Matthew Eley

Matthew Eley

Matthew Eley

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

15.9.2011 Matt Eley
altI am choosing my words carefully when writing this blog because I do not want to give the impression in any way that I take pleasure in seeing a pub close and, in turn, people losing their livelihoods, savings and dreams.
Going past boarded-up pubs always brings a sense of sadness as I picture the good times that went on inside those four walls, and how they would have come to an abrupt end.
But saying that, I am getting the distinct feeling that there is a general shift in attitude towards the closure of some pubs.
In conversations with two landlords with hugely different businesses this week, I was struck by how both seemed to be of the opinion that the demise of several thousand pubs will not, in the bigger picture, be bad for the industry.
Go back just a couple of years and this view was essentially considered to be treacherous to the trade. After all how could any businesses shutting be a good thing?
Well it isn’t a good thing, but it is probably inevitable.
Not just because of the recession but because of heightened competition from the likes of supermarkets, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, X-Factor, PlayStation. You name it.
There just are not enough people or pounds to support as many pubs as we have been able to in previous eras.
Now I am not doubting that some extremely good operators and pubs have been lost along the way, in fact I know that they have, but it is also true that some of the pubs that have gone will not be missed as much as others.
Some simply have not been used enough by their customers. Now this isn’t to gloss over issues such as smoking, beer ties, rising costs, wage bills, utilities, bureaucracy etc that have all made running pubs so much more difficult in recent years.
But it also means that the ones that survive must do more, and in many cases already have been, to attract and keep their customers.
This results in higher service standards, more professional staff, better quality food and drink, and a more varied and enticing all round offer.
These days pubs have to be better than average to survive and better than good to really reap the rewards.
Overall consumers should benefit as the standard across the board improves.
And this is what we should be focusing on as industry: where we are improving, how pubs are better and more professional now than they have ever been. It is a much more compelling story for us to be telling to the wider world than that of pub closures, which makes us look like an industry on the way out.
And despite the difficulties of recent times pubs are here to stay and are going to get better and better.
Matt Eley
7.9.2011 Matt Eley
altI have had the pleasure of being down in Cornwall for much of this week.
In between stuffing my face with pasties while my one-year-old went for a menu of sand and sea water I managed to get in a visit to Sharp’s brewery.
All is going well since the Molson Coors takeover, we were told, and in fairness it seems like the big brewer has had a positive influence – retaining the quality of the beer, encouraging the development of smaller brands (Doom Bar currently accounts for 90% of production) while of course looking to increase sales.
Its stated ambition is to make Doom Bar the UK’s number one cask beer, overtaking the likes of London Pride and Greene King IPA in the process.
Achieving this will be a huge success and a large part of that will be attributed to head brewer Stuart Howe.
The 39-year-old was recently crowned the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group’s Brewer of the Year. Perhaps not the catchiest title but lofty praise indeed for one still relatively young in brewing terms.
Whilst at the brewery, based in Rock, one of the other hacks present questioned why there are no celebrity brewers, after all there seem to be dozens of celebrity chefs.
It was a good point and I can see no good reason at all. After all brewing is a highly skilled job, I mean we can all knock up a half decent meal, right, but how many of us can make anything approaching a half-decent beer? I’m sure plenty would like to have a go too.
Plus, and let’s be honest about this, brewers are a funny old bunch so the chances are you are going to get some really interesting characters on screen.
Surely there must be some national newspaper or TV show just waiting to hear the beer experiences of one of these guys?
I am by no means a beer nut of an aficionada (I just like drinking and trying different options) but I personally could see a show about the development of beer, its flavours and how it came to be our national drink working.
But for some reason it just doesn’t seem to. Beer writer Pete Brown and brewer Peter Amor had a go recently with a series of vlogs (you can see the final one on our homepage). They were informative and brilliantly produced but for some reason TV companies just would not bite.
It’s a little depressing in a world of multiple channels stuffed full of reality TV that we can’t seem to get a show about our national drink or the genuinely interesting people who make it off the ground.
Call me weird but I’d much rather watch that than a bunch of apparently famous oddballs fighting and getting drunk in pretend house.
Matt Eley
30.8.2011 Matt Eley
altA shocking statistic was revealed by the British Beer & Pub Association last week. The average pint now costs more than £3. 
Socking in the sense that the price was so low because I swear I have been paying about that much for a pint for the last 10 years.
Now, OK, I accept that may have a little to do with where I live and tend to go out.
But I was genuinely more surprised at the prices of the local ales I was enjoying at a pub just outside Durham last week. £2.90 for a locally brewed craft lager. I obviously ordered a second, with food, immediately.
It’s no surprise that the price of a pint fluctuates from place to place. After all every operator has their own running costs and buying power. They also know what their customers are willing to or can afford to pay.
The point is that I don’t think a headline figure of £3 a pint is going to make many MPs or outside commentators sit up and take notice of this industry
I can even pictures aides in Westminster reading the headlines and thinking ‘All that fuss you make about tax and it is still only £3 a pint. Looks like there’s room for a little more duty come Budget time.’ No wonder the Lib Dems are thinking along these lines.
As an industry we have not been great with the stories we tell to the government: tax is too high, loads of pubs are closing, beer is too expensive, tenants and landlords can’t get on.
We paint a very negative picture. And as one senior indurty representative told me the other day we can be viewed in Westminster as a bunch of whingers, and that rarely leads to getting your own way.
We know it is tough trading out there. But it is for virtually every industry, especially in the retail sector.
But rather than going to government complaining about our hardships we need to better promote the things we do so well; be it fundraising, community work, boosting tourism, events, parties etc.
We are much more likely to be given support and seen as a benefit to the nation if we focus on our strengths rather than our weaknesses.
Can we raise a reasonably priced £3 pint to that?
Matt Eley
23.8.2011 Matt Eley
altIn a trade beset with pointless laws I think one of the daftest yet is about to come into force.
I am talking about the outlawing of cigarette vending machines from October 1.
Let me make one thing clear from the outset, I have no issue whatsoever with the smoking ban, which came in at a time when I enjoyed a cigarette or two.
For my money there is just no sensible argument about overturning it when it has vastly improved the atmosphere and environment in pubs for the vast majority of staff and customers.
But I fail to see how banning vending machines is going to do anything to tackle youngsters smoking in this country.
For a starter have you seen how much it costs for a packet fags from a machine! Last time I looked it was about £8.20 - and you don’t even get a full deck. That made me baulk, so I can only imagine what a 16-year-old looking for a pack of smokes would make of that.
