My beer festival page and musical events page are now up to date

Monday, 25 May 2015

24 hour drinking hysteria

It was interesting to see a report by the Right-inclined Institute of Economic Affairs called Drinking Fast and Slow: Ten Years of the Licensing Act. I'm sure most people here won't be shocked that it found that binge drinking, public order offences and violent crime have declined in the last decade. Far from leading to a culture of drunkenness, since the Licensing Act was passed alcohol consumption has declined by 17% during the period, with the biggest drop in the 18-24 age group. Among all the findings, it was interesting - encouraging, even - to see that incidents of domestic violence have dropped by 28%. violence.

The reasons for changes in drinking habits are many, but excessive rises in duty and declining living standards must be significant factors. It's possible that the reduction in violence can, at least in part, be attributed to an easier licensing regime: restricting access to alcohol encourages among some drinkers a tendency to neck as much as possible in the limited time available: it's blindingly obvious that the quicker you drink, the stronger the effect. Having said that, in my experience most drunks are not violent, and there's nothing in the chemical make-up of alcohol that encourages violence. But, regrettably, some violent people do drink.

I've little doubt that the anti-alcohol brigade will take little notice of this report, as it does not fit the booze-sodden apocalypse they prefer to predict. The nonsense peddled by groups such as Alcohol Concern wouldn't bother me too much, except that nearly all of their funding comes from public funds.

As for 24 hour drinking, I don't know anywhere that stays open round the clock.

Friday, 22 May 2015

CD launch & charity fundraiser

The Making History CD sleeve
Local rock bands, bluesmen and folk singers will come together for a special gig in support of local charity, the Southport Kidney Fund. On Friday 29 May, Southport-born poet Geoff Parry will launch his new album, Making History, at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. Every song has lyrics written by Geoff with the tune written by the artist or band that performs it. Playing their songs from the album are the Sue Raymond Band, Equal Terms, Raphael Callaghan, Chris & Siobhan Nelson, Colin Wayte, Dai Thomas, Geoff Parry and Nev Grundy.

Geoff, who now lives in Hounslow but who maintains his close links with Southport, said of the album: “Making History is the 10th album of my songs and poems recorded by friends of mine. Since we made the first one in 1993, the world has changed tremendously, and we all have too. This album reflects both personal and international histories, with all their highs and lows.”

Admission to the event is free; all proceeds from a voluntary collection and CD sales will go the Southport Kidney Fund. The music begins at 7.30pm, and all are welcome to this special fundraising event. The venue sells real ale from Southport or Thwaites.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015


Boak and Bailey have written an account of how CAMRA has viewed lager over the years, which is well worth looking at. I thought it was about time that I wrote on this subject, without going over all the ground they covered.

When I was a student, I tried various drinks: mild, bitter, brown and bitter, Guinness, lager, lager and lime and cider (probably Woodpecker) to find out what I preferred. I settled on bitter. I was a student in Padgate, just on the edge of Warrington, and as the local brewery used to boast in adverts, it was Greenall Whitley Land - they owned nearly every pub in the area, and if you were a lager drinker, that was Grünhalle. You didn't have to be a genius to realise that Grünhalle was German for Greenall, so I was often surprised how many people didn't realise that fact, or that it was brewed in Warrington. As I recall, lager drinkers didn't rate Grünhalle highly, but in those days, you drank what was on offer, or not at all - and that applied to bitter and mild as well as lager.

Pinched from Tandleman
In those less enlightened days, lager was often dismissed, including by myself I have to admit, as a woman's drink, but such sneers didn't slow down the rise of lager during the 1970s. However, even then, there was a view that continental lager was good and that British lager couldn't hold a candle to it: the contempt was for the inferior domestic version. However, the critics were whistling in the wind because none of this mattered to the millions who increasingly adopted British-brewed lager as their usual beer.

In the 1980s, when I was working in Liverpool, Higsons pubs used to stock Carling Black Label, but decided to brew their own lager. Thankfully, they didn't call it Higstein or some such nonsense, but simply Higsons Lager. As I recall, lager drinkers often weren't keen, although some bitter drinkers said it was better than most lagers! They gave up after a while and brewed Kaltenberg under licence instead, but their nice new lager brewery made them attractive for takeover and was instrumental in their closure: proof, surely, that lager isn't good for you.

The success of micropubs and bottled beer shops means that interested drinkers are becoming more aware of the range of beers available from both this country and abroad. However, much as I welcome a discerning approach to beer, I'm not much interested in bottled beers myself. Even if they are beers that I like, I much prefer the draught real ale to its bottled equivalent. Bottles are fine at home, on the odd occasion I drink beer at home.  I've occasionally had a Budweiser Budvar, Pilsner Urquell or similar; pleasant enough for a change, but not a Road to Damascus moment.

