There’s an interesting shake-out taking place in the British beer and pub scene. While traditional pubs are closing at a rate of more than 30 per week and total beer consumption is falling around 5% annually, the craft beer share of this shrinking market is growing steadily year by year…
What’s interesting about this is that generally speaking pubs that have switched their focus to craft beer are not closing; they are instead reaping the benefits of a major shift by British beer drinkers from generic mass market lagers to craft ales and lagers produced by Britain’s exploding microbrewery industry.
This trend is confirmed when you look deeper at the falling beer consumption I referenced above. Even though, in absolute terms (numbers of barrels) year on year consumption is falling, when viewed by total sales volume (£££s) there is slight growth. This has to be due to the shift in consumption from cheap mass market lager to premium priced craft beer.
It really is a good time to be in the UK craft beer business. The total number of British microbreweries has grown from around 400 in 2002 to more than 1400 today. Almost 200 started in just the last year alone. And, much as we saw in Seattle, there seems to be no saturation point. Production gains from brewery startups and expansions are being absorbed with no end in sight. For in-depth coverage check here and here.
This is the fertile ground into which Reading’s first true craft beer bar has been planted. The Greyfriar celebrated its grand opening barely a month ago and already they are establishing themselves among the elites of Reading’s best pubs rivalling the Nags Head, the Ale House, and the Allied Arms. The Greyfriar has already received LocAle accreditation from CAMRA.
Of course this pub is not really new – it was one of those 30 weekly pub closures a while back. The Greyfriar may be best remembered among us old farts as the Tudor Arms, or more recently as the Malthouse – a gay bar which was shuttered in 2010. Given the pub’s chequered past and the current hype surrounding its rebirth as the Greyfriar Mr & Mrs Fueled by Beer had to go see what all the fuss is about.
We had a great time at The Greyfriar. During our visit there was not a single Stella, Peroni or Kronenbourg tap in sight. What we had instead was a cider and a lager from Hogs Back, a lager each from Windsor & Eton and Signature, plus Brooklyn lager from New York and Delirium Tremens trippel ale from Belgium.
Of particular note was Doctors Orders, a Vienna lager brewed by Signature Brews, a new brewery in Hackney, East London. Served at perfect temperature in a 50 cl stemmed tulip glass I think I’d have to go back to Chuckanut Brewery in Bellingham, Washington to find a better example of this style. Not cheap but so worth it – a drink you savour, not gulp.
The real ale selection was equally outstanding: six pumps pulling 100% LocAle out of the cellar which on the night featured ales from Binghams, Siren Craft, Two Cocks, Sherfield Village, West Berkshire and Windsor & Eton. Among these the Sherfield brew was a one-off special created for the Greyfriars opening. Called Almonde, it was a chocolate stout infused with almonds – OMG!
It was good to see the Two Cocks offerings as well. The Greyfriar held a meet the brewer event the previous night so what was on during our visit was presumably left over from that. After gaining national TV exposure on Adrian Edmondson’s travel and cooking show, Ade in Britain (season 2 episode 3 – Berkshire), Two Cocks has become increasingly hard to find here in Berkshire. Most recently we saw it at the Chelmsford Beer Festival in Essex.
Right now food offerings at The Greyfriar are limited while finishing touches to the pub are completed. Sandwiches and simple appetizers can be ordered and there are crisps, etc behind the bar. According to pub manager Ashleigh (who spent time at the Nags previously) the kitchen will start serving food as soon as possible.
The Greyfriar: a pub whose qualities already appeal both to real ale enthusiasts and a wider clientele. And only one month since opening it’s very good – it can only get better. We’ll be back. 🙂
Like all of Reading’s town centre pubs, don’t expect to drive there unless you’re willing to pay £££s to park in one of the parking garages: there’s three at the Oracle, or there’s Queens Road, or there’s the Station. On-street parking is very hard to come by and even more expensive (metered) than the garages. Do as we do: take a train or bus to Reading town centre and walk.
Sources for the numbers: CAMRA, SIBA, BBPA