Plus, apart from those who have got lucky on fruit machines, how many teenagers have eight pounds in change in their pockets? Oh and incidentally the young gamblers shouldn’t be in the pub anyway.
Actually, while we are on that subject shouldn’t fruit machines be banned from pubs for encouraging teenagers to gamble? Surely the same principles apply as with cigarette machines?
The facts are if teenagers want to smoke they will and banning vending machines will do nothing to stop them.
Kids do not generally source cigarettes from vending machines. They steal them from parents, get them from other kids, buy them from shops or get the older looking kids to buy them while they wait outside.
It amazes me that those who make the laws can not remember what it was like to be young.
You can ban all the vending machines that you want, hide cigarettes under the counter, create packs without branding and slap up as many adverts as you like about the dangers of smoking but it won’t stop those who want to smoke from doing so.
The only real way of making a big dent in the number of smokers is to ban it altogether but there is way too much duty at stake for that.
Instead, legislation gets tinkered with around the edges and things like vending machines pay the price, as indeed do the pubs which use them as another, admittedly small but not insignificant, revenue stream gets taken away.
The way I see it is that banning vending machines a statement of talking underage smoking is nothing but smoke and mirrors.
Matt Eley
15.8.2011 Matt Eley
altTo be completely frank I was a little nervous about heading for a night in Peckham on Friday.
Normally I wouldn’t worry at all but it was the scene of some pretty horrific rioting and looting just a few days prior and even though the situation appeared to have calmed it could have potentially kicked-off again.
I no longer live in London but my brother does and, as I was visiting him, it was his rules for the night ahead.
‘Peckham’, I said, ‘really? Would you not prefer to go out in Hampstead or Greenwich instead?’ But no middle class enclaves were on the agenda on Friday.
Instead my brother had two venues he was keen to check out and I’m glad I followed his lead.
First up was The Rye, now owned by Capital Pub Company, and formerly famed for its ‘Meateasy’ – essentially a pop-up burger bar in the backgarden.
The Meateasy has moved on and the burgers are now cooked in the kitchen. Mighty fine they are too, as was the beer and the amusing member of staff who danced and sang as he served us.
So a good start to the night. No violence and a decent drink and bite to eat.
Surely now we would retire to a more relaxing part of town? But no, the next stage was to find a pop-up bar on top of a dimly-lit multi-story car park, again in Peckham. For those unfamiliar with the area I should explain that this altcan be a fairly intimidating environment.
Again I was proved wrong. The pop-up (pictured badly by me, right) was simply thronging with people of all ages, enjoying an artistically created set-up with stunning views across London. The Meantime lager was pretty tasty too.
My expectations on both occasions had been well and truly exceeded. But then I was hoping to just avoid bricks being thrown at my head or pubs being razed to the ground.
It was in fact an up-lifting night, made even more so after reading the hundreds of post-it notes pinned up in the town centre by Peckham residents proud of their community and angry at the rioters.
So what did I learn? That Peckham is not as bad as I thought? Well, yes, but the main thing was that it is a place with a proud community, no doubt like everywhere else that suffered at the hands of the mob last week.
It has its problems but it has a lot going for it too. Other places that have been smashed up by thugS could probably say the same THING.
What is important is that people are not afraid to go out and can support the pubs and other businesses that are a vital part of keeping those communities functioning and thriving.  
Matt Eley
9.8.2011 Matt Eley
altI have seen evidence that the continental drinking culture New Labour wanted to introduce is here – and of all places I saw it in Ipswich.
Now I wasn’t there for work or indeed to scrutinise changes in drinking habits. No, Ipswich is my home town and I was simply back for a night out with some old friends.
Initially I thought the night time economy must be in tatters because the town centre was bereft of any people or action when I wondered down memory lane at about 7pm on Saturday night.
Most of our old haunts were either empty, quiet or, in one particularly upsetting incident, a Starbucks.
However it was not until we moved towards the regenerated docks area that I realised how the culture in the town had moved on.
This is a flourishing area with numerous bars, restaurants and residential developments. And this, it seems, is where people start their evenings these days.
I was astonished to find myself in a queue for a pub at 10pm. Normally, I would go somewhere else first and return later but we were meeting friends and I was told this was the place to be.
Chatting in the queue nobody seemed that concerned about the delay to their night. They were used to this place making you wait to go inside and once you were there, they said, it was worth it. Turns out it was, incidentally.
They also said this was the place people tended to start the night – at around 10pm.
After that it was back towards town for more pubs and bars with late licences. The nightclub scene in the town, like many other places, has been hard hit by licensing changes and the economic downturn.
Now it seems, in my old hometown at least, that people are happy to go out later with friends and stay out later too. Some people go home at midnight while others will be out as late as 4am.
This means you no longer get the mad rush to the pub at 7pm, the crazed drinking-up at 11pm, followed by everyone piling to a club before spilling onto the streets at 2am, which inevitably led to problems.
Now, I am not saying it is perfect by any stretch as a lot of those people coming out at 10pm will have been happily drinking at home for hours before. And that drunken yobbish element has not been removed from society.
But it is definitely better.
We are constantly told about binge-drinking youngsters tearing through the streets.
Matt Eley
1.8.2011 Matt Eley
altIt’s been something of a key period for the team here at Inapub of late.
Last week we received the first copies of our new magazine from the printer and this week it will be landing on the doormats of 10,000 pubs. Tomorrow we will be touting our wares to the industry at the Great British Beer Festival.
It has been a real labour of love creating a new title for the pub sector – and fingers crossed people like it.
We have tried to create something new for pubs that informs and entertains, provides those helpful business building tips but also a few moments of light relief when people have a break from the bar.
One of the mantras we had when we started putting plans together for the magazine was ‘we must make it feel like a pub’. That might sound like a bit of a vague concept but we wanted to capture that kind of ‘work hard, play hard spirit’. So the magazine should be welcoming, filled with laughs, debates, good food, drink, events and, above all, interesting people – just like all the best pubs.
You can let me know if we have achieved that when you get hold of a copy and I am eager to hear feedback – good and bad.
It also occurred to me that creating something like this is not a world away from running a pub.
Obviously you have the business costs involved, the desire to provide information or events that appeal to a wide customer base – but also the knowledge of knowing that what you do will probably not be for everyone. alt
We also have to promote it, talk about it and make sure it stands a good chance against the opposition.
And of course we have to get the right balance with our offer – is their enough food and drink coverage? Are we talking about the right brands? Will this connect with our customers.? It has to, because consumers in the word of both pubs and media have so much choice these days (albeit a little less on a Sunday after recent developments).
And of course that’s just the beginning because after one issue we are now on to the next one while constantly thinking about what we do online as well.
It never stops, as is of course the case when running a pub.

