Thursday, 7 November 2019

The Buck I'Th' Vine, Ormskirk

Click on photo for larger image
An appointment had taken me to Ormskirk, and afterwards I decided to visit the Buck I'Th' Vine which reopened three months ago, having closed closed in 2014. The closure saddened many people, particularly as the Buck, as it's now officially known, dates from the 17th century when it was known as the Roebuck. The appearance of the pub is very distinctive with the Grade II listed buildings on two sides of a cobbled courtyard to the front where you can sit when the weather permits.

The layout has been reconfigured with the bar moved to another room; formerly it was behind a multi-paned window, which is still there, as are quite a few other original features. Its new position is in front on an old fireplace, and it is longer and more practical than the old one. There are five drinking areas with a separate Spitroast restaurant to the rear. It has real fires, although probably not behind the bar!

There three real ales on: Hobgoblin Gold, Wainwright, and Jennings Sneck Lifter, with Brakspear lined up to go on next. I tried all three beers and found they were in good form. Among the fonts was Shipyard American Pale Ale, and there was good selection of spirits, especially gin.

The Spitroast restaurant to the rear is a more modern affair, and is the third in the chain, the others being in Crosby and Liverpool. The menu looked interesting, but I didn't try anything as I wasn't hungry, and this is not a restaurant review. A glass panel in the restaurant floor gives a glimpse of the old cobbles of the market town. Spitroast website.

The pub has recently become the home venue for a team in the quiz league, and on Sunday afternoons entertainment is provided by a singer-guitarist. Children and dogs are welcome. After quite a long chat with the manager, Sue, I feel this fine old inn is in good hands.

The Buck is at 35 Burscough Street, Ormskirk L39 2EG, close to Ormskirk's famous clock tower. Events are advertised on their Facebook page.

► This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Older articles on local pubs are here.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

The Excelsior, Liverpool

The Excelsior, Liverpool
Strolling around in Liverpool on Tuesday last week, I decided to call into the Excelsior on Dale Street, a pub I haven't visited for some time. It was named after a sailing ship, a reminder of Liverpool's long maritime history. This is a tastefully decorated, traditional pub with three separate drinking areas, old fireplaces, and attractive wooden rails, bar, plate racks and doorways. Pictures of old Liverpool adorn the walls.

The choice of real changes but these are the six that were on when I visited: Salopian Oracle, Salopian Lemon Dream,, Salopian Shropshire Gold, Peerless Galaxian, Timothy Taylor's Landlord and Brain's Rev. James. I was told this last beer is particularly popular with Everton fans! The three beers I tried were all in good form, as you'd expect from a Cask Marque accredited pub. There is 30p off all real ales every Monday.

Other drinks include a choice of 21 gins, six different bottled craft beers a wine menu that includes fizz and coffee. They advertise pub food until the early evening with pies, mash, pasta and paninis – there is even a pie menu. They show live sports on three screens that can be tuned to show different sporting events at the same time, and there is live music every Friday.

I found the pub friendly and ended chatting to a young woman who was visiting Liverpool from London; she was actually Polish, although I would never have guessed from her English accent. I also had a talk with the enthusiastic licensee.

They have free WiFi, and you can find out what's happening there on their Facebook page. The address is 121-123 Dale Street, Liverpool 2, just five minutes' walk from Moorfields Station on the Merseyrail Nothern Line.

While you're in that part of Liverpool, there are quite a few other pubs all less than 10 minutes' walk from Moorfields. The Hole In The Wall, Thomas Rigby's, the Lady of Mann, the Vernon, the Ship & Mitre and the Lion Tavern can, along the Excelsior, constitute a satisfying compact pub tour.

► This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Older articles on local pubs are here.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Song & music sessions to the end of November

At singarounds and music sessions, you can perform, sing along or just listen to suit yourself. All venues serve real ale, and all events are free, unless otherwise stated.

October
► Sunday 27th: singers night at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport from 8.00 pm. Free admission for performers.
► Monday 28th: song session in the Tap & Bottles, Cambridge Walks, Southport from 8.15pm.

