Furness branch is part of Cumbria which moved into Tier 4 from midnight on 30 December 2020, and so all hospitality is now closed, except for takeaway of food and non-alcoholic drinks and for the delivery only of alcoholic drinks. Not all pubs are able to do this and are now closed completely again at very short notice. (Breweries, off licenses etc can sell via takeaway or click-and-collect as well as by delivery.)
The movement between different tiers and/or full lockdown has been devastating for pubs and breweries, with cask ale in particular having to be thrown away because of its short life - you can’t store an opened cask for more than a few days, and even untapped casks have a shelf life!
Although there have been grants and furlough payments, these have been nowhere nearly enough to cover all the costs which have continued to be incurred. Most pubcos and pub-owning breweries have made arrangements with their tenants (and managers and leaseholders) to cancel or partially defray rental and other costs, but many landlords find themselves struggling to carry on. Many wet-led pubs (those where most, if not all, of their sales are drinks, not food) have been demonised in the press, and, with the previous requirement to provide a meal before alcohol can be purchased, gave up, hopefully only for the duration and not for ever.
Even pubs which have always provided food struggled as they had to reduce the number of tables to allow for distancing, ensure that groups were from a single household (in accordance with the relevant tier restrictions), employ additional staff for mandatory table service (and for more rigorous cleaning regimes), and work within reduced licensing hours - all this meant less customers for much higher costs.
With pubs now closed, less draught beer is being sold and this of course affects our breweries. A number have adapted with bottling or canning lines - we’ve seen a rise in the 5l minicask, plus collection points, doorstep deliveries and even mail order, but a number of brewers have decided to mothball their kit. We can only hope that they too rise like a phoenix when some kind of normality returns. A number of others have cut back on production, dropped some of their beers and might not be brewing regularly.
So, at this extremely stressful time for everyone in hospitality, I’d just like to say “Good luck, guys, and try to hang on in there”. And I’m not going to wish everyone a “happy” or “prosperous” New Year. 2021 will bring many changes, and our pubs, clubs, breweries, hotels and everyone involved in hospitality (that includes the supply chains - the butchers, bakers, greengrocers etc. that the pubs buy from) plus those who use these will need to pull together to overcome the devastation that this virus has wrought.