Despite my distinct preference for real ale from casks, I fully accept the CAMRA policy that it is pro-real ale, and not anti-anything; the campaign stands for choice, including the choice not to drink real ale. This point was made crystal clear by CAMRA's founders (as B&B's post makes clear) and was reiterated by Colin Valentine, the national chair, at the AGM I attended in Norwich two years ago. This means that comments such as 'chemical fizz' and 'zombeers' - to name a couple of the milder insults - are not only childish and deliberately obnoxious: they are contrary to CAMRA's ethos. Some real ale types - a minority - take the view that, if only we could get lager and smooth drinkers to try real ale, they'd be converted, but  such a view is misguided. Many of them have tried it and didn't like it; others are simply happy with what they drink and see no need to experiment. In addition, we all taste things differently: for example, I can't stand fish, and the sight and smell of seafood makes me feel queasy. If everyone sensed fish and seafood as I do, I'm certain no one would eat either.

We have the modern phenomenon of quality lagers being brewed being brewed by micros and craft breweries. Harviestoun Schiehallion was the first of such beers I came across; as I recall, it was in cask at Fleetwood Beer Festival. It's a while since I've had it, but as I recall, it seemed to have more in common with modern golden ales than it did with Skol or Fosters.

My position is quite simple: I prefer cask real ale, but you can drink whatever you like. I don't think my attitude is radically different from most real ale drinkers I come across and, as a member, it's logical to assume that I meet a fair number of other CAMRA members.

This post has turned out much longer than I originally intended. However, I'll end with this: if I'm buying a round and a drinker asks for lager without specifying a brand, I'll just order the cheapest on the assumption he or she isn't bothered.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Power of the press

Our local paper, the Southport Visiter (sic), has published an on-line list of our best local pubs, and I was pleased to see my local, the Guest House in Union Street, come top. The full list is here. I wouldn't necessarily agree with the entire list; there are some I wouldn't have included and others that are surprising omissions, such as the Zetland, the Mount Pleasant, the Bold (in Churchtown), the Hesketh and the Freshfield. That said, we're quite fortunate in Southport for having some good pubs locally, which is often not the case in seaside towns: at union conferences, we found Blackpool and Bournemouth particularly deficient in this respect.

It's good that our local paper is supporting local pubs. For just over a year, CAMRA has been given a weekly column, which has mostly been written by local CAMRA stalwart, Mike Perkins and, until my previous computer broke down, I contributed several articles, which can be found here. Now that I'm on-line again, I intend to write more; for one thing, Mike could do with a break. I know from my period of editor of local CAMRA magazine, Ale & Hearty, that the local Branch likes to have a magazine and the newspaper column but, with a couple of exceptions, don't feel obliged to lend a hand. I've spoken to a couple of editors in other Branches who have had similar experiences. Regrettably, the tendency to dump tasks on individuals is by no means confined to CAMRA: many mass membership organisations tend to leave the bulk of the work to an individual or small group. Sometimes the individuals concerned prefer it that way, but mostly not.

The list is derived from CAMRA's What Pub website.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

BB King - the thrill has gone

I'm just a local amateur singer-guitarist and my music doesn't have a lot in common with the blues, but it's a mistake to assume that the music someone plays is the only music they like, but I've found it's an assumption a lot of people make.

Although I can't claim to be an expert, I love the blues, from the classic bluesman like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and BB King, to blues-influenced rock artists such as Eric Clapton, the Stones and Peter Green. The influence goes further because, as Muddy waters sang, The Blues Had A Baby And They Named It Rock And Roll. He was right: rock & roll was heavily influenced by the blues, and the basic chord structure of blues and rock & roll can be quite similar, which is no coincidence. Rock & roll also was influenced by country, gospel and doo-wop, but the blues provided the template that took rock & roll through to rock: Fleetwood Mac, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Whitesnake - among many other bands - all acknowledged their music and singing style were derived from the blues. For my money, U2's finest moment was when they played When Love Comes To Town with BB King.

BB King is one of the last of the genuine Mississippi bluesmen. 'BB' has in recent years been explained as meaning Blues Boy, but I remember years ago reading that this was a later revision and it originally had a more racist derivation: Black Boy. I find this quite plausible, given the racism that these performers had to face through much of their lives: refusal of admission to hotels, or referred to the back door, and the lawful segregation in many aspects of everyday life that they grew up with in the old 'gallant' South. I think we British can take some credit for the fact that, because these blues singers were treated like conquering heroes over here even before they'd played any gigs in Britain, they were ultimately respected by white audiences in the USA. The Rolling Stones must take a lot of credit for showing white Americans what they had in their midst when they insisted on BB King supporting them on a US tour in the late 1960s.

I once thought 'BB King' when I heard on the radio the very first guitar note of one of his songs. I'm quite sure I couldn't have recognised any other guitarist on such scanty information,

Quite simply, an era has passed.

Here is BB King playing with the late Gary Moore. It's definitely worth nine minutes of your time.

Friday, 15 May 2015

A crafty snack for SABMiller

Craft beer enthusiasts will be weeping into their beer (assuming they can find anywhere that sells it) at the news that the London-based Meantime Brewing Company is to be taken over by SABMiller, producers of such varied beers as Fosters, Grolsch, Miller, Peroni and Pilsner Urquell. SABMiller operates in 80 countries on every continent on the planet, so it's not exactly a merger of equals.

I can't help feeling that becoming part of the second biggest brewing corporation on the planet rather destroys the rebel image that many of these small craft brewing capitalists like to cultivate. With any luck, it might put ideas in to the head of Anheuser-Busch InBev: there's an irritating little brewery in Ellon, Aberdeenshire, that might suit their portfolio nicely.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Mild thing!

