Matthew Eley

Matthew Eley

Matthew Eley

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

12.12.2011 Matt Eley
altWith so many ‘responsible drinking’ campaigns and watchdogs, these days you feel you might get wrapped on the knuckles for just writing about hangover cures.
But while the watchdogs live in a world where we all savour the taste of solitary half pint before heading home the rest of us have to face facts.
And the truth is at Christmas hangovers can be an issue for customers and, perhaps to a lesser extent, pubs themselves.
In the line of duty I am lucky enough to be invited to a few events at this time of year and as most of them are from drinks companies of some sort it is frankly rude not to sample their product.
Of course I never get silly but there are times when, with the benefit of hindsight, I would have re-considered that final drink.
But without a time-machine to take me back to the scene of the night before I instead have to deal with the morning after and the following are my favourite hangover cures.
A pint – the classic hair of the dog, but personally I find it very hard to stomach something that has essentially made me feel so bad. It’s like a girl asking to be your friend after dumping you spectacularly the night before
Bloody Mary – it’s a variation on the hair of the dog theme but it feels like you are getting some of your five a day as well.
Champagne – Maybe I am getting older but at a recent lunchtime event I was handed a glass of Taittinger when I felt like all I wanted to do was get back into bed and pretend the world was just an illusion. Five minutes and a few sips later and I felt much more bubbly
Bacon butty – many foodstuffs can do the trick but for me a classic bacon butty dripping in tomato ketchup is just the right balance between meat and wheat.
Running – exercise will feel like the last thing you fancy doing but just as long as you take plenty of water on board first a gentle jog in the fresh can brush the cobwebs away. Don’t overdo it though.
Drugs – of the over the counter variety. Paracetemol has its place and Berocca can work wonders as well.
Tripe Soup – Not a personal choice but one some Mexicans swear by. My guess is that the spices just move the pain in your head to another region
Sleep and peace – of course this is the best cure, but both are such a rare commodity you might as well have a hair of the dog
Now I would never like to appear irresponsible by endorsing over-indulgence.
However the fact is you will find customers in your pub over the next few weeks nursing sore heads. It probably makes sense to have something on offer to help the feel better.
Make mine a glass of champagne!

Matt Eley is the Inapub Editor
Matt Eley
5.12.2011 Matt Eley
altIt’s that time of year when events and parties come thick and fast and a few have already given me plenty to mull over.
Last week I was invited out with Henley pubco Brakspear to check out three of its pubs in London. In all honestly I didn’t know it had any pubs in the capital so even before my first pint of Brakspear Bitter I had learned something.
The three pubs were all very different; a traditional local that had undergone a refurb, a slightly more foodie place around the fringes of the City and a slightyshabby but very cool venue in Shoreditch.
Unless I was with the chief executive Tom Davies I would never have known that the company had anything to do with the latter pub, The Owl & Pussycat. There was virtually no branding, bar some tiny lettering on the pub sign.
So does this not bother the company? After all this a very high turnover pub so surely they want to shout about it?
But essentially the company is happy if the tenants are successful. They also feel that while there is expertise they can add they could never run the pub as say a managed venue because they need the local knowledge of what is happening in an area such as Shoreditch.
It is an example of where the tie deal can work well for both parties. The tenants get hold of a pub they may not otherwise have been able to afford with the support of a company and that company gets tenants who know what they are doing and know the area.
We ate at that pub too and over dinner, and after a few pints and glasses of wine, the conversation turned to the number of beers available in pubs in general.
Now I am generally of the opinion that choice is a good thing. But can too much choice be detrimental to customers and beer sales?
I’m referring to the number of real ales that brewers from across the country produce and overload bars with.
The night before the Brakspear event I had the pleasure of trying the new beers in Nicholson’s festive range – a selection of seven beers that will be available in its pubs for the next couple of months.
Now they all had their positives but five minutes after the event when I was asked which was my favourite I struggled to recall the name of the beers and the brewers.
I accept this might have had something to do with the volume of beer I had sampled but there is also a valid point about confusing the consumer.
Seasonal beers have a place but surely if brewers are producing dozens plus a year with various names and pumpclips they end up cannibalising their own sales and failing to promote their core products.
The stats do not necessarily back me up as last year Nicholson’s saw a three per cent increase in cask sales.
But I just can’t help thinking that while there is a nice novelty factor in having a wide range of seasonal brews it doesn’t do much to keep people coming back to that brewer or even the category.
One of the reasons why lager sells in such great volumes (it makes up about 75 per cent of UK beer sales) is because customers know what they are getting when they see the brand on the bar.
Sometimes less can most definitely be more.

