a couple of soft drinks (again I was with a friend, I wasn’t being greedy). And despite this being relatively ‘cheap’ I left feeling I had not gotten great value.

The chips were soggy, the onion rings greasy and the burger, while big enough, was dripping in fat. After the meal I felt like I had eaten a kebab; guilty, fat, and sure that in a few hours time I was going to be punished for my crime.

I was in a town centre managed house that serves very standard pub meals. My expectations were low yet they were still not met. I will not be returning there in a hurry.

So I wholeheartedly agree with the mantra. The perception of value is of huge importance to me as a customer.
But then there might be one other factor that I should take into account with these two pub meals. I paid for the second one

Matt Eley is the editor of Inapub
Matt Eley
3.4.2012 Matt Eley
altI have just started reading something that I believe all prospective licensees should have a look at before they take on their first pub.

No, it is not a code of practice, a guide to cellar management or indeed a copy of Inapub (though all of those are of course very valuable too).

The book I am reading - Cows to Corpses - is a first-hand account from a licensee who had grand plans after taking on a pub with her husband, but alas, things went a little awry.

Alison Archer kept a diary of her experiences at village pub The Bell at Bosbury in Herefordshire and is now trying to sell enough copies to stave off the threat of selling her own home to pay off debts.

It’s fair to say that her dream didn’t quite work out as planned.

And that is exactly why prospective licensees should read this cautionary take.

Alison and her husband Rob were no strangers to running a business, they sold their marketing company to have a crack at running their village local.

However it is not long before they discover that ideas, good intentions and a warm welcome are not enough to ensure a profitable pub. After the recession hit hard in 2009 they had to move on.

It is admirable that Alison can write the book in such a humorous way considering that the venture has clearly been such a financial disaster for the couple.

The warmth and humanity in the tale will help newcomers to the trade understand lease assignments, cellar management, dealing with staff, lawyers and customers in a way that they are less likely to glean from dry industry handbooks.

It is also packed with amusing anecdotes about diva chefs, cows, corpses and a range of other stories from her side of the bar. It appears that life as landlords was an enriching experience, just not financially.

In this day and age it is hard to imagine anyone thinking that running a pub could be a lifestyle business or something you could turn your hand to with little to no experience. Sadly Alison demonstrates a degree of naivety in her pub career and pays the price.
Hopefully her book can save others from doing the same.

For if there is one thing I have learnt from my time writing about pubs is that I am totally ill-equipped to run one.

You have to be a humorous and welcoming host, a creative inspiration, tough enough to deal with potential trouble-makers, an accountant, a leader of staff, a friend to customers, early to rise and late to bed. And that is to name just a few of the skills required and why successful licensees are such a constant source of inspiration.

If you are reading this and think you have what it takes why not read Cows to Corpses by Alison Archer, just to be sure. For more information visit www.cowstocorpses.co.uk
Matt Eley
22.3.2012 Matt Eley
altSo after months of lobbying and campaigning by our trade groups and captains of industry, George Osborne did precisely what everyone secretly knew he was going to do anyway.

In a single sentence he announced that he had no plans to ditch the controversial duty escalator that was introduced by his predecessor Alistair Darling four years ago.

This means alcohol duty will again go up two per cent above inflation – around five per cent – and will result in another 5p being added to a pint, 11p on a bottle of wine and 42p on a bottle of spirits (give or take a penny or two).

And the sad fact of the matter is that really this is actually the best the industry could have hoped for.

For while we would all love to see a pub and alcohol friendly chancellor ditch the escalator and cut tax to give the industry a break, it just isn’t going to happen.

The escalator was a gift for Osborne; a legacy from the Labour government that was brutal with its swingeing tax increases. It isn’t really his policy but he can see no good reason to change it now.

Cutting tax on alcohol – one of the sins - is just never going to happen. Not when stories about increases in liver disease or alcohol related hospital admissions dominate the papers on a daily basis.

And not when a fervent health lobby has the ear of the both the press and the government.