I can honestly say that I have never bought a pint of mild as a result of CAMRA's May Is Mild Month campaign. I don't see it as my job to spend my money promoting a commercial product. Does this mean I never drink mild? No, not exactly.

The first beer I bought was a half of Tetley's Mild in Liverpool, which I wrote about here. It cost 10d (worth about 53p today). Although I switched to bitter at 18, I occasionally drank mild and still do. In more recent decades, when the Warrington Tetley brewery closed and all production moved to Leeds, everyone said, "Oh good; we'll now have the superior Leeds Tetley Bitter." No chance! From then on, the output from Leeds was worse than the less-favoured Warrington bitter had been, although it hadn't actually been quite as different from the Leeds version as everyone claimed. Why the beer was worse I've no idea, but it was. The consequence was that, if I ended up in a pub that sold only cask Tetley Bitter and Mild, I'd always opt for the latter. It wasn't wonderful, but was reasonable enough without that unpleasant chemical taste that I detected in latter day Tetley Bitter.

A popular mild is Moorhouses Back Cat; they don't call it mild any more, but that's what it is. I've drunk other pleasant-tasting milds such as Nutty Slack from Prospect of Wigan and Dark Mild from Bank Top of Bolton. I've had others, but can't bring the names to mind. I remember going round the Cains Brewery in Liverpool in the very early days when they brewed only bitter but were experimenting with mild. We tried the test brew and it was delicious. Unfortunately this was not the recipe that they settled on, because the mild that subsequently went on sale was, to my mind, quite unexceptional.

I will tend to gravitate towards a mild or low strength bitter on the rare occasion I go to the pub in my car, which - despite the best efforts of the anti-alcohol brigade - is still completely legal, as long as you don't exceed the limit.

About five or six years ago, there was an attempt to launch a campaign to persuade CAMRA to Make March Mild Month. The argument was: "Like them or loath them, golden ales are in full swing by then [May] and mild ain't going to get much of a look in, certainly not as far as we are concerned. Mild is associated with cooler and cold weather; it is not considered a drink for late spring/early summer." I agreed with this idea, although it didn't go anywhere: May is still Mild Month. But this begs the question: why? A once a year surge won't enable a brewery to keep a beer style going throughout the year. CAMRA members are urged to encourage pubs to stock mild: as a person who usually drinks bitters and golden ales, I'd be a charlatan to expect them to stock something I am likely to drink only occasionally. Further to that, licensees have told me that they have stocked a real ale, not necessarily mild, in response to suggestions from CAMRA members, whom they don't see again even though the requested beer has been put on. A bit cheeky that.

Mild's poor reputation was originally partly due to the practice of pouring all the beer slops into it. One irate CAMRA member took me to task for spreading scurrilous urban myths, but he was wrong; this practice did go on. I know because I had several relatives who worked in the pub business from the 1940s to the 1980s, and also some longer serving licensees have told me. I wrote in some detail about this in September 2013, and covered the possibility of infection and the effects of returning flat beer into the cask. What I didn't cover was that, by putting different beers into the cask, you'd be changing the nature and flavour of the beer in an unpredictable way. No wonder keg caught on: at least you knew what you were getting.

Can mild make make a comeback? It's certainly possible, because people's tastes do change and the golden ale bubble may not last forever. Or drinkers may adopt it as one of a range of beers they're happy to drink, in contrast to the past when you'd just drink bitter, mild or lager. One thing I do believe is that a once a year campaign is unlikely to make any significant difference to its chances of survival.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

On Your Bike!

The Manchester Beer & Cider Festival, which for the last two years has taken place in the unusual surroundings of the National Cycling Centre (NCC) in Manchester, known as the Velodrome, has been unable to agree dates for next year's festival with British Cycling, the main tenants of the building. The festival's organiser Graham Donning said: "This is extremely disappointing. The Velodrome has made an excellent setting for Manchester’s premier beer and cider event and both CAMRA and the NCC management wanted to continue to build on the success of the event." Full story here.

My impression from what I've read is that British Cycling simply didn't want the event there at all and placed barriers in the way of any attempts to compromise, even though the NCC was keen. This festival, when it was the National Winter Ales Festival, has moved before so I think we can be fairly confident a new venue will be found.

I paid my first, and now only, visit to this venue this year. It is strange drinking beer while cyclists hurtle around the track at incredibly high speeds, but once you get used to that, it is very enjoyable. Unusually for a CAMRA festival nowadays, it takes cash rather than tokens. The possible snag here is that volunteers who work at other beer festivals are likely to be more accustomed to dealing with tokens: at least, that is my explanation for being given change for £15 when I handed over a £20 note to buy a pint. From an organisational point of view, cash bars are labour intensive and you need loads of change to ensure your tills don't run out, but if they can handle that - as it seems they can - it's not a problem that need concern the customer. There is also a session when CAMRA members get in free, a perk that some CAMRA festivals are discontinuing nowadays.

Let's see what next year brings.

While there, I saw a stall for Real XS Radio ("Your Classic Rock Station") with two empty guitar racks in front of it. The sign read: "Free air guitars - please take one".