November
► Monday 4th: song session in the Guest House, Union Street, Southport from 8.15pm.
► Sunday 10th: singers night at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport from 8.00 pm. Free admission for performers.
► Tuesday 12th: song session in the Lion, Moorfields, Liverpool from 8.30 pm.
► Wednesday 13th: singaround in the Grasshopper, Sandon Road, Hillsside from 8.15 pm.
► Monday 18th: music session in the Guest House, Union Street, Southport from 8.15pm.
► Sunday 24th: singers night at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport from 8.00 pm. Free admission for performers.
► Monday 25th: song session in the Tap & Bottles, Cambridge Walks, Southport from 8.15pm.
► Every Thursday: lunchtime singaround in the Belvedere, Sugnall Street, Liverpool 7. 2.00pm to 4.00pm.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

European Tap Takeover + pizza

Here's something a bit different.

Over the weekend of 1 and 2 November, the Tap & Bottles in Cambridge Walk, Southport, is hosting a European Tap Takeover. In addition to its usual offer which always includes four real ales, they'll dedicate taps to beers from the Continent from 5.00pm on the Friday evening. Additionally, there will be Neapolitan pizza all day Saturday supplied by Purely Pizza, Southport's artisan pizza maker.

Monday, 14 October 2019

CAMRA and gender terminology

• E-mail from me to CAMRA:
I welcome CAMRA's involvement in the Women In Beer festival. However, shouldn't we put our own house in order? Isn't it time to ditch old-fashioned, gender-specific terms such as 'chairman', and use gender-neutral terms such as chair, chairperson or even president?

• Reply: 
Thank you for getting in touch. We have suggested the terms get reviewed, but it is down to the individual who holds that seat to decide what they'd like to be called - when Jackie Parker was Chairman, her preference was to be called Chairman rather than Chair!

I will forward on again the feedback though, as we have had leadership changes in the last year who may feel differently.

• My response:
I don't see it as a matter for personal choice because the terms must be prescribed in some kind of constitution, which probably needs amending. It is possible that Jackie Parker used 'chairman' because that was the official term.

Nowadays gender-specific terms such as 'chairman' make CAMRA look like an old-fashioned boys' club, rather than the inclusive campaign it would claim to be. Terms such as 'firefighters', 'seafarers', 'police officers' and 'actors' (for both genders) are increasingly becoming the norm.

The usual response from those who oppose gender-neutral terminology is something along the lines of "The position is not a piece of furniture". That is immature nonsense: the queen is often referred to as 'the crown' (e.g. the Crown Prosecution Service), but she is not a piece of jewellery, 'black rod' refers to a parliamentary officer, not a stick, and 'the bench' refers to three magistrates, not a long seat. My trade union has had gender-neutral terms since at least the 1970s, long before I joined, and - amazingly - the sky hasn't fallen in.

As the branch press officer, I write a weekly CAMRA column in two local papers. If I use a national CAMRA press release, I always replace 'chairman' with 'chair'. No one in the branch has complained.

This really shouldn't be an issue in the 21st century. However, I appreciate the fact that you will pass on my feedback: would you include this e-mail as well? Thanks.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Coolest thing ever said to Al Stewart


I went to see Al Stewart at the Royal College of Music in Manchester last night. It was a sell-out performance and he was, as always, excellent. The support band, Empty Pockets, who also were his backing band, were very good in both capacities. He told this story:

About 40 years ago, he was backstage and a woman he reckoned was about 10 years older than him came in, made herself a drink and sat down to read a magazine. Assuming she was the wife of the promoter, he went over to chat with her, and after a while she told him that she had a cassette of his music in the car, adding that she had only two cassettes in her car, the other being of her brother.

"Is your brother in a band?" asked Al.
"He was," she replied, "but they split up."

As he put his guitar on to go on stage, Al asked the name of the band. She replied: "The Beatles."

It was George Harrison's sister. Al said it was coolest thing that's ever been said to him.

► I remember watching the live version above of 'Year Of The Cat' on the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1976. He and his band did an excellent version last night.