Matt Eley
15.7.2011 Matt Eley
altFor pretty much all of this week my internal jukebox has been blaring out the lyrics ‘so throw your curtains wide, one day like this a year will see me right. For life’
Now if you don’t recognise it, and my singing whether virtual or real is not a pleasant experience, I can tell you that it is probably Elbow’s most famous track ‘One Day Like This’.
And the reason I have been humming it to myself and re-playing the old album is because they have teamed up with Frederic Robinson to promote their latest offering with a beer.
So while ‘Build a Rocket Boys’ is being downloaded on MP3 players across the country a cask beer of the same name will also available in pubs.
It is a very clever link-up by a brewery who are not generally known for their rock n roll credentials.
Clever not because they are just aligning themselves with a star in the hope of getting a short term sales lift but because Elbow are genuine ale fans and also hail from Greater Manchester.
There is an authenticity about it that appeals to the senses.
On top of that, the deal will also see Robinsons extend its reach among the student population where more people may well move on from stereotypical thoughts of real ale, fat man, beards.
It’s also a smart move by Elbow. It shows them as a band of the people who support local industry and like a pint.
So it sounds like a good ploy for all concerned, and this is before even listening to the new album or buying the beer.
Sadly it has also revealed to me just how susceptible I am to marketing as the first thing I am going to do after finishing this blog is download the new album. Come September I will look forward to sampling the liquid version of ‘Build a Rocket Boys’ too.

