Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Could it Work Here?

A few weeks ago I decided to kill some time by finally getting round to watching the Craft Beer Channel series on YouTube about cask ale. If you haven't watched it, I heartily recommend it, as well as the 2 episodes about homebrew cask ale. One episode has stuck with me in particular since my little marathon, and that is the one about micropubs in Thanet.

I love the concept of the micropub, as it allows easier entry into the world of selling booze as well as allowing the business to be more of an expression of the owner as it is unbound by the conventions of "the pub". Since watching the video, and reading Boak and Bailey's fantastic post in BeerAdvocate about their local, The Draper's Arms, I have been thinking about micropubs a fair bit - coincidently, Boak and Bailey posted today about another micropub. Just last week, on our drive to do the weekly shop, Mrs V asked me if I would like to open a micropub, and I had to admit that I had been investigating some of the legalities in Virginia around boozer retailing.

One of the things that has always put me off opening some kind of establishment from which to sell beer is that if you have a "mixed beverage" license in Virginia you are required to also sell food. Said food, and non-alcoholic beverage, sales are required to be 45% of the business's gross food and mixed beverage revenues, and just the food revenues must exceed $4,000, of which $2,000 must be in the form of a "substantial meal". My gut reaction there is simple, fuck that. I don't want to be a place people go to eat meals, I want to be a place people go to enjoy good beer with their friends.

Virginia does though have a "Retail On- and Off-Premises Wine and Beer" license that would allow the licensee to "sell beer and wine for on-premises consumption and to sell wine and beer in closed containers for off-premises consumption". As such, if I understand the Virginia ABC website properly, it would be possible to open a micropub in the Commonwealth.

So while legally possible, I think (this is not legal advice, so don't quote me), there is still a big question pottering around in the back of my head. Would people in central Virginia frequent a place that is essentially an alehouse? My vision for a micropub would literally be a bar in the back corner of the premises, and I like the idea of using empty storefronts on the high street rather than being collocated with the very big box stores that have suffocated so many small towns to the point of becoming commuter dormitories - I won't use the word "community" here. The rest of the space would be a collection of mismatched tables, chairs, and benches, with no table service to speak of - come to the bar, get your drinks, pay for them, and find a space to sit. In the video, I have to admit that I love the idea of The Chapel, a place that is both micropub and bookstore rolled into one.

I can see pretty clearly what I would want my establishment to look like, and at the bar in corner, I'd have maybe 4 taps, constantly rotating through breweries and styles. Given that the license includes the ability to sell wine, sure I have a selection of that available too, though not being much of wine drinker I'd be relying on someone else to help me pick a selection - assuming it would be Mrs V, there would be Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand for sure.

The nagging question at the back of mind however just won't go away...would people get it? Have we as a consumerist society become so accustomed to ease and convenience that the idea of going to a pub and not being able to get a cocktail is too much for some? With people so ready and eager to go online to write a misleading review of your establishment, is it worth trying to do something other than a restaurant with a good beer selection? Do people even just pop out to the pub for a quick drink on their way home from work?

What do you folks think, can micropubs work in small town America?


  1. I could see the micro-pub concept working in an area with a dive bar culture. Where people are used to going to a hole-in-the-wall, no fuss place. That, and hipsters. Hipsters would probably love a place like that.

  2. Like you I really enjoy the concept of micro-pubs. The idea of taking empty shops and turning them into convivial places to enjoy a drink and a chat is a great one. The fixed costs are much lower than running a traditional pub in the UK and opening hours can be tailored to the local market. Also they can enhance their offering off-sales.

    Could it work in Virginia? Obviously I dont know your market, sitting here in Yorkshire, but my feeling is that it could. My wife who lived in West Palm Beach, Florida is not fond of UK pubs, but will go into our local micro-pub (Fuggle and Golding, Ilkley). As you say in your piece, the whole feel and ambience can be determined by the proprietor, and tailored to suit local needs.

    Just a couple of things occur to me. Does a beer and wine licence prevent you from selling spirits? There are some UK customers who would want a spirit (specifically Gin). I think that some states have odd laws about the transportation of beer. Could be wrong on this last point.

    Anyway if you decide to go down this route I wish you the best of British.


  3. It is an interesting concept, I think it is liable to work better in a big city such as NYC or Boston where public transport is the norm. I don't know how it would do out in the hinterland where you have to drive a motorized vehicle. Now it might just work in a college town such as Charolottesville. As for cask ale the enemy is transport distance, heat and hiring and training staff to serve it properly.


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