Matt Eley is the Inapub Editor
Matt Eley
25.11.2011 Matt Eley
altIt’s about 7pm on a midweek night and I am enjoying a weird, wonderful and warming punch served to me by none other than Ebenezer Scrooge himself.
The Dickensian legend is helped in this task by a chirpy and enthusiastic Bob Cratchit who just moments ago awoke Mr S from a deep slumber.
No, I haven’t been supping too much brandy, but rather I am on a Dickensian tour of London oragnsied by Courvoisier.
It is certainly a different way of getting your product noticed. And it works too.
The leading cognac brand is running a series of Dickensian London tours that are amusingly interrupted by the ‘A Christmas Carol’ characters who proceed to take over the show from a perplexed tour guide.
It culminates with the mixing and consumption of a Smoking Bishop – a punch featuring Courvoisier (naturally) plus some port, wine, cinnamon, orange etc. It’s a blinding alternative to mulled wine and, certainly when drunk in The Old Curiosity Shop with Scrooge, rather festive to boot.
Turns out that Dickens, as well as visiting virtually every pub in the country, was also a bit of a Courvoisier fan, so the link is not a random one at all.
It’s a cute connection and is part of the brand’s drive to get pubs and punters thinking about cognac and punch as an offering.
These days brands are so plentiful that the war for space on bars and in fridges is getting tougher and tougher. It means that they have to get more creative to get the attention of both business owners and customers themselves.
It can also be a bit of a headache for pubs when weighing up what to stock of course. alt
Brands getting creative and playing on history is a popular way of driving sales. It also serves as a useful reminder that the pleasure of drinking alcohol is part of our heritage and indeed something that has been enjoyed by some of the great minds in British culture.
It makes a pleasant change from hearing stories about the ‘modern phenomenon’ of binge-drinking anyway.
And you never know, as well as encouraging sales of Courvoisier it might actually inspire a few people to pick up a book as well.
Now where did I leave that battered old copy of Great Expectations….