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Matt Eley
5.7.2011 Matt Eley
altI have to tell you this story because it really made me laugh even though it has a fairly tenuous pub link.
My dad is one of those guys who spends an inordinate amount of time in the pub, which goes someway to explaining my career path. He likes a drink but his main reason for going is to catch up with his mates and enjoy the banter at the bar. You know the sort, work hard, play harder.
Typically he is at the centre of it and so it proved last weekend.
We had a little bit of a night out with my brother and respective partners to celebrate my sibling’s forthcoming wedding. It extended into a fairly heavy night and, suffice to say, the pubs in the New Cross and East Dulwich areas of London did fairly well out of us.
The next day, with hangovers not fully faded, my dad decided to drive back to Ipswich. The problem was he couldn’t find his old BMW.
Calls to the police were made and the lowlifes of New Cross were roundly scorned for taking my old man’s pride and joy and presumably leaving it in a burnt out heap somewhere.
My brother did the decent thing and completed the 150-mile round trip from his flat to the Sorrel Horse in Suffolk, where my Dad promptly told his mates about his most unfortunate experience.
A couple of hours later, still drowning his sorrows in a pint he received a text message from my brother with a photograph attached of his car, parked exactly where he had left in in New Cross. This was in a street parallel to the one he had been patrolling and was convinced was where he had left it.
Unless the thieves had mysteriously parked it and re-fuelled the car it was clear he had simply failed to look hard enough.
Cue huge banter at the pub with people following him to the toilet at every opportunity to make sure he didn’t get lost and offers to drive him home in case he couldn’t find his house.
He’s been getting stick ever since, and rightly so.
And what does this show? Well, that my old man really losing the plot and should maybe wait a bit longer before contemplating driving, but also that the pub is the best place in the world for banter. He was the story of the day and people will remind him about it every so often.
But there will be another tale of this kind at the Sorrel Horse and every other pub in the land this week.
My first editor once said to me the pub is the best place to find stories. He was right, and they are often the funniest and most revealing of community life in Britain. It is one of the things that makes pubs unique places to spend time.
Sorry dad.

Matt Eley
28.6.2011 Matt Eley
altThe thing I love most about visiting pubs up and down the land is the moment when you find a place and think ‘I’d love to move it brick by brick and make this my local’.
Putting the ludicrous logistics of this to one side for one moment it could also of course also never work because the very best pubs are a part of their own habitat.
Such is the case with Ye Old Sun Inn in Colton Yorks.
I have known the licensees Ashley and Kelly for a while but until yesterday had failed miserably to make the venture up north.
And despite an expensive train journey packed with overheated kids heading for a field trip, intermittent Wi-Fi and a pricey taxi fare at the other end I have to say it was absolutely worth it.
The McCarthy’s were celebrating the unveiling of a new £350,000 refurb and extension. That hefty whack alone shows their commitment to their business but it was the investment of time and thought that most inspired me.
No stone has been left unturned to make Ye Old Sun an amazing boozer that ensures their customers keep on coming back for more. alt
For a start Ash is a chef of the highest order who has gained something of local celebrity status. Despite that the food, while stunning, remains affordable and good value.
Similarly there is no pretension about the place. You would be just as comfortable with a pint and a packet of peanuts at the bar as you would ordering a three course meal with a £25 bottle of wine.
And it doesn’t stop there, the staff know the products inside out, there are signs everywhere for a range of tempting nights out at the pub. Hell there are even framed comic strips on the wall so you don’t get bored when you are spending a penny.
Of course like all of the best landlords in the land the pair of them are now thinking what to do next so they can stay ahead of the competition.
The locals in Colton have a gem on their doorstep and clearly appreciate what they have. So for their sakes it is probably best to leave the sun exactly where it is.
Matt Eley