The beer orders
Like most industries, the brewing industry became dominated by the big six in the 1980s.
The nature of evolution demonstrates that some become too big to survive or cannot adapt to their environment. ‘The beer orders’ of 1989, headed by Lord Young had decided to release the six of their stranglehold on the industry and they were initially asked to to limit their pub estates to 2000 each. The exact legislation of this order required that brewers owning more than 2000 pubs must dispose of half of the on-licenses in excess of this number or, dispose of their breweries.
The relinquishment or ‘sell off’ had a deadline set for 1992 and the big six crept, sloth like, obviously picking the managed houses that were less profitable or problematic.
The trouble with the breweries was that they really weren't very good at thinking outside of the box and in some way, their relinquishment came back and bite them on the arse in the form of young, enthusiastic folk with experience in the restaurant trade who were looking for an affordable site to ply their wares. At this point the gastropub was born and the big six, especially Bass, were astonished by the success and scrambled hard to emulate the youngsters ideas, for example ‘all bar one’.
Having the financial means to explore possibilities, does not necessarily equate to success, in fact, the first few gastro pubs in London were set up on an historically low and these days, unheard of budget.
The simplicity of the early days, meant that the city dwellers of Farringdon still had a city boozer and the inhabitants of leafy Primrose hill kept their watering hole. There was no the need to overdress the environment. Both establishments had intelligent, interesting owners and staff whose love of food more than complemented the love of drink and pleasing their admiring crowd.
Today some twenty five years since the Eagle and the Lansdowne, the number of public houses that offer food is innumerable, yet we seem to have come full circle, inasmuch as the systemised approach of the multiples to food in public houses has them looking more like restaurants than for the intended purpose. It is a near impossible task to keep the individual ethos after the initial idea and site, profit comes well before quality for the nationals.
There are, however, still gems tucked away, who have addressed the balance and keep the boozer, like a boozer and offer good fayre without sacrifice of the buildings integrity . They are few and far between but, of late there seems to be a revival, helped on by the growth of the small independent brewer and the occasional restaurateur and chef who look to the roots of this fascinating and interesting vocation.