He also isn’t going to be inclined to drop alcohol duty when he glances at the balance sheets of the big brewers, who are the ones who pay the bulk of the tax.

Take Heineken for example. Its most recent results boasted of a 40 per cent increase in profits globally. Yes volumes are down in the UK but they said that earnings before tax still ‘grew strongly’.

It is a similar story at the other big boys. And while profits grow they are doing what they can to offset the duty increase. AB InBev increased its prices by nearly eight per cent and dropped the ABV on some beers below five per cent to save on tax.
Carlsberg and Molson Coors made similar moves around ABVs.

Big breweries tend to have shareholders to answer to and as such they need to show profit growth. While they grow, the Chancellor will not be minded to change the duty regime.

Yes it’s lazy and doesn’t show the full picture of the industry but it is very easy for him to justify.

Of course it works down the line and the pub and man buying a beer end up being the ones who pay for all of this. It’s just the Chancellor may not see the same link we do between duty leading to pub closures.

He just sees big profits from big companies.

So what can the industry do to change this? We can’t just bang on about getting rid of the escalator, however unfair it seems.
The lobbying has to continue to focus on the contribution pubs make to society. The jobs they create and the positive social impact that they have on local communities.

This might help him see the link with local producers more clearly and there could be a possibility of tax restructuring for smaller producers, but an overall cut or removal of the escalator is unlikely at best.

