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Saturday, 18 November 2017

Minimum pricing raises its ugly head - again

I wrote this for the CAMRA column of our local paper, the Southport Visiter. It will appear next week:

The question of a minimum price per unit of alcohol is in the news again after the Supreme Court rejected the Scottish Whisky Association's challenge to the Scottish government's decision to impose the policy. Locally, Sefton Central MP Bill Esterson has expressed his support for a 50p per unit minimum price (Visiter 9.11.17). While CAMRA encourages responsible drinking - it is better to remember what you have been drinking and why you enjoyed it - it opposes such a policy.

Minimum pricing is a form of rationing based on ability to pay and, viewed that way, the inequity of such a measure immediately becomes apparent. Very few prices in pubs, clubs and other licensed premises would be affected, so it would mostly hit drinkers who, unable to afford pub prices, instead pay less in supermarkets. Whether they intend to or not, the advocates of minimum pricing are implying that alcohol misuse is largely the province of people on low incomes.

I wrote in September [in the Southport Visiter] that studies across Europe have shown that, as the price of legitimate alcohol goes up, the demand for smuggled and counterfeit alcohol also increases. One unplanned result is an expanding black market that deprives the Treasury of income. Booze cruises, anyone?

Mr Esterson says that “minimum pricing for alcohol works”. I don't understand this assertion, seeing that no country has actually tried it - Scotland has yet to implement the measure. The claim that a £3bn boost to the economy would result from declining consumption must be treated with caution: does it, for example, include the costs of job losses caused by the projected fall in sales? It certainly takes no account of the effects of making unaffordable a small pleasure for people on very restricted incomes.

Minimum pricing is a quick way of ticking the box 'dealing with alcohol misuse'; it does little to address the problem and merely penalises those among us with least money. However, it satisfies the political desire to be seen to 'do something'. Education about the dangers of alcohol misuse would be more effective, but as the cost would be far higher, the cheap and cheerless option, ineffectual and riddled with unintended consequences, is chosen instead.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Craft beer & real ale

This is an article I wrote for the CAMRA column in our local papers. It probably simplifies the issue, but it is written with the general reader in mind, not beer enthusiasts who read beer blogs - such as me!

I know that some of the terms used by beer lovers can be confusing, particularly 'real ales', 'keg beers' and 'craft beers'. To begin with real ales: these are brewed in such a way that they finish their fermentation in the barrel, are not filtered or pasteurised, and are served without gas pressure.

Old-fashioned keg beers were brewed to a certain point, pasteurised to stop the fermentation process, filtered, and served using carbon dioxide (CO2) pressure from a gas cylinder. Modern smoothflow beers are similar, except that the gas is a mixture of CO2 and nitrogen.

Why did brewers go for keg beers? They could be produced in huge quantities, were never cloudy, and there was little waste. They were easy to serve and their taste was consistent: at best bland, or at worst downright unpleasant, depending who'd brewed it. At one time it looked as though keg might take over the whole beer market, which led to the founding of CAMRA in the 1970s.

So far so good: real ales are naturally-produced products, while keg beers and smoothflow are not, which was quite straightforward to understand until the arrival of craft beers in recent years. These beers are skilfully brewed using good ingredients without filtering or pasteurisation, and most would qualify as real ales until the point when they are served, which is done using gas pressure. Because of this, they do not fit the description of 'real ale' as defined, not only by CAMRA but also by most modern dictionaries. This means that the main difference between real ales and craft beers is not the production process, but simply the method of serving.

Does this make a difference? This is a controversial question even within CAMRA, and the answer is that it's a matter of opinion. In the spirit of experimentation, I have tried some craft beers: I've quite enjoyed them, and found they were far superior to old-style keg beers. However, to me they were very like bottled beers, which can be very enjoyable but do not match my personal first choice: draught real ale. Why not go out and have fun deciding what you prefer?

