Pubs are arguably under more under pressure than retailers but at least they have a unique product to sell in the form of cask ale that cannot easily be bought in shops or over the internet.
As the industry has faced myriad problems – the smoking ban, increased red tape, the large pub companies operating a long-busted business model, and the supermarkets flogging cheap below-cost booze – the pub sector has thankfully had cask ale in its armoury to help it fight off the many threats to its survival.
Whereas the major grocers can flog all the bottles and cans of beer they like, it is simply not the same liquid as a pint of perfectly produced (and expertly dispensed) cask ale from the UK’s many fine craft brewers.
As long as this has been in the pub industry’s corner it has at least had something that it can use as a weapon to defend itself against the big nasty supermarkets.
But how long will this unique selling point survive because the specialist off-licenses are starting to play around with offering cask ales. Northern-based Rhythm & Booze has installed handpumps into a small number of its shops for take-away cask ale. And independent operator BrandInvest Group, based in Scotland, is rolling out cask ale pumps into 15 of its Winehouse outlets and a Cellar No 1 shop.
Can it really be too long before we find the supermarkets offering take-out cask ale? Certainly the first one to install pumps will be providing a clear point of differentiation to its rivals. It will be good news for cash-strapped cask ale drinkers on a budget but bad news for the pub industry and pub-goers.
It also leads to the question of whether this will potentially be another factor that contributes to the renaissance of in-home bars. This feature of all the best homes in the 1970s must surely be due for a return.
I’m certainly considering installing a bar in my daughter’s dolls’ house ahead of its delivery by Santa next month (yes, you can buy them on eBay).