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Local Pubs For Local People

How big businesses wrecks our pubs. By Tim Minogue | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited

Eight-thirty on a Saturday night and the pubs are filling up in Lewes.. There's a pub to suit most tastes in the East Sussex town. But the most popular of the lot, the Lewes Arms, which is normally packed on a Saturday, is all but empty. The only regulars here tonight are standing outside in the drizzle with placards and leaflets, politely requesting potential customers to boycott both the 18th-century pub and its owner since 1998, Greene King plc.
The main room, with its bare boards, sash windows, open fireplace, high-backed settle, dartboard and notice declaring that anyone using a mobile phone must buy a drink for everyone in the pub, is deserted. So is the backroom with its old photos and naval memorabilia. Only the tiny front bar, with a window giving on to the lane leading to the town's Norman castle, is occupied - half-a-dozen loud characters who seem to have been there some time. One spots my notebook and bellows: "Wanker!" The thirsty stranger might conclude it is better to go elsewhere.
Hundreds of regulars already have. They have been boycotting the 220-year-old pub since December 11, when Greene King, despite a petition signed by 1,200 locals, including Lib Dem MP Norman Baker, withdrew Lewesians' favourite tipple, Harveys Bitter, from sale.
Harveys has been brewed a few hundred metres away, beside the River Ouse, by an independent family firm since 1790. It was voted best bitter in 2005 and 2006 at the Great British Beer Festival. In the Lewes Arms, as a "guest beer", it outsold Greene King's own IPA, brewed in faraway Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, at least four-toone. But GK, as supplier as well as retailer, made more from every pint of IPA sold than Harveys. Get rid of Harveys, the thinking went, and the locals, after a bit of grumbling, would switch to IPA and GK would make more money. But it hasn't worked out that way. ...

Takeover by Greene King usually spells death for local brewers. In 1999 it absorbed Morlands of Abingdon, closed the brewery and moved production of famous names such as Old Speckled Hen and Ruddles to Bury St Edmunds (or "BSE" as GK-haters call it). The Ridleys family brewery in Essex was acquired and closed in July 2005; Hardys and Hansons followed. ...

Ruddles, Kimberley, Old Speckled Hen and Greene King IPA... they are all brewed at the same giant plant in Suffolk.

But this dispute is not just about beer. Across Britain the traditional "community" local is under threat as never before....

All this character seems in danger of being lost. ... "The most important thing about it is that all the activities have been devised and run by the locals themselves. They haven't been imposed by managers 200 miles away deciding, say, that because it's St Patrick's Day all the staff are going to dress as leprechauns in standard uniforms issued from headquarters."

Pub owners are also worried about the smoking ban that comes into force in Wales on April 2 and in England on July 1...840,000 who currently don't visit pubs because they don't like smoky atmospheres say they will after July 1. Greene King intends to encourage them, according to its chief executive, Rooney Anand, by pumping "industrial scale air fresheners" through pubs as part of what it calls "Operation Clean and Fresh".

Anyone who prefers the aroma of an industrial air freshener to the natural smell of a pub can piss off, and take the Suffolk horse urine with them, whatever it is labelled as. If you don't like a village pub as it now is then the village pub still wont like you after your prissy laws have stopped old Tom enjoying half an ounce of shag in the corner as he has done for fifty years.


I'm one of those who boycotts the Lewes Arms.

In fact I'm off to protest now by having a drink in The Gardeners, an old spit n sawdust real ale pub on Cliffe High Street that sells a decent pint of Harvey's.

Protesting takes real commitment.

Might pop down the brewery pub after that for some more protesting.

[adds Harveys to the list of "must try" bitters on next trip Over There]

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