Sunday, 29 October 2017

The Crown, Birkdale, Southport

The Crown in Birkdale
As it had been a long time since I visited the Crown in Birkdale, I recently decided to call in. I found it quite different from how I remembered; it has at some point been refurbished into what I'd describe as a cafĂ© bar style. Although this is not a traditional pub interior, I thought it was quite a pleasant environment for a pint. A single bar serves a long L-shaped room; darts and pool are tucked away at one end, and in another corner dogs are allowed. Although this is largely a food-oriented pub and children are welcome, there were still quite a few customers there just to have a drink.

The Crown recently gained a new licensee, and she and her staff were friendly and welcoming. The pub has two regular real ales, Wells Bombadier and Wainwright, with a third changing handpump which was serving Wychwood Hobgoblin when I was there. I found that all three were in good condition.

I hadn't gone there for the food, but it was popular judging by the number of meals being served. The varied menu includes special offers such as 2 meals for £8, £1 childrens' meals, and breakfast available until midday.

There are televisions around the pub which were tuned to football when I called in but, thankfully, with the sound low. They intend to reinstate the popular Monday quiz nights in the near future, and a Hallowe'en party is planned. There is free wi-fi for customers. Southport is fortunate in retaining some good pubs in residential areas, and this is one of them; weather permitting, you can enjoy your pint in the beer garden.

The Crown is at 304 Liverpool Road, Birkdale, Southport, PR8 3BZ; tel: 01704 569149. Buses stop just outside, and there is a car park. They are on Facebook, and the pub's website is here.

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

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Tap & Bottles singaround

A quick post to remind local acoustic music lovers that the Tap & Bottles acoustic song session will tale place tomorrow night (Monday) from around 8.30 pm. Free to all, performers welcome, and good beer as well.

The Tap & Bottles is on Cambridge Walks, Southport.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Normal service will be resumed asap

My home Wifi is currently disconnected as my landline has been accidentally cut - either that or Special Branch have finally managed to catch up with me!

I'm writing this brief post using the free Wifi in my local, the Guest House. I hope to get my own fixed soon.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Reopen the Blundell Fun Day

As part of the campaign to reopen the closed Blundell Arms as a pub for all the community, there will be a street party-style Fun Day in the pub's grounds on Saturday 2 September. From midday, there will be food, stalls, games and attractions for kids of all ages. In the evening between 18:00 and 21:00, there will be live acoustic music from singers from the Bothy Folk Club, which met in the pub for 38 years, Babs from Fag Ash Lil, and rock band Restless Angels, with possibly others. The event is to show support for the project to reopen the pub and to have an enjoyable and memorable day towards the end of the school summer holidays. It's free and open to everyone. The Blundell Arms is in Upper Aughton Road, Birkdale, Southport.

Thursday, 31 August 2017

CAMRA - losing its Marbles?

It's been interesting to see the spat between Manchester's Marble Brewery and CAMRA, with Marble claiming that they were blacklisted from the Great British Beer Festival. According to the brewery, a Marble staff member was victim of a sexist remark by a CAMRA volunteer at Manchester Beer and Cider Festival (MBCF), in January 2016. The brewery e-mailed the festival organisers to resolve the matter and have subsequently said that they felt great headway had been made with this. They are now asserting that their complaint led to their being blacklisted at the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF). CAMRA has investigated and states there is no evidence to support such an allegation.

Ultimately, I've no idea who's right here, but I have not read of any demonstrable evidence of a link between these two incidents. Marble seems to saying: "We had this problem at the MBCF, and then we weren't selected for the GBBF - there must be a connection." Well, not necessarily.

I know there are people in CAMRA with sexist attitudes, just as there are in most walks of life; for example, a long time ago I used to know a union rep who thought it was okay for him to crack sexist and racist jokes, not a view most of us shared. Nowadays most people who do hold such crass attitudes usually know when to keep them to themselves, but occasionally some idiots don't, as seems to have happened at the MBCF. From the very few incidents in a CAMRA setting that I've been aware of, I know that the campaign generally takes them seriously.

As I see it, there are three possible scenarios here:
  1. The brewery is mistaken: there is no link.
  2. They are correct: they were blacklisted.
  3. Publicly slagging off CAMRA is good publicity.
I don't know which is correct, although I tend to think point 3 is the least likely because such publicity is short term - next week's chip paper, in fact. In addition, to use an allegation of sexism for publicity purposes would downplay the seriousness of the complaint.