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Song For Today!

Robinson's Wizard

The Masons acoustic song session was particularly busy last night, with 9 or 10 performers rolling up. The Masons is a small local in Anchor Street, Southport, and the regulars seem to quite enjoy having unamplified live music in their pub a couple of times a month (every 1st and 3rd Wednesday).

Tasting Notes
Brewer's tasting notes for Robinson's Wizard
It's a Robinson's house, and the usual real ale is Unicorn, with occasional visits by Dizzy Blonde or, more rarely, Trooper. Last night there was one I hadn't come across before: Wizard, named after the legend of the Wizard of Alderley Edge. I've attached the tasting notes from the Robinson's website, which I regard as wildly optimistic. It has a subdued version of the distinctive Robinson's flavour that is particularly detectable in Unicorn or Trooper, but is lighter flavoured than either of these. Beyond this, it is an unremarkable amber beer, pleasant enough in itself, but no flavours that either especially please or offend. At 3.7%, it is below my preferred strength, but as the Masons has only one real ale on at any time, beggars can't be choosers. I didn't mind it, but neither would I cross the road for it. Conclusion: typical example of a regional brewer's speciality beer.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Waterloo Beer Festival

My friend Roland texted me about going to this beer festival. I said yes, and agreed to book the tickets on-line. When I did so, I got a message that my tickets had been e-mailed to me, and I'd need to print them off. Oops! My printer was broken, and I'd been promising myself for perhaps 9 months that I'd replace it: well, you can't rush these things. Off to Argos and an hour later I'm the proud owner of a new printer, and the first documents it printed were our tickets.

Old Christ Church
The festival is run by Liverpool Organic Brewery in the Old Christ Church in Waterloo, which is a great, if draughty, venue. A jazz band called Swingology provided some good music, and not too loud; I noticed that entertainment was provided at all sessions, so if you're one of those who find that music affects your taste buds, this festival may not be for you. The noise levels were high, but through conversation rather than the music; the acoustics are such that noise of any kind bounces all over the place.

I was wearing a badge that hinted at my support for nuclear disarmament, and the fellow who served me couldn't stop laughing when I ordered a beer called Bomb from Atomic Brewery (5.2%), a hoppy golden ale. Dragon Slayer (4.5%) from B&T Brewery was bland to my taste, but probably fine for people who prefer the likes pf Wainwright. I tried 9 different beers in all (half pint glasses) and my favourite was Buzz (4.6%) from the Animal Brewing Co. The most extreme beer was the aptly-named Hop Monster (4.5%) from Exit: very enjoyable but it certainly scorched my taste buds to the extent that the next beer I had, Moondance (4.5%) from Melwood initially seemed disappointing and bland, but as the taste of Hop Monster receded, it became clear that this beer, brewed near Kirkby, was really quite pleasant.

When the session ended, we went to the new Wetherspoons in Waterloo, the Queens Picture House, very close to the station. It was formerly a carpet shop, but before that, there had been a cinema on the site. The decor is bright and more modern than our older Southport Spoons and I quite liked it: Roland said that the last time he'd been there was to buy a carpet. I can't remember what I drank but it was fine. After one pint, we decamped to the Volunteer Canteen, East Street, Waterloo. This small, two-roomed, mid-terrace pub was full with football fans and refugees from the beer festival, but despite the bustle and noise, it was very friendly as usual. The excellent Lemon Dream (4.5%) from Salopian was my drink, until it ran out, and then it was on to Liverpool Organic Cascade (3.8%).

After that, it was on the train back to Southport.

Liverpool Organic Brewery are running another festival from 30 July to 2 August in St Luke's Church, the famous bombed out church at the top of Bold Street, Liverpool.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Keith Hancock in Southport

Keith Hancock is a singer, songwriter and musician from Manchester originally and has toured internationally: more details of what he's done over the last 30+ years on his website here. He now lives in Saigon and makes a living as a musician, singer/songwriter, author, writer and contributor to various websites. 2013 saw him returning to serious touring for the first time in 7 years, so an appearance locally in Southport is thus an extreme rarity. The good news is that you can see him this Sunday at the Bothy Folk Club, Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS, at 8.00pm this Sunday 3 May. The venue serves real from Southport Brewery or Thwaites.

Here is a sample of what he does:

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

You broke it - you fix it!

A week or so ago I read that a pub which Historic England (formerly English Heritage) had been been about to recommend for listing was hastily demolished by developers before that could happen. Typical, I thought, but now I've learnt that Westminster Council has issued an order to the developers to rebuild the pub, the Cartlton Tavern which dates from the early 1920s, exactly as it was, and they are banned from selling the site until they have done so. The full story is in the London Evening Standard here.

Inevitably the developers have said they'll appeal, and I've no doubt they have a good chance of winning, but this action by the council is a welcome contrast to the usual municipal reaction of tut-tutting and imposing a feeble fine that the developers had probably set aside a budget for anyway.

I'm reminded of the Tommy Ducks in Manchester. This was a well-known pub, full  of character
although not remarkable in architectural terms. It was (in)famous for having an entire ceiling covered with pairs of women's pants, apparently donated for the collection by some of the female regulars. The beer was nothing much, Greenall Whitley, but this was long before the Beer Orders in the days when we had to accept that many pubs had boring beer. One day the owners sent in the bulldozers and the Tommy Ducks was no more. There was vague talk about ordering them to rebuild the pub, but nothing came of it.