Matt Eley is Inapub's editor.
Matt Eley
15.3.2012 Matt Eley
altThere is little doubt that the pub story of the week has involved The Hobbit in Southampton.
In a ludicrous lawsuit the Hollywood executives behind the film franchise are applying pressure to get the pub to change its name.
You see it isn’t ‘official’ in their eyes and, for a reason that isn’t entirely clear to me, an old pub selling Gandolf cocktails and the like could be damaging to them. Or it could be making money that the film company wants for itself.
No matter that the original Lord of the Rings trilogy was one of the most profitable movie franchises in the history of cinema. The final instalment ‘The Return of the King’ returned $1bn from an investment of $111m.
As most people in this country know pubs are not really in a position to make that kind of profit at the moment.
The Hobbit film is guaranteed to make millions so it seems a little churlish to have a pop at a pub that has been trading with that name before the film came anywhere near the silver screen.
It is a British pub that celebrates an incredible feat of British writing that has become part of our popular culture. Collectively as an industry we need to let the Hollywood big wigs know what we think of their bullying.
Stephen Fry, star of the film and the man most Britons would like to have a pint with, seems to think so. He backed the pub on Twitter and helped create a huge fuss around The Hobbit’s plight.
Sir Ian McKellen, Gandalf himself and part time pub landlord, has echoed Stephen Fry’s sentiments and criticised the ‘unnecessary pettiness’ of the lawyers taking action.
Such heavyweight support has done the pub no harm. Already 41,000 people (and that number will be out of date by the time you read this) have shown support on Facebook. It is also gaining serious momentum on Twitter and in the national media.
It appears Hollywood has got a fight on its hands and all pub fans should do their bit to support this pub.
For more information and to join the campaign visit http://www.facebook.com/#!/SaveTheHobbitSouthampton
Matt Eley
23.2.2012 Matt Eley
altIf you were a hop, what kind of hop would you be?
That probably sounds like a ridiculous question but it was one a bunch of hacks and other guests were asked to consider at an event the other night.
Actually that isn’t entirely true. We were in fact asked to rub different types of hop from around the world, give them a good sniff and think of three adjectives to describe them. We were then asked to name the celebrity that the hop reminded us of.
My list included Moira Stuart, Jamie Oliver, Alan Titchmarsh and Katie Price. I have never got close enough to have a sniff of any of these people but the aromas of ‘earthy, honey, bacon and dirty’ that I picked up, for some reason bought them to mind. I’ll let you work out which smell went with which celeb.
Reading this you may well ask ‘are you sure it was just hops you were sniffing?’ Well, yes, I am because this was all part of an event by Midlands brewer Marston’s to promote its new range of ‘Single Hop’ beers.
Each month it will release a virtually identical four per cent beer with one key change, the beers will feature a different, sole hop every time.
Varieties from countries such as New Zealand, Poland, England and the Czech Republic will all feature.
It’s a neat idea and one that shows the subtleties of brewing our national drink. It should get people talking about beer, the ingredients, the craft and the process that goes into bringing a pint to the bar.
For me though the key has to be the communication of the message to pub customers. Technical terms or phrases that are popular in breweries do not always translate well in the pub.
‘Hoppy’ and ‘malty’ mean next to nothing to most customers and are not really going to encourage many people to buy more beer.
Plus, our little hop rubbing session highlighted the huge array of aromas that different hops give off, so the word 'hoppy' can actually serve to confuse. Adjectives chucked about in the room included ‘passionfruit, grapefruit, dusty and mouldy’. Now the latter two might not sell beer but the first would give a clear indication of the notes customers could expect to find in their pints.
It helps break down barriers of entry to beer as a category, gets people talking about it and potentially buying more.
Now, to answer my original question, I would like to think of myself as the American citra, but if you want to know why you’ll have to have a sniff!
Matt Eley is the editor of Inapub
Matt Eley
15.2.2012 Matt Eley
altI popped into my local pub at about 8.30pm on Saturday and was slightly put out to see a bunch of kids running around.
And by this I don’t mean teenagers or those just about qualified to drink. I mean actual children aged about eight or nine and not really my ideal drinking companions on a Saturday night.
I actually like children, I have one of my own before anyone starts saying ‘yeah but you don’t know what it’s like to have kids and not be able to go out’.
Actually I do, and admittedly it is quite rare for the wife and I to venture out together these days. So yes I do take my little lad to the pub, but strictly at certain times of day, preferably somewhere that has a garden and absolutely somewhere that welcomes families.
But when it comes to 7pm, or 8pm at a push, I don’t really want to be in a pub with children. I get that at home and for me the pub on a Saturday night remains a place for adult company.
I enjoy robust and colourful conversation and frankly I don’t think that is necessarily the best environment for children. It certainly isn’t an environment that I want to be in when the little one is finally asleep.
This is of course very different to the culture on the continent where families are often out together until very late at night. Kids are up until all hours and the experience of eating and drinking out can be a shared family occasion.
I just can’t really see this happening in the UK. The climate and culture not conducive for starters.
And, like it or loathe it, as Northern Europeans, we simply enjoy drink in a different way to our Mediterranean cousins.
This is not something that should be frowned up, after all tourists come from the world over to sample our pub culture and we should be careful not to water down the experience.
But when children reach a certain age I think we should do more to encourage them to go to the pub with parents and also sample alcohol at home – this is something we can borrow from the French.
This way the pub and alcohol are not so mysterious when they are finally let off the leash as young adults. For me that is a far more likely cure to ‘binge-drinking’ than the scare tactics that are currently employed and often have a reverse effect.
So I guess what I am basically saying, in a very roundabout way, is that the pub is an important part of our children’s education. Just keep them out of my way on a Saturday night.