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Cheshire Lines Oktoberfest

On an impulse, I decided to pop into the Cheshire Lines on King Street, Southport, last weekend and was greeted warmly with the news of their forthcoming beer festival. The Chesh, as it's generally known, is a good real ale pub with four handpumps regularly in use, and the beers I tried on this visit were in good condition.

On Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th October they'll be putting on the Chesh Oktoberfest promising “Steins & Good Times” with thirty different casks, so there will be plenty of scope for sampling various beers. This two-day event will also feature live music from six bands, an outdoor bar, a DJ, a barbecue and various giveaways – all a mere two minutes' walk from Lord Street.

The Chesh is also popular for its food for which it gets good reviews on TripAdvisor, so you will be well-served if you get peckish after a few pints. Entry is free; not one to be missed. Tel: (01704) 546565.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Song and music sessions to the end of October

At singarounds and music sessions, you can perform, sing along or just listen to suit yourself. All venues serve real ale, and all events are free, unless otherwise stated.

September
► Sunday 29th: singers night at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport from 8.00 pm. Free admission for performers.
► Monday 30 September: song session in the Tap & Bottles, Cambridge Walks, Southport from 8.15 pm.

October
► Sunday 6th: singers night at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport from 8.00 pm. Free admission for performers.
► Monday 7th: song session in the Guest House, Union Street, Southport from 8.15pm.
► Tuesday 8th: song session in the Lion, Moorfields, Liverpool from 8.30 pm.
► Wednesday 9th: Grasshopper singaround in the Guest House, Union Street, Southport (change of venue for this month only) - from 8.15 pm.
► Monday 21st: music session in the Guest House, Union Street, Southport from 8.15pm.
► Sunday 27th: singers night at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport from 8.00 pm. Free admission for performers.
► Monday 28th: song session in the Tap & Bottles, Cambridge Walks, Southport from 8.15pm.
► Every Thursday: lunchtime singaround in the Belvedere, Sugnall Street, Liverpool 7. 2.00pm to 4.00pm.

Sunday, 22 September 2019

The Vestry Tap Room, Tarleton

The Vestry Tap Room in Tarleton
I first learnt about the Vestry Tap Room after they had contacted the local CAMRA branch. It has been open for around six months.

I caught the 2 Stagecoach bus on Lord Street and about 40 minutes later was dropped off right opposite the pub. It was empty when I arrived except for Lisa behind the bar, although it did fill up later. Lisa was very helpful and patient as she answered all my various questions.

The main room is light with wooden walls to waist height and wooden furniture, including bench seating along the walls. There is also a comfortable room upstairs with easy chairs, and an outdoor drinking area to the rear of the building.

Lisa behind the bar at the Vestry
Three hand pumps were serving Avid Brewing Co. American Pale, Hawkshead Windermere Pale and Brewsmith Bitter. These beers are always changing and those due on next were from Polly's Brew Co., Tiny Rebel, Siren Craft Co. and Squawk Brewery. A real cider, Lilley's Rhubarb Cider, is also available. On Sundays, the real ales are reduced by 25% between noon and 4.00 pm. All three real ales were in good condition.

There are also lagers and craft beers, including a rhubarb milkshake pale called Rhubarbra Streisand! Other drinks offered include a large gin selection, canned craft beers and bottles of BrewDog Punk IPA.

On Tuesdays at 8.00 pm, a speed quiz is held, and Lisa had to explain to me what that actually was! Live music is presented once or twice a month between 5.00 and 9.00 pm on Sundays – next time is 29 September - and occasionally free cheese boards are offered, also on Sunday. Live sports are sometimes shown. 

On Friday 4 and Saturday 5 October they are putting on an Oktoberfest with an oompah brass band, imported German beer, gins, authentic German street food, live music and a DJ in a large marquee. It is a ticket-only do, and there aren't many left so if you're interested phone 01772 301976 to check.

The premises are not suitable for under-18s, but dogs are admitted. They have free WiFi, and are on Facebook where you can check the opening hours which do vary through the week. You'll find it at 109 Church Rd, Tarleton, Lancashire PR4 6UP.

