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This week pubs across England, Scotland and Wales have reopened their heavy doors and sticky floors to ecstatic drinkers for the first time since January. It has been wonderful to see people who feel comfortable and safe to do so getting out to support their local at such a difficult time for the industry. Outdoor drinking was fine (except the weather and the bookings) but getting back inside a pub is what we’ve really all been waiting for.
For many, it was perhaps only when the pub was closed that we realised how much we value it.
Pubs are an important part of our communities. The culture of the pub – ‘good fellowship’, mixing of different social groups, reciprocity, openness to strangers – is the type of social environment that feeds our souls, and that has been so lacking over the past year. Time together in the pub can break down barriers, spark new connections, and make friends for life. Just think how different it can be talking to colleagues over a pint compared to over a desk (or Zoom). No wonder we all want to get back.
So much of pub culture is iconic. The architecture, the décor, the smell, those sticky floors. Ordering at the bar, pulling a draught, beer mats. And, of course, the beer itself. The pint of beer is the icon of the pub. The way it looks, the way you drink it (sips and gulps, bought by the round), even the way you hold it, particularly when you’re standing around.
This iconography of the pub feels traditional, but the institution is always changing. People have been worrying that pubs were ‘better in my day’ since at least 1930, when the Daily Herald wrote that “Our inns are not what they were.”
The reality is that pubs are constantly finding new ways to adapt to modern lifestyles and social needs. For many years now, pubs in rural communities have offered essential services like shops and post offices that have otherwise been under threat. Community pubs offer a way to revitalise the local with innovative ownership models and direct input from regulars. And new breeds of pubs are inventing themselves, even if they are not pubs in name. Craft beer bars, brewery taprooms, innovative all-day venues can create the same valuable pub culture with a shared ethos of bringing people together.
There is also an evolution in what people are drinking. Yes, beer is the mainstay, but options are starting to broaden. On the alcoholic front, there are wider selections of beer, better wine, and often a range of gins as ever more local distilleries open.
But non-alcoholic options are also growing. A number of years ago Seedlip reinvented the G&T for non-drinkers. At the same time, premium soft drinks have reduced people’s reliance on the soda gun. But the growing no and low alcohol movement is creating even more choice. “Lifestyle choices are changing, and there is so much growth in the area of non-alcoholic drinkers,” says Jonny Stevens, Founder of the excellent app Better Without, that helps people discover and locate great non-alcoholic options, “the options are available and the industry is starting to increase its range.”
This is good news.
The wonders of the pub should be open to everyone who wants to experience them. If it is to continue being a place where people from all walks of life can meet each other, spend time together and make new friends, the pub needs to provide the kind of space and the kind of drinks that are going to keep a new generation of drinkers (and non-drinkers) coming back to their local.
It’s not just about the continued success of pubs and bars, it’s about our communities and our society. We need social spaces and social rituals that can bring us together. Being isolated from one another, as we have all seen over the last 14 months, is not a good blueprint for a thriving future. A drink at the pub, or at a bar, or even at a gig or a barbeque, is as good a ritual as any to cling to. But it can’t just be for alcohol drinkers.
I started Basic Booch with this social mission at the heart of what I wanted the company to be about.
Non-alcoholic G&Ts and posh sodas are great, but they aren’t always the right vibe. The iconography of a beer is so important to our drinking culture that people need more options that fit the bill when everyone else is on the pints. Sure, alcohol-free beer is better than it has ever been, but beer with the alcohol taken out isn’t what everyone is looking for.
That’s why I started brewing kombucha: the belief that this naturally alcohol-free drink, which looks and drinks like a beer, can give everyone a positive choice when we’re not choosing to drink. It’s a brew for all of us.
The remaining question is: where will you be revisiting first (if you haven’t already)? If you’re looking for some Booch by the can I can give you a few pointers. As they reopen fully this week, Basic Booch will be served at the Tyne Bank Brewery taproom in Newcastle, BoozeHound in Sheffield’s Cutlery Works, The Paper Duck in Birmingham, and the brand-new Filling Station in St Ives Cambridgeshire.
Let me, and your landlord, know where you’d like to see Basic Booch stocked next.
With thanks to Dr Jon Moses for use of his insight into the history of the pub.