Matt Eley is the editor of Inapub. Follow him on Twitter @mattheweley
Matt Eley
7.2.2012 Matt Eley
altThere has been a huge amount of fuss in the world of football recently due to the delaying of the court case involving ex-skipper John Terry.
Players, managers, fans and administrators have all had a go at the decision to fix his trial date for allegedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand to after the European Championships in July.
It may seem like a long time for a case to get to court, after all the alleged offence (which Terry denies) was back in October. However, anyone with any experience of the British judicial system will tell you that this is not out of the ordinary.
In a previous life I used to be a crime reporter and following the passage of a case from the point of charge to the actual trial could often take between nine months and a year, sometimes more.
And there is another football matter being dealt with in the courts that has taken far longer to develop significantly.
Directly after my crime reporting days (and not because of the boredom of waiting for cases to come to fruition) I was lucky enough to join a highly regarded pub trade title. This was towards the tail end of 2007.
On the very first occasion that I met my new colleagues, appropriately enough in a pub for a Christmas party, the magazine’s chief news hound said he was unable to stay out that night due to having to cover an important court case the next day.
I admired his dedication (and quietly frowned upon his reluctance to work with a hangover) and vowed to find out more about the case, after all it was surely significant.
He explained it involved a licensee from a Portsmouth pub who was contesting a conviction for screening foreign satellite football. Her name was Karen Murphy and more than four years after I heard her name for the first time that case is still to be resolved.
The issue took another twist this week when the Premier League announced it would recommence prosecuting pubs that screen football using a European feed. This followed a High Court ruling in a case involving suppliers of foreign satellite equipment. Of course the Premier League hadn’t previously bothered to tell pubs they were not prosecuting such cases but that’s by the by…
A definitive ruling on the Murphy case, following direction from Europe last year, should be made later this month. But don’t be surprised if it is adjourned for one reason or another and continues to drag.
The problem with all of these delays is the incredible confusion it has created for licensees. Can you screen foreign satellite football? What if the card was purchased outside of the EC? Is it illegal? Will I get fined?
There has been a real lack of clarity on any of the above in the last few years so hopefully we are reaching the point of a clear and final ruling.

Matt Eley is the Inapub Editor. Follow him at www.twitter.com/mattheweley
Matt Eley
30.1.2012 Matt Eley
altAn event that primarily consists of sampling different champagnes while experts talk about what you are drinking is not the worst gig going.
And that was what came my way on Friday afternoon when I went to The Champagne Assembly, organised by Perrier-Jouet and GH Mumm.
Champagne is a drink I like but one I know very little about. The sound of a cork popping is one of my favourite noises and a flute in hand usually signals good times but beyond that my knowledge is limited to say the least.
So I went to the event with the aim of learning more but more importantly – and this is the tough bit in these austere times – trying to find ways that pubs could improve their offer and drive more champagne sales. I know, the things I do…
I arrived in time for the ‘Gastronomy Workshop’, which I took to being a champagne and food matching session. I wasn’t quite right as this was a workshop headed by a physicist in a rather fetching penguin-print waistcoat; not what I was expecting at this decadent event.
Anyway, Professor Peter Barham informed us how the same foods can taste very differently when served at alternative temperatures. In doing this he encouraged people in the room to consider how they might match champagnes with dishes.
I confess to being a little cynical about this kind of thing but the fact is the tastes of the foods were clearly affected by the temperature they were served at. The biggest surprise was a prawn jelly with sweet corn and pine nut, served at eight degrees and again at 60 degrees.
If you ate this blindfolded I would suspect you may not know you were eating the same dish such was the depth of flavour in the warmer version when compared to its cooler sibling. It also matched better with the GH Mumm Cordon Rouge.
‘That’s lovely Matt’, you may say ‘But prawn jelly is not exactly the dish of the day at our pub and champagne sales are hardly sparkling’.
Well, fictional, cliche-prone, landlord that I just created in my head, you make a fair point.
However, the workshop did at least show that it can be worthwhile experimenting with temperatures of food (and drink and we had various champagnes at different temps too) to tantalise you customers.
I do accept that this is unlikely to be the idea that moves your business into another stratosphere.
So what else did I learn? That apart from an apparent blip in the mid-1980s champagne sales tend to drop when the economy is suffering; that sales of champagne are still expected to grow in the UK over the next five years. Oh and that the key emerging markets include China and Nigeria.
Again I suspect that this of limited interest let alone use to your business.
But finally at the end of the day I was given the insight I was after, the tip that could change the way champagne is served in pubs forever.
Ladies and gentlemen, you heard it here first, possibly: the next big thing is champagne over ice!
It worked wonders for cider so you never know….

Matt Eley is the Inapub editor. Follow him on Twitter @mattheweley
Matt Eley