The order to rebuild by Westminster Council is, as far as I know, the first of its kind, mainly because councils are understandably worried about the prospect of losing a case and incurring massive costs, which they are much less able to afford than than their developer opponents. On the other hand, even if the developers win their appeal, the appeal process and the delay ("Time is money!") will cost them dear, and may deter others who are contemplating a similar course of action, not just to pubs but to any interesting buildings. Let's hope that Westminster's action also inspires other councils to stand up more to to corporate bullying.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Beer festivals - why?

Beer festivals were developed in Britain by CAMRA for the purposes of promoting real ales, largely because the brewers at the time were mostly turning their back on them. They provided the drinker with the chance to taste beers that were not readily available to them at a time when most towns were dominated by a single brewery or, if they were lucky, a handful of breweries. So much is familiar.

Next came pub beer festivals. The earliest I recall were put on about 25 years ago in the Bold in Churchtown, Southport, by Dave Dobson. This was so unusual at the time that friends of mine travelled all the way from Liverpool for the festival. Dave, who was a licensee for Allied Breweries, was particularly pleased when after a couple of years he managed to persuade very nervous managers to let him put on beers from outside the Allied range: breaking the tie was then such a huge step then. In contrast, pub beer festivals are now so common that pubcos often suggest to their licensees that they put them on.

More recently, festivals have been put on for charitable purposes, such as Round Table, sometimes in association with CAMRA - Bent & Bongs is probably one of the better known in the area - but now we are in the era of the wholly commercial beer festival. In Merseyside, Liverpool Organic Brewery has put on well-run beer festivals loosely along CAMRA lines in Old Christ Church in Waterloo and in the Black-E and the magnificent St George's Hall in Liverpool. The Ship & Mitre pub has run a festival in Hulme Hall, Port Sunlight, Wirral.

There are a one or two differences between CAMRA festivals and the newer commercial ones:

  • CAMRA festivals still theoretically have the primary campaigning purpose of presenting real ales that may not be available in the locality. Commercial festivals are money-making ventures.
  • CAMRA festivals refund any beer tokens you have not spent; commercial festivals don't.
  • CAMRA festivals refund the deposit on your glass if you don't want to keep it; commercial ones don't.
In Merseyside, these festivals automatically put their tickets for sale on-line, which eventually forced the hand of the CAMRA Liverpool Beer Festival to follow suit - they had resolutely refused to do so hitherto, as I reported here in November 2011. So we can say some good came out of the competition.

The question arises: with so many different bodies putting on beer festivals - CAMRA, pubs, charities and breweries - and with the range of real ale in pubs being so much broader then ever before, is there actually a campaigning need for CAMRA festivals? Or are they now just preaching to the converted? There's no easy answer to this, but my own observations suggest to me that around 70-80% of punters could be called the converted, but I found there were lots of 'the converted' at beer festivals when I began working at them in the mid-1980s, so this isn't a new situation. Among the remainder, there are still some who come in and ask for a lager. Away from the festival, despite the growth of real ale, sales of smooth beers and lagers still dominate pub beer sales, so arguments that I've read in What's Brewing and elsewhere that CAMRA has won the war to save real ale are very wide of the mark. 

I do tend to feel that some festivals have become institutionalised - i.e. we do it because we've always done it - but they do still have a certain, although not massive, role in publicising the cause of real ale. And to be fair, despite their commercial basis, real ale festivals run by breweries and pubs can have a similar effect. If I didn't feel festivals have some campaigning impact, if they just existed solely for the benefit of existing real ale drinkers, I doubt I'd give up my time to work at them.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Micropubs ~ method becoming dogma?

A new phenomenon has been appearing in our towns and cities in recent years: the creation of new small pubs in former shops. I remember the pioneer of micropubs, Martin Hillier, who opened the UK's first in Kent, speak about them to the CAMRA conference a few years ago. His approach involved no spirits, alcopops, keg beers, music, TV, juke boxes, and with only real ale, boxed real ciders, real ale in bottles and continental beers, especially Belgian. Put like that, it seems a rigid formula, but - like the term craft beer - it has no authority to justify it or any agreed definition. Do all new small pubs have to conform to it to be classed as micropubs?

In north Merseyside we now have four new small pubs converted from shops, three in Southport and one in Crosby, and I'm told there is a fifth on the way in Southport. There is also one in nearby Ormskirk in west Lancashire.

The oldest is the Inn Beer Shop on Southport's Lord Street, which I have written about many times, such as here; it's five or six years old, and while I'm unsure whether it strictly complies with the Hillier formula, it is certainly the first of its kind in Merseyside. It always sells beer from the Southport Brewery, which isn't very surprising as the brewer Paul Bardsley is the proprietor Pete Bardsley's brother. If this is a micropub according to the formula, it beats the Liverpool Pigeon (see below) by several years.