Bearing in mind that no brewery has an automatic right to be at the GBBF, and if one puts the suggestion of blacklisting aside for a moment, there are two possible explanations:
  • There are lots of good beers that have to be left out simply because the GBBF cannot accommodate them all; Marble was just unlucky.
  • Marble's beers simply weren't as good as the competition on this occasion.
Again, I don't know which applies. Any satisfactory resolution to this dispute seems unlikely in the near future, but I doubt anyone will gain by continuing it in public. There will have to be either an agreement to disagree or a permanent falling out, because this public war of words is going nowhere and benefits no one.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Open mic at the Cock & Rabbit

Joanne Louise - banished to the wilderness
after Bar Eighty Eight pulled the plug
Local singer-songwriter Joanne Louise is running an open mic night tomorrow at the Cock & Rabbit, (formerly just the Rabbit) on Manchester Road, Southport. This is a fairly new venture, and it will be taking place once a fortnight on Thursdays; after tomorrow, the next one will be on the 31 August.

She was running them in Bar Eighty Eight on Lord Street in Southport, but the management decided to call it a day for some reason. It can't have been the quality of the performers, which were generally of a high standard. I won't miss Bar Eighty Eight much because its beer wasn't very good, and there have been two violent incidents there in the last month or so, as sometimes happens in places which unsuccessfully try to be classy.

The open mic begins at around 8.30 pm tomorrow evening, 17 August. Performers welcome. The Rabbit usually serves real ale, last time a rather nice pint from Wigan's Wily Fox Brewery.

Monday, 14 August 2017

High as a kite

The BBC reports that arrests of passengers suspected of being drunk at UK airports and on flights has gone up 50%: 387 people were arrested between February 2016 and February 2017; the figure for the previous year was 255. Seeing that there are around 236,000,000 air passenger journeys in the UK annually, that represents roughly one incident every 600,000 passengers, which doesn't sound much at all, but it's not as simple as that.

19,000 cabin crew members of Unite the Union were surveyed; 4,000 responded, with one in five saying they had suffered physical abuse. Ally Murphy, a former cabin crew manager with Virgin, said: "People just see us as barmaids in the sky. They would touch your breasts, or they'd touch your bum or your legs. I've had hands going up my skirt before." I get her point, badly expressed though it is: barmaids in pubs are entitled not to be groped as well.

How come 387 incidents constitute such a big problem? The answer is that the real figure is not 387: for every incident that results in an arrest, there will be loads that don't get that far. Calling in the police will seriously delay flights, with a knock-on effect for connections, so I expect that they are called out only in the worst cases. 

It's not only the cabin crew that are affected: other passengers can find raucous, perhaps aggressive, passengers unpleasant and sometimes intimidating: a couple of badly-behaved drunks can ruin a flight for hundreds of people, as well as directing sexual and violent assaults at the crew, who are just trying to do a job which nowadays is not as well-paid as it used to be. I'm not suggesting good wages justify assaults: just that assaults, aggression, noise and arguments from drunks are more likely to make the employees conclude: "I'm not paid enough to put up with all this!"

Why do these idiots get this way, when drinking in the UK in pubs and bars is for the most part a peaceful matter? These is my speculations:
  • Some drink too much because they're nervous of flying. Others have taken sedatives to relax themselves, then add alcohol. Neither is a good way to deal with the situation.
  • As people are going on holiday, inhibitions are down and the holiday begins in the airport bar.
  • Drinkers don't take account of the effect of alcohol on the system at unusual times of the day. For example, drinks taken in the morning can have a stronger effect.
  • Similarly, drinkers don't take account of the effects of altitude which can also increase the effect of alcohol.
  • Being on holiday, some are consuming more alcohol than they are used to and go beyond their personal tolerance level.
  • Again, being on holiday - as opposed to being in the real world of getting up for work, etc - does in some people engender a feeling that the normal rules of behaviour don't apply.
  • Similarly, but even worse, some people are just bad-mannered, abusive slobs anyway - they don't need much excuse to show their true colours.
It seems clear to me that air crews need more support; no matter what training they have, dealing with irrational drunks is not an easy task, especially when, unlike in pubs, throwing them out of the door is not an option. 