► This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Older articles on local pubs are here.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Real ale 'isn't dear enough' and it's all our fault!

The root of all evil? The Sir Henry
Segrave, a Wetherspoons in Southport
A couple of months ago I picked up the summer issue of Ale Cry, the magazine of the CAMRA Central Lancs Branch. It's an interesting mag, and its layout and presentation are much better than a few years ago when, although the articles were okay, it looked like a badly-produced college rag mag. One article grabbed my attention, 'The Price Of Your Pint Revisited', written by the editor Adrian Smith - you can read the article concerned here (on page 22).

The general thrust of the article is that we drinkers are reluctant to pay what he considers a fair price for real ale with the consequence that real ale may be "dumbed down" to save costs, or discontinued altogether. He makes some international comparisons, but comparing our beer prices with those in other countries is of little value unless you also compare average incomes, taxation levels, duty, and indeed all the many other factors that affect what we British drinkers pay.

He also has some scathing words for Wetherspoons and the vouchers that they give to CAMRA members, describing this membership benefit as CAMRA encouraging members to visit JDW pubs at the expense of traditional pubs, even though it is actually funded by Wetherspoons, not CAMRA. The value of the vouchers, £20 per year, equates to 77p per CAMRA member per week, not an amount, I would suggest, that would drive traditional pubs to close, especially as 99.7% of the UK population are not CAMRA members.

Many organisations have benefits for members provided by outside businesses; indeed, some of the membership benefits I am entitled to claim, in addition to those via CAMRA, come through my trade union, the National Trust, my railcard, my car breakdown service and even my folk club. Furthermore, there are 17 other companies that offer perks to CAMRA members, some of them in the beer and hospitality industries - but there's not a word in Ale Cry bemoaning any of those. Besides, there is absolutely nothing to stop any other pubco making similar offers.

At this point I wondered whether I was beginning to detect the anti-Wetherspoons snobbery that, regrettably, some CAMRA members are prone to, a perception reinforced by a statement in the Ale Cry article that, "Real ale on sale at £2.09 a pint is frankly ridiculous". Why? Wetherspoons are making a profit, so if they can afford to sell beer at such a price, why shouldn't they? Perhaps it's the perception of the clientele that Wetherspoons' prices are said to attract: people on benefits, parents with screaming brats running wild and pensioners drooling into their cheap meals, all of which shameful slanders - and more - I have read too many times (although not in the Ale Cry article). I consider such generalisations about Wetherspoons clientele both inaccurate and disrespectful.

CAMRA says that avoiding isolation by going to the pub is a good thing, but without Wetherspoons, many people on low incomes could rarely, if ever, afford to go out for a pint; they would certainly have no chance of paying the price for real ale that Adrian Smith thinks they should.

I've written before about the price of beer, most recently in June 2018 here. One point I have made several times is that in 1972, a pint of bitter here in the north west was around 13p or 14p. Using the Bank of England inflation calculator, I learned that 14p back then is equivalent to £1.82 in 2018. In recent years, and especially since 2010, ordinary people's incomes have definitely not increased correspondingly. In real terms, beer is nowadays markedly dearer while many people's incomes are lower. It's logical to assume this is a significant reason why drinkers are reluctant to pay more for real ale, but the Ale Cry article makes no mention if it.

A list of factors affecting pub usage, the level of beer prices in pubs and what people can afford would include (in no particular order):
  • Beer taxes that over the years have risen by more than the rate of inflation, and which are among the highest in Europe.
  • Excessive business rates (which, incidentally, are set by Whitehall, not councils).
  • Pub companies overcharging their tenants for rent, supplies (including all drinks) and building maintenance.
  • Rising costs for brewers (e.g. raw materials) and pubs (e.g. utility bills).
  • Falling beer sales overall.
  • Changes in drinking habits, with many young people preferring go to bars and clubs rather than traditional pubs.
  • More choices of places to drink, such as bars, restaurants, hotels and clubs.
  • Cheap drink in supermarkets.
  • Sophisticated home entertainment systems.
  • Austerity, leaving people with less cash and either unemployed or worried they might be.
  • The increase in insecure employment, zero hours contracts, and minimum wage jobs.
  • The smoking ban.
In the face of all this, it seems perverse and facile to criticise the drinker, and I am surprised that the editor of a drinkers' campaigning magazine does so. I did e-mail him a couple of months ago making some of these points but received no reply.

