When Martyn Hillier was told he could turn his off-license in the Kent village of Herne into a pub, he didn’t realise the key role he would play in redefining Britain’s ailing pub trade. The ‘micropub‘ concept takes this enduring yet declining beacon of Britishness back to basics. Capitalising on the increasingly popular real ale market, micropubs focus on cask ales, good banter and friendly atmosphere. Wine, ciders and soft drinks are welcome. Lagers, jukeboxes and fruit machines are strictly prohibited!
Hillier’s micropub, The Butcher’s Arms (made possible by the Licensing Act 2003), was an instant success, twice winning CAMRA‘s East Kent pub of the year. Then, at CAMRA’s 2009 AGM, Hillier gave a 15-minute presentation to an audience that included Hartlepool man Pete Morgan, who turned to his girlfriend and said: “I’m doing it!” He told the Independent: “There was no stopping me. There was no reason to stop me; it just seemed like such a brilliant idea.”
Morgan is now landlord of the Rat Race Ale House, based in a former waiting room at Hartlepool railway station. Hillier’s speech also inspired four friends from Newark to set up Just Beer at a cost of £30,000. He now devotes much of his time to helping other micropubs get off the ground. Find out more at the Micropub Association, and read on for a comprehensive list of micropubs currently in existence throughout England. In a land of declining pubs, micropubs – with microbreweries to stock them – could be the answer.
The Butcher’s Arms, Herne Village, Kent
(Images: Butcher’s Arms, reproduced with permission)
Reputedly the smallest Free House in England, the Butcher’s Arms in Herne Village, Kent, is the original micropub. A converted off-license that had once served as a butcher’s shop, this tiny pub kicked-off the micropub revolution at a time of alarming decline in Britain’s traditional pub trade. Reviving an industry, The Butcher’s Arms defined the vision of the micropub as a simple establishment focusing on great cask ales, no music and good conversation. And with more and more micropubs opening across England, landlord Martyn Hillier’s vision is fueling a revolution that shows no signs of slowing.
The Snug, Carnforth
(Images: The Snug, reproduced with permission)
Occupying just 300 square feet on a platform at Carnforth railway station in Lancashire, The Snug opened in 2012 as a haven for those seeking quiet chatter and quality ales. The micropub, which has 16 bar stools, serves four real ales at any one time, which change constantly to enable visitors to sample a eclectic variety. Speaking to the Westmorland Gazette, landlord Gregg Beaman said he and his wife Julie opened The Snug after being inspired by the Butcher’s Arms. Like all micropubs, punters won’t find a TV, jukebox, games machine, lager or spirits here. “It has a relaxing atmosphere,” said Mr Beaman. “It is a place to come to escape the hurly burly of usual pubs.”
The Just Reproach, Deal, Kent
(Images: The Just Reproach, reproduced with permission)
Soon after opening in December 2011, The Just Reproach in Deal, Kent, had gained a loyal following among real ale enthusiasts and developed close ties with local businesses. Beers are sourced both locally and afar to ensure an ever-changing selection. The micropub also serves Kent Crisps and cider from The Kent Cider Co. According to the website: “The beauty of the Micropub concept is its simplicity. We promise that The Just Reproach will offer a warm atmosphere, good beer and lively chat. No music, no food, no lager; just a place to enjoy quality real ale in the company of friends.”
The Bake and Alehouse, Westgate-on-Sea, Kent
(Images: Bake and Alehouse, reproduced with permission)
Located near the main shopping centre and railway station in Westgate-on-Sea, The Bake and Alehouse has served over 216 different real ales to date, including Fresh Hop, Admiral’s IPA, Little Cracker and Black Pearl. The micropub movement is a collaborative and close-knit community, to the extent that The Bake and Alehouse celebrates the presence of its recently-opened competition, The Why Not in Lymington Road. According to the website: “This is another establishment that will live by the micro pub basic motto and standard – Ale, Cider, Perry, Wine & soft drinks, but NO LAGER whatsoever.” Cheers to that!
The Why Not, Westgate-on-Sea, Kent
(Images: The Why Not, reproduced with permission)
Located within quarter of a mile of the Bake and Alehouse at 3 Lymington Road, Westgate-on-Sea, is The Why Not. The two landlords support each other fully and regularly drink at each others’ pubs! Staying true to the micropub concept, The Why Not doesn’t sell lager, and draws attention to the fact that, while many of Britain’s lager-serving pubs continue to close at an alarming rate, micropubs are springing up all over the country. The website also mentions a nearby nautical-themed micropub set to open by Easter in Birchington, named the Wheel Ale House. The Why Not is run by Anne Birch, with husband Lee as the barman!
The Marlpool Brewing Co., Heanor, Derbyshire
(Images: Marlpool Brewing Co., reproduced with permission)
Located in the Amber Valley nine miles from Derby, The Marlpool Brewing Co. occupies a former slaughterhouse and uses an old stable for its cellar. The micropub produces its own small range of cask ales from locally-sourced natural products. The environmentally-conscious alehouse donates all spent malt to local charity Brinsley Animal Rescue – much to the appreciation of Boris the blind bull! The Marlpool Brewing Co. is also licensed for off-sales – so stop by for a pint or take some home.
