July 2014

Joule in the Crown

Joules deserve praise for building up an estate of proper pubs in the old-fashioned way

I’M SOMETIMES accused of purveying a relentless diet of doom and gloom – which is in a sense the point of this column in the first place. However, one positive development of the past few years has been the growth of Joule’s brewery and its associated pub estate. The name is taken from a well-known brewery in Stone, Staffordshire, which was taken over by Bass and closed in the early 1970s. Their original premises were in Stone, but they have now developed a purpose-built brewery just across the Shropshire border in Market Drayton.

Rather than going down the route of developing nationwide distribution, they have followed the more old-fashioned course of building up a tied estate within about thirty miles of the brewery, and only selling to the free trade within that area. They have concentrated on producing a standard range of high-quality, but fairly mainstream and accessible beers, and have eschewed ever-changing weird and wonderful specials. Their flagship beer, Joules Pale Ale, is a classic balanced Burton-style brew in the mould of the original Draught Bass and Pedigree, which to my palate is one of the best everyday beers produced by new breweries in recent years.

None of their pubs are closer than about thirty miles from me, so I can’t say I’m a regular visitor, but whenever I’ve come across them I’ve been impressed. While most of them offer food, they very much remain proper pubs rather than identikit family dining outlets, and the ones I have visited have been carefully and expensively restored and have interiors of considerable character. They’re not cheap in Sam Smith’s or Wetherspoon’s terms, so aren’t targeted at the downmarket value drinker. Possibly the one people from the Manchester area are most likely to have encountered is the Cross Keys in Chester close to the Old Dee Bridge.

However, it’s difficult to avoid the impression that the development of the Joule’s tied estate is to some extent a labour of love depending on some deep pockets. If it was an obvious commercial winner, then others would be doing the same, but in general they don’t appear to be. Having said that, if someone’s doing something right we might as well both celebrate it and enjoy it.

A Fit of the Vapers

Pubs may be shooting themselves in the foot by offering a dusty welcome to e-cigarette users

ON A RECENT visit to my local, I was confronted by an officious notice stating that the use of electronic cigarettes was not allowed anywhere inside the pub. The reason usually given for this policy is that it may be difficult for bar staff to distinguish between electronic and “real” cigarette use and thus lead to customers flouting the smoking ban. However, the smell of tobacco tends to be a dead giveaway, and surely it is something that pubs can manage rather than taking the easy way out of a blanket ban. The fact that something looks vaguely like something else is not a good reason for prohibiting it and, if some customers find the sight of e-cig vapour unnerving, then pubs always have the option to restrict them to a designated area.

At a time when so many pubs are struggling, it can’t make sense to turn away customers wanting to pursue an entirely legal activity. Also, given that e-cigs have been widely adopted as a way of helping people to quit tobacco, pubs could be accused to standing in the way of efforts to reduce smoking prevalence in society. If you force users outside with the smokers they might reach the conclusion that they might as well go back to tobacco. And if pubs that have banned e-cigs close due to lack of trade they’re likely to be seen as having helped bring it on themselves.

8 comments:

  1. there is nothing downmarket in appreciating the value end of the market and such snobbery is sad to see.

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  2. And no sooner do I write that column than Joule's announce they're launching a chain of craft beer bars ;-)

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  3. and filling the rest with scatter cushions.

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  4. They already have scatter cushions, Cookie. Even the Armoury has scatter cushions now!

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  5. Richard Burslem14 July 2014 at 16:36

    Many thanks for the thoughtful article about the Joule's brewery.

    Some interesting stuff you may or may not know: For years I was under the misapprehension that Joule (of the brewery) was the father of Joule (the scientist whose name has been adopted as the unit of measure of energy). It was not until I had a visit to the brewery in Market Drayton that I discovered that the brewer was the uncle of the scientist, nevertheless I could still imagine the nephew at his uncle's brewery looking at the coal fires, the steam and the heat produced by fermentation and starting to think about energy exchange and 'conservation'.

    The brewery makes an excellent visit, there are a good range of beers available and they also serve good quality food at reasonable prices. The layout is such that you can enjoy a pint in a pub atmosphere without being overcome by the smell of cooked food (a bit of a bugbear of mine), the restoration of the building is sympathetic but has a modern full height window where you can look into the brewery from outside.

    Market Drayton itself has seen better days but the Shropshire Union Canal runs through it and there is a decent pub selection to visit, personally my favourite beer available is Salopian Shropshire Gold

    There is also a statue to Joule (scientist) in Worthington Park Sale, he looks like a bit of a beer man!

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  6. Martin, Cambridge22 July 2014 at 06:42

    I didn't see Joules move into craft bars coming, though like you I'm not sure whether they can make a strategy of quality beer and food in pleasant pub surroundings work as the food offer isn't in Brunning and Price mode.

    The Joules pubs are pretty much all superb, with some very individual touches like retention of Bass on gravity in the Coopers (Burton) and cheese platters in Stoke. As you also note its good to have a consistent range of non-quirky beers.

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  7. It's always difficult to generalise from individual visits, but I've been in one or two Joule's pubs that have been doing no more than just ticking over when I would expect a B&P in the same location to be heaving. I think it's great that someone is doing much of what I would like to see in pubs, but I can't avoid the suspicion that something doesn't quite add up. I hope I'm proved wrong.

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  8. Martin, Cambridge25 July 2014 at 18:24

    I hope you're wrong as well. I'm in the Coopers Tavern in Burton at the moment which is pretty much as good as pubs get in my book, but although fairly busy its only doing beer sales at under £3 (many of which are enjoyed at the curry houses next door). Then again, how does Sam Smiths survive ?

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