One of the most interesting recent developments in the pub world has been the opening of a rising number of very small pubs focusing purely on beer and cider, rather than food and entertainment. These “micro” pubs have been opening up almost weekly across the country, often taking over shop premises in much quicker time than traditional expensive Pub Company refurbs.
I’ve now visited about 50 of these micros, with many of them in the Good Beer Guide in interesting parts of the country such as the Isle of Thanet and, surprisingly, Southport. Even my neighbouring village of Willingham has one, a converted bank. The Beer Emporium in beautiful Sandbach (pictured above) is typical, a converted shop in-between a Chinese takeaway and barbers, just off the central area.
All of these micros are free houses, but there is a similarity between them that extends beyond the single room shape. Typically, furnishings are simple and include communal tables; beers are often served on gravity from a barrel, and breweriana abounds.
Custom comes largely from the middle-aged, though not necessarily middle-class; customers who enjoy leisurely beer and conversation with only simple bar snacks for sustenance. Many owners may have taken on a pub for the first time and left a more traditional career to do it; the financial commitment is more manageable and gives a measure of freedom – many micros have very restricted opening hours compared to the norm.
I enjoy visiting these micros; staff and customers are generally friendly and chatty (you can’t keep yourself to yourself), the beer is good, if not always brilliant, and pricing is very keen. I’m not sure that the expression “All human life is here” quite applies though.