Some suggestions include making the consumption of your own alcohol on the plane a criminal offence and limiting the amount supplied to individuals on planes. There are voluntary codes but they're clearly not working. This is one area where serious restrictions on alcohol wouldn't bother me in the slightest: no one wants drunks disrupting flights thousands of feet in the air.

Although I've not flown for some time now, I did quite often many years ago. I never once had a drink on a flight, and if I were on a plane now, I wouldn't particularly want one. It hardly seems an ordeal to wait until you've arrived before getting stuck in.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Goat's Milk is Champion

I see that CAMRA's Champion Beer of Britain for 2017 is Churchend Goat's Milk, a 3.8% beer described on the brewery's website as 'Golden yellow nectar. Pale barley, crystal malt and oats, blend to fill the palate with flavour. Aromatic hops dance over the tongue for a gentle hop finish.' That sounds like the kind of beer that is very popular at the moment, although that's not a criticism. A brewery spokesperson explained the name: "We originally brewed and named it for a festival taking place in the Goat pub, and the beer just caught on."

Silver in the Overall Winner category was won by Bishop Nick Brewery's Ridley’s Rite, with Tiny Rebel Cwtch taking the bronze. Two years ago, Cwtch won the Champion Beer award. When I tried Cwtch after it first won, I was distinctly unimpressed and didn't see it as anything special at all, which just goes to show how subjective judgements on flavour can be.

Only two beers from around this area (Merseyside and Lancashire) feature, both from Blackedge Brewery in Horwich, which is about 25 miles from Southport: Pike won Silver in the Best Bitters category, and Black Port Porter won Joint Silver in the Speciality category. The only other beer from the North West was Red Bull Terrier from Barngates in Cumbria which won Silver in the Strong Bitter category.

For the full list, click here and scroll down. It is difficult to comment on the beers that have won awards, seeing that, as far as I can recall, I've had only three of them: Cwtch Tiny Rebel, Oakham Citra and Saltaire Triple Chocoholic. 

I tend to take these awards with a pinch of salt because the final choice is made by a comparatively small number of people on a panel chosen by CAMRA. I'm not sure how it could be done otherwise because, as my own experience of knowing only three beers among the 2017 award winners shows, ordinary drinkers don't have access to the full range of beers available nationally - not unless they spend every waking hour touring pubs and beer festivals all over the country, in which case they'd also have to be quite rich. A simple ballot of all members would just throw up a bewildering range of local choices without any clear winner. While consultation among members does take place via local tasting panels and regional heats, in the end final decisions have to be made, so I accept this system, though imperfect, as probably about as good as we can get.

Most industry awards are simply marketing devices. For example, the Oscars, which get a ridiculously disproportionate amount of attention, are no more than industry gongs awarded by insiders to each other. Impartial assessments of quality they are not. In fact, they are of less value to us consumers that, say, the UK Plumber of the Year award - much more use if your boiler packs in.

The CAMRA awards are genuinely different in that they are not industry gongs, but awarded by outsiders from an independent campaign, which is why winning them is valued more highly than other awards determined by insiders: this award, brewers can justifiably claim, was decided by informed customers.

Ultimately, while they're not perfect, they're not worthless either. If I were a brewer, I'd be very pleased to receive one.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Women and Beer

Ninkasi, Sumerian Goddess of Beer
According to legend, beer was a gift from a goddess to womankind. Beer has been brewed for at least 10,000 years, and for most of that time women were the brewers. In the early 18th century, three quarters of brewers in this country were female. So why is only 13% of beer in this country drunk by women, a far lower figure than in the USA or most of Europe? Dea Latis, an organisation committed to bringing beer to women, suggests it’s because of misconceptions that beer is ‘fattening’ (it’s not, in moderation), ‘all tastes the same’ (it doesn’t) or is ‘a man’s drink’ (it doesn’t have to be).