A few minutes' walk from Southport Station is the Tap and Bottles in the Cambridge Arcade, which opened last year in a former lingerie shop. As you can see from what I previously wrote, this does not comply with the Hillier formula. It has also had live acoustic music once a month recently - a Hillier no-no - and at other times has discreet background music that you can choose.

Close to Birkdale Station (the final stop before Southport on the Liverpool line) you'll find the Barrel House. This bar was converted from a newsagent's and it definitely does not comply with the template, as it sells, among other things, one smoothflow beer next to the real ale, Theakson's Bitter when I've been there. Curiously, it still sells papers and runs its old paper rounds!

The micropub that the Good Beer Guide (GBG) claims is the first in Merseyside is Crosby's Liverpool Pigeon, which opened in 2013 in an old children's clothes shop. This undeniably fits the definition and was last year's Liverpool CAMRA's Pub of the Year. It is close to Liverpool Road (A565), a major bus route, and about a mile's walk from Blundellsands railway station.

In Ormskirk, there is the Hop Inn Bier Shop on Burscough Street, the only one of these I have yet to visit. I don't know whether it complies with the formula in terms of what it sells, but according to the GBG it does have a Bavarian night, a quiz night and live music at the weekends, all of which may exclude it. Despite the name, this pub has no connection with Southport's Inn Beer Shop, but was set up by of Mike McCombe of the Hop Vine pub in Burscough, home of Burscough Brewery.

So are all these pubs micropubs? I think yes: they are all pubs and are undeniably small. The fact the some don't conform to the business model preferred by Martin Hillier shouldn't rule them out. All are primarily beer-orientated, but there is nothing wrong with catering for those who aren't beer drinkers; this will certainly give such places a broader appeal, and I have noticed that they seem more likely to attract groups of women than many conventional pubs. For myself, I have no more interest in drinking in an environment segregated by style of drink than I have by gender.

Martin Hillier is certainly an influential pioneer, but when I saw him speak, he was throwing out ideas, not laying down laws. The fact that he was the first doesn't mean his preferred approach is sacrosanct, or that it will suit all people and situations. What makes pubs, micro or otherwise, interesting is not conformity to a universal template, but diversity. Let's not create a dogma out of a good idea.

I've just noticed that there is a Micropub Association who state on their website: "The definition of a micropub is challenging. It is a set of ethics rather than a set of rules."

The Inn Beer Shop, The Hop Inn Bier Shop and the Liverpool Pigeon are all the GBG.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Live again - at last

Hello everyone,

I'm now back on line, after months of denial - denying that I really needed to buy a new computer. Six months away from the world of blogging, e-mails, and internet access. It's quite strange, but you do get used to it in a way, but there's always the feeling that you're missing out. As indeed you are. It's less than ten years since I bought my first computer and only seven since I was first bought a mobile (a leaving present from work). Before then, going to the pub was arranged at the previous meeting in the pub, after bumping into people, or by using what we now call a landline, but what we used to call a phone. In a fairly short period of time, we've become reliant on this technology. I have missed several social events because friends have forgotten my computer wasn't working. Not their fault: I ought to have sorted this out months ago.

In recent months I've had a few people approach me and say, "Aren't you Red Nev? What's happened to your blog?" In a couple of cases, I didn't know the person at all: perhaps they recognised me from the photo, but however they know me, such feedback in encouraging. It was nice of my old pal Tandleman to phone me asking why I'd vanished from the ether. I subsequently saw him at the Manchester Beer Festival in the Velodrome: great festival, but bizarre venue. If you haven't been, I recommend it. It's a cash bar, and I handed over a £20 note for a pint and was given change for £15. Odd.

It's going to take a while to get all my events pages up to date, but it'll be done over the next couple of weeks. I'm looking forward to doing all this again.



Sunday, 12 October 2014

Doing things by halves

I've just come across this picture on a website called the Fowndry (sic) which at great expense will provide you with toys like these half pint glasses. On the thread below, one person has written, "Brilliant,Freakin Brilliant!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" and another, "Awesome!!!" My own assessment is "Mildly amusing", without a plethora of exclamation marks.

If you like the visual joke, they're £8.99 for one or £14.99 for a pair. Or you could just use a normal half pint glass.

However, it did get me thinking about halves. I tend not to drink halves, except perhaps at the end of the night as a final top-up. It is often said that you drink halves at a faster rate than you do pints because after a couple of mouthfuls, there doesn't seem much left, so you're more inclined just to down the remainder.

Yesterday I spent the day in Liverpool at a friend's wedding. When I returned to Southport, I had a less than a quarter of an hour wait for the last bus, and so popped in the Tea Rooms in Birkdale (a bar, not a café) for a swift half of Wainwright. I drank it and left with more than five minutes to spare. I'm certain that if I'd ordered a pint, I wouldn't have drunk anywhere near a half of it by that time.

I appreciate that a sample of one isn't scientifically valid, but it does seem a common perception that halves go down at a faster rate than pints. If that's the case, then if you used halves only, you'd sell more beer. Is that the reason, I wonder, why it seems that CAMRA beer festivals are increasingly supplying half pint glasses only?