► For information, the Wetherspoons voucher scheme is currently being replaced.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Liverpool's Dispensary to shun real ale

You can see part of the original sign (top left) from when the
pub was called the Grapes. ('Borrowed' from the Liverpool
Echo, just as they've used my photos without asking)
I was chatting to Dave in the Lion Tavern in Liverpool on Tuesday; I was there for our monthly singaround. He was telling me the the current licensee of the Dispensary on Renshaw Street, also called Dave, is retiring.

I wrote about this pub almost exactly 6 years ago on 19 September 2013: "This pub has won Liverpool CAMRA's Pub of the Year award in the past, and I have spent happy afternoons and evenings there. The licensee once took the mickey out of me when he saw me at the bar writing down all the beers that were on. He obviously didn't believe me when I told him I was making notes for my beer blog."

He actually declared in a loud voice that "We've got another ticker in!" One thing I am not is a ticker, but I took it as banter, even though Dave's reputation was such that I doubt he'd have been bothered if I had been offended. His approach to customer service has been described as eccentric, but I always found that the beer was on good form.

Dave in the Lion told me that the Dispensary will now be focusing on craft ales and cocktails and that no real ale has been included in the next order. This is a shame, and I see no reason why a pub cannot sell both craft beer and real ale, as the Tap & Bottles in Southport does.

► P.S. on 8.11.19. I went in last week (31.10.19) and they do still have real ale on and it was in good condition. It seems that the reports of real ale's demise in this pub were premature.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Song and music sessions to 16th September

All events are free, unless otherwise stated. At singarounds and music sessions, you can perform, sing along or just listen to suit yourself. All venues serve real ale.

► Tuesday 10th: song session in the Lion, Moorfields, Liverpool from 8.30 pm.
► Wednesday 11th: singaround at the Grasshopper, Sandon Road, Hillside, Southport from 8.15 pm.
► Sunday 15th: singers night at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport from 8.00 pm. Free admission for performers.
► Monday 16th September: music session in the Guest House, Union Street, Southport from 8.15pm.
► Every Thursday: lunchtime singaround in the Belvedere, Sugnall Street, Liverpool 7. 2.00pm to 4.00pm.

Saturday, 31 August 2019

The Captain Alexander, Liverpool

The Captain Alexander
My friend Ann and I decided to try the new Wetherspoons pub on James Street in Liverpool, the Captain Alexander, named after Alexander Allan, founder of the Allan shipping line which used to have offices in the city. It is across the road from James Street station in the ground floor of a former office block. It has one large room panelled with light wood and was very busy when we were there.

The clientele was mixed and included office workers on their lunch break, some families and an unexpectedly quiet hen party, although to be fair it was still early in the day. It's clearly popular even though it has been open for less than three months. The pub has an outdoor terrace on the first floor, which was filled with drinkers enjoying the sunshine. The pub is accessible and, unlike some Wetherspoons, has toilets on the ground floor.

There was a good range of real ales, including some I wasn't familiar with (yes, there are a few) and included: Greene King Abbott; Big Bog Swampy Bitter; Purple Moose Dark Side of the Moose; Yazoo Hop Perfect IPA; St Peters Plum Porter; Big Bog Blonde Bach; Twilighter Fresh Yorkshire IPA; and Lancaster Black. Ruddles Best Bitter is usually on but had run out. The beers I tried were on good form and Ann enjoyed her Shiraz.

The outdoor terrace
The keg range includes BrewDog Punk IPA and Shipyard American IPA. It has a good choice of bottled beers, all the wines and spirits that you'd expect and a gin menu called “The Little Book of Gin” which lists more than fifty gins from the UK and around the world. The usual Wetherspoons food was on offer and we both enjoyed our meals: a mixed grill for Ann and a skinny chicken burger for me.