Over recent decades, beer marketing has mostly been aimed at men. In TV adverts, hunky Tetley Bittermen turned away from beautiful women to pick up their pints – the message being: 'don't let women get in the way of your beer'. More recently with the real ale revival, some brewers have deliberately chosen sexist names with suggestive illustrations on their handpumps. To give a few: Slater's Top Totty; Slack Alice Cider; Teignworthy Bristol's Ale with a crude visual pun on 'Bristol'; and York's Naughty Noelle – all with demeaning pictures to match. A few names are so crude that I would not mention them here.

Faced with all this, it is hardly surprising when women don't relate to beer, so those brewers who deliberately alienate 51% of their potential market are scoring an own goal. Fortunately most aren't so juvenile, and the situation can only improve further with the increasing number of women brewers.

In recent years, Jean Pownceby of Liverpool CAMRA tried to redress the imbalance by arranging social evenings where knowledgeable female drinkers would bring along woman friends unfamiliar with beer to try out various brews, and have a good night out in the process. 'Snowball', as it was called, was a very successful local initiative.

Nationally, a quarter of CAMRA members are female - that's around 47,500 women signed up to support real ale. With the increasing choice of real ales in pubs and bars, along with the bottled beer shops that are springing up, the chances of men and women finding a beer they like have never been better than now.
________________________

The post above was another article I wrote for the CAMRA column in the local press. I wanted to refer to the brewery set up a few years ago by a young woman to brew beers deliberately aimed at women. This brewery seems to have vanished, I can't recall the name of either her or her brewery, and I've been unable to find anything through a search engine. 

My opinion at the time was that the assumption that there was a beer just for women was misguided, and had it come from a male would deservedly risk being described as patronising or sexist. Having worked at many beer festivals over the years, I know that women drinkers will choose a wide range of beers, including dark milds and stouts. A pale lightly-flavoured beer with citrus flavours might be a suitable introduction to real ale for lager drinkers, but that applies to men as well as women.

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

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Fined at the Grasshopper

A 'Meet The Brewer' night with a difference: the guest speaker at the monthly meeting of COLAPS (Coast Of Lancashire Ale Preservation Society, a branch of SPBW) at the Grasshopper on Sandon Road, Southport, will be John Marsden from Melwood Brewery giving a talk to on 'Fishy Business - what brewers add to beer!' Apparently he has offered to bring samples.

I presume the reference is to isinglass, a substance derived from the swim bladders of fish and used as finings to clear beer by dragging all the yeast and any other particles to the bottom. As I cannot stand the smell, let alone the taste, of any form of fish or seafood, it's just as well finings cannot be detected in the beer by our senses, remaining as they do at the bottom of the cask with the yeast.

Melwood Brewery is based in Knowsley Park in the old Kennels that once housed Lord Derby’s gundogs. The meeting is on Monday 7 August at 7.30 pm.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Pubs – watch out for con merchants

Pubs are basically small businesses, and there are always people happy to relieve them of their hard-earned cash. One con trick is to approach a pub and invite them to be in a good beer or pub guide, perhaps showing some examples of artwork, and asking for a sum on advance, usually in the region of £30 to £50, although I have heard £250 mentioned. Once they have the money, they disappear. One conman even used the name of a legitimate pub guide publisher, Bernie Carroll.

This kind of con has happened recently in Liverpool, and I have been told it occurred in the Southport and West Lancs area a few years ago. Earlier this year, I read that a conman was going round Manchester pubs asking for money to go in CAMRA's Good Beer Guide (GBG). Anyone doing this is definitely a liar because CAMRA never charges pubs to go in the GBG, or in any of its local guides.

Pub guides published by other organisations may charge for entries, and with these it is important to see credible ID. In addition, I'd suggest not letting anyone hustle you into a deal, ask the person to come back another day and take the time to check their credentials thoroughly. No legitimate publisher would have a problem with this. Some licensees don't report such cons because they are embarrassed, but that leaves the thief to prey on other pubs.