To my mind, the dark beer on the left is a short measure.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Bellowhead's ale

Here's another band to have their own real ale: Radio 2's favourite folk band, Bellowhead, is to have their own beer called Revival, named after their latest CD. It will be brewed by Harvey's to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the band. The brewery states that it is the first of their beers to be available on national distribution. I can find no description of the beer other than it is "a new golden ale, brewed using Sussex hops".

The band is noted for its big sound (there are 11 of them) and they intend to do sessions in pubs serving Revival after their gigs on the forthcoming tour. As I recall, Status Quo did a tour of pubs about 15 years ago, and they have recently acquired their own beer, Piledriver brewed by Wychwood. A real ale and a folk-based band do seem to go well together (or in modern jargon "are a good fit").

I'll try it if I see it anywhere, but as its strength is 3.7%, I can't see myself getting too excited.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Nailing the lid down

"Promoting child abuse", apparently
I don't normally subscribe to the "what's gone wrong with the world" way of thinking, but I did a bit when I saw this sign, which was placed outside the Black Lion pub in Leighton Buzzard, Bedforshire. Not the actual sign itself, you understand, but the reaction to it. It is obviously a jokey way of asking parents to ensure their children behave without putting up heavy-handed notices along the lines of: "Children must be kept strictly under control".

Apparently complaints have been posted on Facebook, including from one moron (anonymous of course) who said: "Personally I find this sign disgusting. [The licensee] should be arrested for promoting child abuse and closed down by Trading Standards for the same offence." The editor of the Babyworld website said it is important young children are "exposed to social events" such as pubs and restaurants, which is okay in itself, until she added that she thought the sign was aggressive.

Two different licensees I've chatted to both told me they have had to chase after children running out of the pub doors into busy streets while their parents chatted and drank oblivious of the danger to their little darlings. One of them got so sick of doing so that she banned children altogether. Even without the element of danger, it's strange how some parents can't see that noisy children running wild in a pub annoy most other customers, or perhaps they simply don't care. I'm not hostile to children in pubs, but I have turned round at the door and walked out when faced with a noisy room that resembles a crèche more than a public house.

Most pubs are not great places for children. It's fine for a short time, especially if there's a meal, but when they understandably get bored, the parents should put the other customers as well as their own children before their own wish to continue drinking. If they want to carry on, they should take some booze home. The Black Lion doesn't serve food and there's no TV or music, so there aren't any distractions for kids; all the more reason to watch out for them becoming restless.

Anyone who gets offended by this sign really is a humourless moaner. As for Trading Standards, the only grounds I can see for them taking action is for false advertising on the basis that the pub doesn't actually nail children to the tables.

To be fair, a lot of the regulars have leapt to the pub's defence and are delighted with its 15 minutes. One wrote: "Better idea nail the parents they caused the problem !!!"

"If you don't have humour, then you may as well nail the coffin lid down now." Roger Moore.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Taking beer to heart

Dr Simona Costanzo
Yet another study demonstrating the health benefits of alcohol. Dr Simona Costanzo was speaking at the European Beer & Health Symposium in Brussels which took place this week. She stated that men could have up to four drinks a day, and women up to two without increasing their chances of developing heart problems. She explained that studies had consistently shown a “protective effect of regular and moderate alcohol consumption against fatal and not fatal cardiovascular events and mortality for any cause”. 

She added that research had proved that teetotallers and heavy drinkers were at the highest risk of heart problems, while moderate drinkers were at the lowest end, explaining that, “We have lots of evidence that shows moderate and regular beer consumption is protective. One or two beers a day reduces the overall risk of dying young.” Furthermore, it seems that the health effects of wine and beer are comparable, contrary to the common perception that wine is healthier.

She said the hazards of binge drinking still needed to be explained, but that people with heart problems should be advised of the risks associated with complete abstention from alcohol. Not the kind of message out friends from Alcohol Concern would particularly welcome, but that's life.

With more and more studies disproving the contention that alcohol is the root of all evil in society, how much longer can the government persist with its current anti-alcohol stance, which is largely determined by the zealots of Alcohol Concern, which is itself mostly funded directly or indirectly by government - thus completing a self-perpetuating (and, in my opinion, corrupt) circle? 

More info here and hereDr Costanzo works as Epidemiologist at the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention, IRCCS Mediterranean Neurological Institute, Pozzilli, Italy.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Anti-booze pill? Nice

I see in yesterday's Guardian that drinkers who have half a bottle of wine or three or four pints a night are to be offered a pill which helps reduce their alcohol consumption. It is estimated that nearly 600,000 people will be eligible to receive the nalmefene tablet which works by blocking the part of the brain which gives drinkers pleasure from alcohol, stopping them from wanting more than one drink. 

Predictably, "experts" claim the drug could save as many as 1,854 lives over five years and prevent 43,074 alcohol-related diseases and injuries. I'd like to know the rigour of the methodology that produces such precise figures. There's nothing wrong with treating people who have problems with alcohol, and if this pill helps some people, all well and good. I do think, though, that a threshold of 3 pints or half a bottle of wine is rather low.