Matt Eley is the Inapub editor.
Matt Eley
17.11.2011 Matt Eley
altI was visiting a new venue the other day and I couldn’t quite decide how to categorise it.
It was very modern, there was low-lighting and more space for dining than drinking, funky pictures adorned the walls, it had a wide selection of wine and a lot of beer taps too.
To be fair it had most bases covered and would definitely appeal to a broad congregation. But it wasn’t quite what I would call a pub. I would go for bar or, a term that is becoming more prevalent, ‘the chameleon venue’.
I first came across this phrase with the emergence of the Grand Union chain in London. They somehow manage to feel pubby in the day and clubby at night. They also do cracking burgers and pizzas so cater for the foodies too.
The arrival of such venues blurs the lines even further between what is a pub, what is a bar and what is a restaurant; it turns out you can probably be all three.
Different people in the trade have different ways of judging whether a venue is a pub or not.
Some look at the wet/dry split and would argue that if around 70% or more of your sales come from food you can’t really call yourself a pub. But does that really hold water when so many places are putting food at the heart of their business while retaining the feel of a traditional boozer.
Some judge it on the amount of chrome on display - too much and you are most definitely a bar. Others look at the beer range – no real ale mean you can’t be a pub. It’s a fair argument from a traditional point of view and cask remains a key part of pub culture, but it doesn’t work in every venue.
Another view, and one that I am inclined to agree with, is that ‘it is a pub if you still feel comfortable sitting down with a drink and not ordering food’.
For me, whether a pub is a pub has more to do with the feel and atmosphere of a place, rather than the sales split or the type of food or the mix of drinks.
But does this definition truly matter? For me it does in the sense that pubs are part of our heritage and culture and should remain so.
The emergence of chameleon venues though highlights how demanding the consumer is these days and again re-iterates the need for pubs to adapt and move with the times, while holding onto those traditional values.  
Just don’t go mad on the chrome.
Matt Eley
11.11.2011 Matt Eley
altThe Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned an advert for Kopparberg cider this week because they feared it might appeal to under 18s.
In case you haven’t seen it, the ad features a load of people (all aged over 25 incidentally) going to an underground club and dancing to some music. Oh and not a drop of alcohol is in sight until the final frame.
It sounds pretty standard and when I saw the ad myself I did not for one moment think that this would be of any concern to the authorities.
In fact it wasn’t really of any concern to anyone because only one complaint by a viewer was ever made about it. That’s right, one person said they thought it might appeal to under 18s and just like that it is pulled form our screens.
The only basis for doing so, it would appear from reading the ASAs judgement, is that the song was called ‘Kids’ and the band in who performed it, Sleigh Bells, might have a following of under 18s. No matter that they also have a following of over 25s or indeed no matter that most bands will have fans under the age of 18 because that is when most people, if the suits at the ASA can remember that far back, is when people start taking an interest in music.
If music by anyone with a following of under 18s is banned we will be left with adverts played out to a soundtrack of Cliff Richard and surely nobody wants that. Mind you I doubt he’d be that keen on the association with alcohol anyway.
Getting back to the sole complaint though, to me it seems absurd that the views of a solitary moaner are given so much weight when clearly the vast majority of viewers were either fine with the advert or not that bothered in the slightest.
What bothers me is the problem the authorities have with the advertising of alcohol and people being represented enjoying themselves.
Of course we don’t want to encourage young people to start drinking, I’m not advocating that (they will anyway, but that’s not the point). But why lie about the effects of alcohol?
People do drink alcohol to enjoy themselves, whether it is for relaxation at the end of the day, socialising with friends or plucking up the Dutch courage to speak to someone new.
Why else would you drink it if not to enjoy the experience?
To ban adverts showing people having fun for fear young people might follow suit is a form of censorship and propaganda that will do nothing to stop people drinking but merely increase the gap between the authorities and the public perception of the work they do.
Matt Eley
4.11.2011 Matt Eley
altBy now most companies have got the idea that social media is something big and they need to be part of it.
But like many things it doesn’t matter how big something is, it is what you do with it.
There’s no point having a Twitter account if you are going to fire off bland and un-engaging tweets and similarly with Facebook you have to put the effort in there too.
That’s why I was particularly impressed with the Top 100 Facebook Friends idea that pubco Orchid has devised.
In this, the 100 most active people on its pubs’ Facebook pages will become part of the club and handed certain privileges, such as exclusive offers and vouchers, entrance into a lottery twice a year and a club badge.
Now, how many of the 100 sport the badge remains to be seen, but the idea itself is a clever one because people will want to be in this group. And once they are in there they will want to stay.
To remain they need to stay active on the sites, continue posting about the pubs and telling their online friends what is going on.
Others will want to break into the Top 100 and will also become more active friends of the pubs.
This will create a buzz and get people talking, upping the number of ‘friends’ the pub has and the interest in it.
Online friends is one thing but all of the talk and the buzz should lead to more people going into the pubs and spending money, which is of course the ultimate goal here.
We know that ‘genius borrows’ so individual pubs should be able to do something similar to the Orchid model. They don’t have to reward the Top 100 but there is no reason why activity and loyalty online should not be rewarded in the real world.
Vouchers, discounts and promotions are all fairly straightforward to offer online and using Facebook or Twitter allows you to hit a good number of punters in one go.
Facebook is both a virtual chalkboard that can attract passing trade and a forum where word of mouth can spread – and we all know how effective those two marketing tools have been for pubs over the years.
Social media is not everything but it is another tool at your disposal. It is also a tool that is used a lot by your customers of tomorrow.
So having a presence must be part of your future.