This is not a small problem - Bernie Carroll said the list of victims "would fill a small volume" - so it's best to report all such cons, whether successful or not, to the police.

This is one of a series of articles that I write for the CAMRA column in our local papers, the Southport Visiter and the Ormskirk Advertiser. Previous articles, mostly pub reviews, are here.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Restless Angels at the Mount

The band at a previous gig in The Mount
Rock band Restless Angels are playing the Mount pub this Saturday 5 August. They perform tracks by artists such as Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, Julie Driscoll and The Small Faces along with other 60s classics; Blondie, Tina Turner, Ace and more from the 70s; and a sprinkling of later tunes from the likes of Texas, Duffy and many more to provide a wide range of music that doesn't necessarily go for the obvious 'rock classics'.

Yours truly played one gig with the band at New Year as a temporary replacement for a guitarist who was unavailable at short notice. I enjoyed it, although it was a bit nerve-racking for being far out of my usual style!

This Saturday evening in the Mount Pleasant, Manchester Road, Southport, PR9 9BD ; it is a real ale pub. Free admission - all welcome.

Monday, 31 July 2017

The hidden agenda of the drinking guidelines

An increasing sight in town centres
The back page of August's What's Brewing, the CAMRA newspaper, features an article written by Christopher Snowdon on how alcohol units are unscientific nonsense. This is a theme I have covered here before several times, such as here in January last year.

What motivates people to tell untruths about alcohol? I partly addressed this point in March 2013. I get the impression they don't actually consider themselves to be liars, because alcohol is surrounded by loads of fallacious preconceptions and myths that have widely been accepted as true. I have noticed that the suggestion of having a drink sometimes provokes a roguish reaction from some adults, particularly among those who don't drink very often, as though they are doing something slightly naughty. Given that mindset, along with the dual myths of a drink crisis in the UK and a genuine, but mostly baseless, fear about going into town and city centres at weekends, some people are persuaded that it's not just naughty, but genuinely dangerous.

In the real world, alcohol consumption is in slow decline in the UK, and my own experience of various town and city centres is that you are in no more danger than when you go out shopping in the same areas in the daytime. The various anti-alcohol killjoys usually insert a sentence into their propaganda to the effect that they don't want to stop people enjoying alcohol (although some of them really do, but they can't afford to be that frank) or destroy the great British pub, but then propose various measures that will do precisely both of those things. 

They seem incapable of distinguishing between drinking and getting drunk. If the anti-alcohol brigade took the trouble to wander around a few pubs at weekends, they might be surprised to see how few drinkers are falling over, getting into fights or otherwise behaving badly. Nearly all enjoy their drinks, chat to their friends and go home peaceably when time is rung.

As I wrote in 2013:
I have sympathy for anyone who has suffered from drunken aggression, but the fact is that violent drunks are not transformed by alcohol: they are simply violent people who have learnt to associate aggression and violence with drink - a learnt behaviour, not caused by drink. Blaming alcohol for bad behaviour is also a convenient excuse if trying to appear apologetic after sobering up, or when in court.
A year or two ago, a local lout who had launched unprovoked attacks on several people one evening blamed his disgraceful behaviour on alcohol in an attempt to distance himself from his actions. I wrote a letter to the local paper making clear my view as an experienced drinker that such a defence did not stand up - that the violence is in the person and not created by alcohol - but it wasn't printed, probably because it was too obvious which court case I was referring to and could have risked a libel case.

As I've said many times before, only a fool would claim alcohol is a risk-free activity whatever the circumstances, but that is true of many other activities. As far as I know, no one campaigns against all driving because some idiots drive far too fast, or after too many drinks: we try to deal with the bad behaviour and let everyone carry on in the controlled environment of the road. The anti-alcohol campaigners would probably argue that's all they're trying to do with alcohol, but they are not: the main weapons they propose are rationing by minimum price and taxation, abolishing advertising and restricting licensing hours. Nothing even vaguely comparable is proposed for drivers and the car industry.