What irritates me is the mea culpa attitude of certain people who, having lacked any self control themselves in the past and frequently ended up in a mess, then seem to think that makes them an expert with a special insight into drinking. The comedian Frank Skinner is one such, and another was Guardian columnist Hugh Muir who wrote in an article about the new pill:

"When you’ve suffered ulcers at 21, principally because you drank too much on a regular basis and didn’t make time to eat, you tend to take an unmoralised stance on those who drink too much alcohol. When you’ve tried and failed to get off the Central Line before being sick after a night’s boozing, you see the issue in a certain way. When you’ve woken in strange places, strange beds, travelled comatose around the entire Circle Line for a couple of hours, thrown up from taxi windows … you have the sense that the human capacity for self-control is sometimes superceded by the craving for our national stimulant of choice. These are my war stories as a young journalist in the hard drinking days of our profession in the 1980s and 1990s."

I've been drinking for quite a lot longer than Hugh Muir, but I have never ended up in the kinds of scrapes he describes. No matter how much I've had, and there have been times when I've had a lot, I've always got myself home or to where I was supposed to be, taken my contact lenses out and put them in their storage case, got undressed and gone to bed. The fact that he drank himself into such ludicrous states means he is not a typical drinker.

He does make the point that you can't expect a pill to resolve all the country's problems with drink, but do we need a journalist to state the obvious? It is worth pointing out that the original article stated that NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) recommended the use of the drug because trials showed "it cut drinking by 61% over six months when used with counselling" (my emphasis). So, how much of the pill's success can be attributed to the chemicals, and how much to the one-to-one attention the patients received in counselling sessions? No way of knowing.

Jim Causley gig in Southport

The cover of his new CD
Sorry, I should have posted this earlier about the Bothy's guest singer tomorrow night (Sunday).

Jim Causley is a folk singer and musician from Devon who specializes in the traditional songs and music of the West Country. Hailing from the village of Whimple in East Devon, he was born in Exeter and is a relative of the Cornish poet Charles Causley. His 2013 album Cyprus Well is based upon the poetry of Charles Causley, who died in 2003.

In 2006, he was nominated for a BBC Radio 2 Folk Award under the Horizon Award (best newcomer) category and the following year his vocal trio, The Devil's Interval, who have previously played at the Bothy, were nominated for the same award.

He's appearing on Sunday 5 October at 8.00pm at the Bothy Folk Club, which meets at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS. Real ale from either Thwaites or Southport breweries.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

2014 Sandgrounder Beer Festival, Southport

The Southport Beer Festival is getting close now - next weekend in fact. It's close to the town centre and less than 3 minutes' walk from the railway station. I'll be posting the beer list in the next day or so. You'll find more information here.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

The Zetland in Southport - a community pub

The Zetland (picture from pub website)
Here is part of an article I've written for the CAMRA column in our local paper, the Southport Visiter:

The Zetland Hotel is a popular local community pub – and it has a CAMRA community pub award to prove it. It is a friendly and welcoming pub in a residential area not far from the town centre. Thirst things first: the pub has up to 5 real ales on at any time, with the popular Jennings Cumberland on at all times, plus a rotating selection of guest beers. It has rightly earned a place in the 2015 Good Beer Guide.

The pub has two rooms: a vaults and a lounge and a small function room suitable for quizzes or small meetings. Live sports shown. Two quiz teams and two pool teams have made the Zetland their home base. They have a quiz night every Saturday night, and bingo every Sunday night. You can also play classic pub games such as darts and dominoes, but the jewel in the crown is its excellent bowling green. Sadly, this is the last pub bowling green left in Southport, but it is popular and well-used. For those who want to make a day of it, they offer bowling packages: from £13 per head, you can have breakfast, a full day’s bowling and an evening meal.

They serve food on Friday and Saturday between midday and 6pm. To find out more, including availability of the bowling green, phone 01704 808404. The Zetland is at 53 Zetland Street, Southport, PR9 0RH.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Go Sober For October

What a strange nation we are. We enjoy various indulgences, but then meekly accept being directly or, in the case of Go Sober In October, indirectly harangued for doing so. Go Sober is a health campaign with a difference, as its aim is to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support, undoubtedly a worthwhile charity. The Go Sober website is mostly devoid of the moralistic disapproval of the likes of Alcohol Concern, and I see that it's nicely timed to avoid the build up to the Christmas season: I wouldn't have put any money on Go Sober In December succeeding. I shan't be joining in, but I don't have much of a problem with this particular campaign.

In contrast, we have Dry January, which is run by Alcohol Concern. Same idea, and you are invited to "become a Dry January fundraiser, and help make a difference to the lives of those affected by alcohol harm." The website is fairly coy about the recipient of your money, but with a little digging I confirmed what I expected: all the money goes to Alcohol Concern itself. I wrote about this supposed charity most recently on 7 September, saying among other things: "The fact that Alcohol Concern is itself almost entirely financed from public funds completes the circle whereby the government squanders our money to pay a pressure group [i.e. Alcohol Concern] to lobby that selfsame government." Not the behaviour you'd get from a responsible and respected charity such as Macmillan.

What I do wonder is how effective dry months really are. The likelihood is that some participants will have a quick binge before the dry period, and if they last the course, another to celebrate their success, which will surely negate some of the health benefits of abstention. On the other hand, I doubt a Take It Easy In October campaign would raise much money.

If you want to give up booze for charity, I'd go for October and support a very good cause, although there is of course nothing to stop you supporting it anyway.