Matt Eley is the editor of Inapub
Matt Eley
28.10.2011 Matt Eley
altI have discovered a few things in the last week: Buenos Aires has more shrinks per head, if you’ll forgive the pun, than anywhere else in the world; driving in that city is only advisable if you have a deathwish, and the locals love a steak and a beer.
It’s just as well they like the latter because the South American capital was the setting for this year’s tres chic Stella Artois Draught Master showdown, and I was extremely lucky to be invited along for the ride.
The contest is a spectacular Eurovision style event complete with glamorous hosts flirting appallingly and trying to hold the show together, and a crowd of flag-waving guests supporting competitors from more than 20 countries vying for the title.
All of this took part in a warehouse in a shabby part of town that that had been filled with actors, classic cars, go go dancers and lots of pretty girls serving Stella Artois.
Oh and the point, of course, to all this was to find the Draught Master: the bar worker who can purify, pour and present the finest glass of Stella Artois in the world.
We had high hopes for Mark Simmonite from Henry’s in Sheffield who won the UK final at the O2 earlier this year. Judges were impressed by his attention to detail and dedication to the cause.
And things were looking good when he sailed through round one in Argentina, with the highest score in the competition – though from the floor it was very hard to see exactly how the judges could find much between the competitors.
Alas, Mark couldn’t quite make it to the final stage and instead a happy chap from Dubai won the title ahead of the other final finalists from Romania, Hong Kong and the USA.
So what does this all tell us? Well firstly AB InBev has invested huge sums of money in this event and programme around the world. We are talking millions here. For example 200 international guests were flown out to witness the final – along with a further 500 locals.
At times it easy to think that the whole thing is, well, a little excessive but it does not exist because AB InBev are in the habit of throwing money away. As well as being used as a brand-building exercise and a way of cracking new markets it is also, and in fairness primarily, about raising standards and improving levels of service.
As a consumer I may not always want the barman to go through the ‘nine step ritual’ especially at a packed pub, but I certainly want a clean glass, the correct glass, the right amount of liquid, attention to detail and some interaction. If all of those things are in place I am a happy customer, and one who is willing to pay more for his pint.
Investment in training on whatever scale you look at it is going to bring in money in the long-term.
The Draught Master is of course intrinsically about the Stella Artois brand but the principles can be applied across the board, helping to make pubs more attractive propositions and, in turn, more profitable busineses. And that is something I am more than happy to raise a chalice to.
Matt Eley
17.10.2011 Matt Eley
altI was with a landlord in a lovely village local the other day, chatting about what makes a great pub and what constitutes the most serious competition.
He looked me straight in the eye and asked, not unlike Al Murray’s Pub Landlord, “Do you know what the biggest single threat is to pubs in this country?”
I didn’t answer as I assumed it was a rhetorical question and that he wanted to fill the now slightly awkward void in conversation himself.
After a slightly longer than necessary dramatic pause he said “supermarkets”.
I wasn’t surprised as that tends to be the one that most freeholders (which he was) go for. Other popular choices are pubcos, brewery prices, the recession and that old favourite, the smoking ban (still!).
But he went for supermarkets and when you consider how skint many people are and how cheap you can buy booze for it is hardly a surprise. That said I can think of at least 10 good reasons why supermarkets are an inferior option. And here they are:

Money – The drink might be cheaper but I always leave supermarkets a lot poorer than intended with a bunch of crap I didn’t really need. Money spent in the pub is filed straight under ‘merriment’.

Cask ale – It’s an old classic but while you can get some mighty fine bottled beers in supermarkets you can’t get a pint of cask. They tend to frown on you ‘trying before you buy’ as well.

Snacks – Similarly with snacks, you’ll find if you tuck into a packet of pork scratchings while pushing your trolley you’ll be met with unfriendly looks. Whereas in the pub this behaviour is actively encouraged, apart from the trolley pushing.

Meals – You can get a half decent meal in many supermarkets but the atmosphere is no better than a motorway service station. Tesco is unlikely to be investing in open fires any time soon.

Live sport – Buy your bunting and plastic flags by all means but you can’t gather with friends to watch England fail miserably in another tournament. Of course you can take your big case of beer home but when England lose wouldn’t you rather get over the disappointment with another pint and a chat with mates instead of thinking ‘right, ‘spose I’d better tidy up then’.

Car parks – More car accidents happen in supermarket car parks than anywhere else. That is quite possibly a fact. You’re better off not driving to the pub at and making a saving on petrol.

Conversation with strangers – In most pubs in the country you can go in, have a drink and start talking nonsense with the locals. Do that in a supermarket and you may be asked to leave immediately by the management.

Queues – In fairness you can get these at both but at least in the pub you tend to get things put in the right package for you. Imagine queuing for a beer and then having to pour it yourself. It’s effectively what you do at the supermarket

Screaming babies - Don’t get me wrong, I like kids. I’ve got one of my own. I like family friendly pubs as well. But I also like pubs that don’t have any kids making a noise. I’ve yet to find a supermarket that can offer that service.

