Pub Landlord Al Murray speaks exclusively to Innkeeper on topics from pubs to politics

Comedian Al Murray, the Pub Landlord, gives Innkeeper his spin on topics ranging from British pubs to British politics.

Artisan drinks

  • What are your views on fruit cider and its growing popularity? I gather much of it originates from Sweden. 

Well first things first, cider always was fruit cider, unless these people know something about apples we don’t. The growth in popularity of these drinks points directly to the question of more ladies in pubs, what with them being fruit based drinks, and that can only be a good thing. The Swedes have to export booze because they can’t sell it at home what with it being thirty-five pounds a pint.

  • What do you make of the growing trend for craft beers?

Everyone needs a hobby of course, but should making beer be a hobby? One of my earliest encounters with the possible gastric distress bad beer can cause was homebrew at a teenaged pal’s fifteenth birthday party. I shan’t paint a picture, it would only be upsetting. But if people want to add that element of excitement to their drinking, who am I to stop selling them madly marked-up beer?

  • How do you view the growth in the popularity of gin? Landlords around Britain are filling up the space behind their bars to cash in on the emergence of gin as a drink of choice. Is this wise?

Gin is back! Gin constitutes hope, and I’ll tell you why: no one actually likes gin, so just imagine how much booze we will sell when someone starts a trend for something they actually like. 

  • Likewise, flavoured vodkas are also creeping in and occupying the space a couple of feet behind the beer pumps. Is this something you accommodate or on which you have any views?

I don’t know if you remember the alcopop years, an era that played on the conscience of every publican, bar manager and pub staffer day and night. Delicious booze? No! Your first taste of booze as a youngster should make you wonder why on earth anyone would drink, and what deep and sweet mysteries might lie in the glass or bottle that compel adults to partake. So yummy drinks are problematic in that respect. But anything which makes vodka more palatable for the punter is a good thing. 

  • The innkeepers of this country will also be keen to hear your expert opinion on what the next big thing will be to replace artisan drinks.

I reckon once we’ve got through the artisan thing you’ll be going in the other direction altogether, so we’re looking at beer made by A.I. – Robo-brew, Laser-beer, Digital-hops. Purest ingredients, probe-picked by robots, sterile environments, vacuum treated nano-barley. Even though it’ll taste the same. 

British wines

  • Do you encourage patrons in your pub to go for English white wines, as opposed to those imported from across the Channel or the other side of the world?

Well of course. The convergence of global warning and Brexit means British wines are getting better at precisely the moment we’re going to need them. And what’s good about English wines is this: when you buy a bottle of wine the way to be sure it’s any good is if the label on the back is in the same language as the place it’s from: French on a Bordeaux, German on a Spatburgunder. If it’s a dud it has an English label on the back – “good with meat” that sort of thing. So wine from the UK must be good because it’s got a label on the back in English. You can’t argue with the logic. 

Music in pubs

  • Does anyone really want to see a live band when they’ve popped into their local for a swift half?

Good question. Usually the only people in the pub at that point are the band’s press-ganged pals. But classic pub music like Oasis has its place of course. Wembley.

 Non-alcoholic drinks

  • Do you have any view on the incursion of coffee on the British bar?

The French like to drink a lot of coffee, and a result their national philosophy is twitchy, self-conscious. We like a drink, and as a result we’ve had a live and let live attitude until after the sixth pint when that possibly wears off a bit especially if someone spills said sixth pint. The more coffee we drink, the twitchier we become. However, if you offset that coffee with something else, like a pint, you can cancel it out.

  • Do innkeepers and pub landlords now find themselves having to sell coffee in recyclable containers in order to keep up trade?

It’s that or do the washing up.

  • We used to have bar staff. Is the term barista now a central function of pubs/pub landlords?

Over my dead body.

  • Do you approve of bars selling non-alcoholic beers, or do they simply occupy valuable space gathering dust behind you at the bar?

I have one or two pals who for the good of all should probably never drink anything that might intoxicate them ever again, but who have pint-sized hands, and look daft and defeated with a soft drink, so the alcohol free beer performs an essential kind and consoling role.

 Prime Minister

  • Do you have any aspirations to revive your political ambitions?

No. The nation had its chance. 318 people, stout-hearted Kentish men and women made their choice, and they knew they were right. But you can’t be ahead of your time all the time. 

  • Would you continue as the pub landlord after you become Prime Minister?

Of course, it’s what they call an upscale, that’s all. They’re basically the same job. Keep the place running, keep the fixtures and fittings spick and span, make sure the staff are happy. How hard can it be?

  • What measures would you take to support innkeepers and pub landlords?

There’d be a temptation to nationalise pubs to stem the closures. But maybe the thing to do would be make running a pub tax-free. And I’d do some political waffle to justify it. Pubs perform an essential social cohesion role. See – the waffle isn’t hard.

  • Would you lower or even abolish alcohol duty?

Every pint you drink is an act of patriotism. That money’s the Queen’s. She’d have to OK it.

  • How would you adjust the licensing laws, or do you think they are fine as they are?

Well, what we’ve lost since pubs opened all day is the sweet joy of the illicit pint in the afternoon and the sweet pleasure of the lock-in. And you know, sometimes you’re keeping an eye open for the half-past-three punter when a nap might be in order. But they’re not called public houses for nothing – they’re open to the public – and that means everyone. The Queen isn’t allowed in the House of Commons – she can come in my gaff, no worries. 

General advice to pub landlords

  • At a time of unprecedented closures of pubs around the UK, how do you suggest pubs and inns stand the best chance of surviving nowadays?

Tough question. In the end it’s up to drinkers to realise that a pub or an inn is like a sex life – use it or lose it. But what the trade can do is what it’s always done, be friendly, welcome, open, and offer something else no one does: a home from home and pork scratchings.

  • It is increasingly difficult to attract and keep good bar staff. What approach do you take to achieve this? Or does a good pub landlord not need staff?

You’re only as good as your staff. Lead from the front. Lead by example. And whatever you do don’t work with family unless you simply have no choice, like everyone who works with family.

  • Should pubs serve food at all, and if yes, what food would be best received?

I’ve said it before I’ll say it again – the word gastro belongs in front of the word enteritis. But the gastro lot are dreaming the impossible dream – they’re making their money on the food, and because they’re pretty much restaurants, they’re making money on the booze. Double whammy.

  • What’s the best way of keeping your good bar staff?

The best way to keep staff is to pay them more money and have them work less hours. You gotta have a dream, right?

The Pub Landlord is appearing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August and will be extending his acclaimed national tour this autumn. All dates at: www.thepublandlord.com