The Captain Alexander is less than half a mile from Moorfields railway station, and is close to the shops, the Mersey ferries, the Pier Head and the Three Graces. It's a worthy addition to a city centre that is already well-endowed with great pubs.

This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and Ormskirk Advertiser. Older articles on local pubs are here.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Song and music sessions to 2nd September

All events are free, unless otherwise stated. At singarounds and music sessions, you can perform, sing along or just listen to suit yourself.

► Wednesday 14th: singaround at the Grasshopper, Sandon Road, Hillside, Southport from 8.15 pm.
► Sunday 18th: summer singaround at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport from 8.00 pm.
► Sunday 25th: Bothy Folk Club summer singaround - for 1 week only - in the Guest House, Union Street, Southport from 8.00 pm.
► Monday 26th: song session in the Tap & Bottles, Cambridge Walks, Southport from 8.15 pm.
► Monday 2nd September: song session in the Guest House, Union Street, Southport from 8.15pm.

Friday, 9 August 2019

The Wayfarer, Parbold brewpub

CAMRA has published a list of the top ten brewpubs across the country, and the nearest to us is the Wayfarer on Alder Lane, Parbold, Lancs WN8 7NL. Problem Child has been brewing on-site at the pub since 2013 and produces a wide range of fine beers. The Wayfarer is also known for its food, and it will be the subject of a full post in future. After a 20-minute railway journey from Southport, the pub is less than ten minutes' walk from Parbold Station. The opening hours are restricted so best check before travelling. Website.

Ben Wilkinson, CAMRA’s National Director said: "Brewpubs provide a fantastic experience not just for the beer connoisseur, but for anyone interested in learning more about how their favourite drink is produced. They act as the showroom to our nation’s breweries and provide a highly sustainable option with the beer travelling a grand total of zero miles from where it’s produced. In addition, like all pubs, they play a pivotal role in bringing communities together."

The full list of brewpubs is here.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

The Dormouse in the Room

I have read the smoking ban described as "the elephant in the room" in discussions about the decline in pub-going and beer drinking. The point being made is that many people who mourn the decline in pub-going and beer drinking are missing an obvious point, i.e. that the smoking ban is destroying pubs.

I think the survey summarised below refutes that argument quite conclusively. Smoking has been banished from our pubs permanently, and a good thing too. I put up with smoky atmospheres in pubs for more than 35 years, and I think it's quite probable that other people's smoke has exacerbated my sinus problems, which over the years became significantly worse than when I started going to the pub in the early 1970s.

I find it quite extraordinary that a minority of smokers abandoned their social lives in order to avoid the arduous journey of a few seconds' walk to outside the door in order to have a fag. Was the right to smoke inside a pub more important than meeting their friends? If so, they were not particularly loyal friends.

The pub world is changing, as it always has: pubs in the 1950s were quite different from those in the 1970s, and they were different from those in the 1990s, and so on. I do know some lifelong smokers who say they prefer smoke-free pubs and have no problem with going outside to have a smoke.

Bearing in mind that no one under 30 has ever had a drink in a smoke-filled pub or bar, and they are the drinkers of the future, I'd say that this is a lost cause for those who are so committed to their addiction that they believe it's okay to pollute the lungs of non-smoking beer lovers.

I'm pleased to say that, although I know quite a few smokers, none of them is that selfish.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Ainsdale Food & Drink Festival

Advance notice of a local festival in two months' time.

Ainsdale Cricket Club has informed Southport & West Lancs CAMRA that they will be holding their first food and drink festival at the Cricket Club from 11th to 13th October. While they will have gin and rum bars, street food, bands and DJs, the main emphasis will be on the beer and they intend to have around 40 different beers and ciders on offer. They want to showcase some local breweries as well as some more obscure ones.

On Friday night, 6.00 pm to 11.00 pm, some of the brewers will personally showcase their products. On Saturday they will be open 2.00 pm to 11.00 pm, and 2.00 pm to 8.00 pm on Sunday.

The organisers tell me that they are hoping to make it an annual event. I'll provide more details when I learn them closer to the time.