Just Beer Micropub, Newark, Nottinghamshire
(Images: Just Beer Micropub, reproduced with permission)
Other than stopping by in person, you need look no further than the Just Beer Micropub homepage to determine the quality of this cask beer-only bar. “We don’t claim to sell the best beer in Newark. Our customers say we do: We have won CAMRA East Midlands Pub of the Year 2012, Newark Business of the Year 2012 and Newark CAMRA Pub of the Year 2013,” proudly proclaims the website. Run by ‘The 4 Tapsters’ – Dunc, Merf, Phil and Stu – Just Beer Micropub aims to connect drinkers to the cask ales that are produced by over 1000 UK microbreweries yet sold in relatively few pubs due to Pubco monopolies. There’s also a book exchange, while board games and traditional pub games such as dominoes are available.
Conqueror Alehouse, Ramsgate, Kent
(Images: Colin Bowling, reproduced with permission of Conqueror Alehouse)
Awarded Kent Pub of the Year 2012 by CAMRA – the Campaign for Real Ale – the Conqueror Alehouse is the smallest free house in Ramsgate and offers an excellent selection of traditional ales and ciders (most produced locally) served straight from the barrel. Named after the paddle steamer which operated excursions from Ramsgate to France during the early 20th century, the Conqueror Alehouse also caters to the designated driver, with apple juice from the nearby Broomfield Orchard.
The Firkin Ale House, Folkestone
(Images: Firkin Alehouse, reproduced with permission)
Located at 18 Cheriton Place, Folkestone, this former hairdressers premises has been reborn as The Firkin Alehouse, offering a warm, relaxing atmosphere for locals to enjoy a pint of real ale straight from the cask. Landlord Neil King came across The Just Reproach (above) while managing The Telegraph in Deal. He loved the micropub concept so much that he opened his own. The rest, as they say, is history. The Firkin Alehouse also serves local ciders and wine, with a selection of soft drinks for the designated driver.
The Bank Micropub, Willingham, Cambridge
(Image via Google Street View)
As the website points out: “At the heart of the village of Willingham is The Bank Micropub. A small, single room pub with a big passion for local and regional ales”. The Bank is the first micropub to open in Cambridgeshire, offering a cozy atmosphere centred upon good conversation and quality, cask conditioned ales. A proud member of The Micropub Association, The Bank Micropub is also active on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Its former incarnation as a Lloyds TSB is shown above.
Rat Race Ale House, Hartlepool, County Durham
(Image via Google Street View)
Rat Race Ale House can be found at Hartlepool railway station and has served over 650 different ales since opening in November 2009. In addition to a wide selection of real ales, the micropub was awarded the CAMRA North East Regional Cider Pub of the Year 2012 and also sells a small selection of bottled Belgian beers, in addition to polo shirts and gift vouchers. Closed Sundays and Mondays, the Rat Race Ale House remains open until 9pm every Saturday, irrespective of whether Hartlepool United are playing!
Four Candles Alehouse, Broadstairs, Kent
(Image via Google Streetview)
Dedicated to serving the finest real ales, ciders and English wines, the Four Candles Alehouse is proud to call itself the smallest pub on the Isle of Thanet. Less than a five minute walk from Broadstairs station in a building formerly occupied by a florist and deli, the micropub is available for private hire and also welcomes dogs. Their owners are also allowed as long as they behave themselves!
39 Steps Alehouse, Broadstairs, Kent
(Image via Google Maps)
Another micropub located in Broadstairs, this former pet food shop has been converted into the 39 Steps Alehouse and opened in November 2012. Serving a selection of cask ales and ciders, the casks are visible, racked behind the bar, and the decor at this pleasant glass-fronted micropub consists of high tables and wood floors. The beers change regularly and reviews have been extremely positive.
Goldy’s Ale and Cider Bar
(Image via Google Maps)
Occupying another former pet shop, this one in Newport Street, Tiverton, Goldy’s Ale and Cider Bar was opened last year by Heather Hayes and Duncan Binks. Duncan told This is Devon that real ale and cider were at the core of the business. “We wanted to open a different kind of pub in the town,” he said. “It’s an ‘old-school’ approach that is a contrast to the big chain pub operators that dominate.” The micropub takes its name from Heather’s late parents and brother Tony Goldsworthy, a keen supporter of local sports and lecturer in carpentry at East Devon College.
Little Chester Ale House, Derby
(Image via Google Street View)
When landlord Walter Scott applied for planning permission to open the Little Chester Ale House in Derby, many locals protested, fearing late-night noise and anti-social behaviour. But it wasn’t long before the micropub, housed in a former dry-cleaners in Chester Green Road, had gained a loyal following. Scott told the Derby Telegraph: “I have had so many people in who have loved it and I’ve also had people come in who had misconceptions about the kind of place it would be but they have told me they are now happy it is here.” The micropub stocks five real ales and a cider, set to change regularly.
In addition to the micropubs listed above and several others in the works, two are set to open close to each other in Whitstable (The Blackdog) and Tankerton (The Tankerton Arms). Meanwhile, The Wheel Alehouse is coming soon to Birchington.