PHOTOGRAPHY BY LIZ McBURNEY
There’s nothing on earth quite like a cozy British pub. Sadly, though, due to high taxes and an increasing trend of people staying home, the U.K. has lost nearly 6,000 of them in the last two decades.
Recently, however, relaxed laws governing who can open a pub have triggered a revolution: the rise of the micropub. These one-room taverns, which typically focus on small-batch craft beers, have cropped up everywhere from former stables and railway arches to disused tattoo parlors and pizza shops. Nowhere is the trend more popular than in the southeastern English county of Kent.
“Everyone thought I was mad opening when so many pubs were closing down,” says Martyn Hillier, who launched one of the first micropubs, The Butcher’s Arms, in the village of Herne in 2005. “They thought me doubly mad when I banned lager and smoking, which constituted 90 percent of the trade then. But this kind of pub immediately caught on.”
Micropubs tend to be quiet and quirky, with televisions and jukeboxes usually banned to promote conversation. Plus, low operating costs mean cheaper drinks. “We charge around £3.20 a pint, and in normal pubs here it’s around £4.50,” says Mike Beaumont of Four Candles Alehouse in Broadstairs. “We’re finding younger people visiting, wanting to explore unusual beers and have a different experience. It’s popular with women, too, because of the friendly, unthreatening atmosphere.”
Across the United Kingdom, the presence of micropubs has grown exponentially, from 15 in 2012 to 100 in early 2015 to more than 350 today. The Micropub and Microbrewery Association lists 57 in Kent alone, many of them accessible along the Kent Rail Ale Trail. Created in 2017 by the Kent Brewery, this self-guided itinerary lists more than 40 micropubs that can be found within a 10-minute walk of the circular high-speed rail line that begins and ends at London’s St. Pancras station. Think of it as the ultimate countywide (micro)pub crawl.