Love – So many romances start in the pub. A few end there as well. But I don’t know of many couples whose eyes first met in the fruit and veg aisle of a supermarket.

The truth is both serve a purpose but I have no doubts about where I would rather spend both my time and my money.

Matt Eley is the Inapub Editor
Matt Eley
12.10.2011 Matt Eley
altSomeone senior in the cider world, whose name I best not share, said something very interesting about the impact RTDs have had on the market the other day.
I suspected he would have been most put out that such drinks had eaten into cider sales over the last 15 years or so, before hitting a brick wall in more recent times.
But, in fact, he believed that younger people opting to start their alcohol adventures with such drinks was a big plus for the cider category.
And his reasoning, to paraphrase, is that in days gone by the first experience many people had with cider was drinking too much too quickly and getting a little bit green around the gills because of it.
Hands up here, I’m guilty as charged. Along with Mad Dog 20/20, one of my own first drunken memories is being bent double after about five pints of cider. My father was mortified, mainly because I bottled out of playing football the next day. A cardinal sin in my household.
I felt rough and the thought of drinking the sweet apple drink again simply made me gag. It wasn’t until I reached my thirties (yes, yes I know I look far younger…) that I dared to sample cider once more, and mainly for professional reasons.
From my abstinence alone cider manufacturers lost out on a fair few quid and I was certainly not the only one in my generation to fall to the same fate.
So with younger drinkers, and I am talking teenagers onwards, starting on other categories they should not have the same problems with cider later in life.
This means, according to my cider man, that drinkers are coming to the category when they are a little older and their taste buds are more sophisticated. They are more interested in flavours, socialising and provenance than getting totally wasted ASAP.
Of course this is not the only reason why cider has picked up in the last few years.
The Magners impact can not be underestimated. It made drinking cider cool again and paved the way for countless new products. Now you can get a whole range of weird and wonderful varieties as well as the traditional favourites.
The quality of the drink served has also improved, much as it has in the real ale market.
Cider has upped its game in recent years and has the ability to attract men and women from other categories such as wine and beer.
The potential for the market is huge, which means other categories need to stay sharp and on top of their game too, which ultimately should be good news for pubs and consumers.

Matt Eley is the Inapub Editor

Matt Eley
6.10.2011 Matt Eley
altI was lucky enough to be taken to the Budvar brewery in the Czech Republic last week.
It’s a fascinating place where the traditions of an old brewery intertwine with a modernisation programme that ensures the beer from relatively small town of Ceske Budejovice can punch above its weight throughout the rest of the continent and beyond.
Whilst in the Czech Republic I was intrigued to see how they ‘do it’ in their own pubs. This is after all the country that drinks more beer per head than anywhere else in the world. They don’t appear to drink much else either.
There are no real gimmicks or selling points and you do not have numerous brands competing in the same space.
Now it turns out that this is because of the way pubs are run in the Czech Republic.
There is virtually no brewery ownership of pubs in the country. Instead, brewers, who are naturally keen to ensure their brands are visible, cut deals with the pubs to ensure they have exclusivity or good bar presence.
This means that if you go into a ‘Budvar’ pub you are very unlikely to see a competing brand such as Pilsner Urquell and vice versa. The bar owner gets something from the brewery at the start – maybe some cash for a refurb for example – and then he is contracted to buy his beer from that brewer for a set period of time.
In theory it sounds OK with both parties getting something out of the deal but the danger is that if it is too heavily weighted against the brewer they may focus more attention on the off-trade where profits could be greater.
So, like our own system, it has it strengths but it would also appear to have its flaws too.
One area where the Czechs have got it spot on though is with its products. Everyone seems to drink Czech beer. Locals, tourists, young and old, men and women.
And there are no gimmicks for women: no special glasses or extra bubbles in the beer to make it look more female friendly.
Perhaps this is the one thing we could learn in the UK and something I have been convinced about for a long time. Women will not drink a beer because it is a bit more like a glass of wine. They would rather have a glass of wine.
But if it is a good beer, with plenty of flavour and served in a clean glass in a pleasant environment then why wouldn’t you try it? The image of beer might need to beb tweaked but the liquid itself does not.
The Czechs, and especially Czech women, are the perfect example of just that.
Matt Eley