Among legal activities, only gun ownership and tobacco are more controlled. At the CAMRA AGM in 2008, I attended a discussion group about the neo-prohibitionists. It was explained to us that they weren't a new phenomenon, but they had been emboldened by the success of the smoking ban nine months earlier. With that ban, alongside "New" Labour's alcohol duty escalator which was still in place, they must have thought their time had come. It hadn't: the escalator was scrapped and duty was even cut for a couple of years; the extension of the smoking ban that some have campaigned for and fully expected hasn't materialised; and it seems the appetite among politicians to micro-manage people's social activities has diminished. Or, more likely perhaps, they simply feel there are no votes in it. No one likes preachy killjoys.

The Chief Medical Officer of England can use her public position to burble nonsense on Radio 4 about when she's at a dinner party, she calculates whether it would be sensible to have a second glass of wine. Naturally I didn't believe her for a moment because it's such a silly thing to say, and regrettably the interviewer didn't challenge it. However, despite such nonsense, because she and her neo-prohibitionist allies have clout and the ear of government, there are no grounds for complacency.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

A new Head of Steam for Liverpool

I was interested to read in the Liverpool Echo that the Head of Steam pub chain is taking over the Abbey on Hanover Street in Liverpool. There was a Head of Steam previously in Liverpool on Lime Street in what is now the North Western, a Wetherspoons pub that I wrote about here. That Head of Steam began well, but ended being a dingy, unwelcoming, under-used dump, which was vastly improved when Spoons took it over and expanded it.

The Head of Steam chain was taken over by Cameron's in 2013 and seems to have been given a new lease of life. The Abbey is in Hanover House, underneath the Epstein Theatre; it is large, modern-styled bar with bare floors, big screen sports and a couple of real ales. Cameron's say it will have 34 keg and 10 cask lines, and will be "a very different proposition to the previous the Head of Steam pub that had previously traded in Liverpool" - just as well, considering how that ended up. Apart from the name, I don't see much of a connection between this pub chain and the old Head of Steam group.

It's due to open in September, and it should be an interesting addition to the fine array of pubs that Liverpool already boasts.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

The Blue Anchor, Southport

The Blue Anchor complete with a - ahem - gold anchor
I was recently told that the Blue Anchor on Tithebarn Road, Southport, had begun to serve real ale, so I went along with a couple of friends to investigate, writes Neville Grundy. The pub is a conspicuous landmark in the area with an attractive frontage; it has two rooms, a comfortable lounge and a bar, and was pleasantly refurbished earlier this year. I particularly liked the old stained glass windows with sailing scenes and blue anchors in the lounge. Outside is a beer garden with wooden furniture.

There are two handpumps serving Deuchars and Caledonian XPA, although the range of real ales will change; the real ales are on offer at £2 a pint until the end of July. They are considering getting a range of the artisan gins that are increasingly very popular.

The bar area houses the pool table and darts board, and there are three pool teams and two darts teams based at the pub; pool is free on Sundays and Tuesdays. Three big screens sometimes show important sporting events.

Children are welcome until early evening and there is a free bouncy castle during the summer. The pub is dog friendly. The pub also offers karaoke and DJ on Fridays, live music on some Saturdays, free WiFi, and food served all day to 7.00pm from Thursday to Sunday.

Opening hours are: Mon-Wed 3-11; Thu 12-11; Fri 12-1am; Sat 12-12; Sun 12-11. The pub is on Facebook and the phone number is 07487 246785.

With the loss of the nearby London Hotel to housing, the Blue Anchor is the last pub in this part of Southport, and it looks well set up to fill the role of local community pub.

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

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Sam Smiths - the dotty auntie of brewing

The increasingly eccentric Sam Smiths brewery has been accused of banning bikers. One biker recently rolled up at The Royal Oak at Ulley, near Rotherham, and was told he could no longer be served because of an instruction from the brewery. The owner of the brewery, Humphrey Smith, told a woman biker who had been using the pub for many years that "local people have no wish to have them in this establishment" and he did not want "undesirables" in the pub. This particular diktat follows the brewery's announcement in April that swearing is banned in all its pubs.

Unlike the swearing ban or the ban on music that arose from a fit of pique about 'New' Labour's absurd pub music licences (mentioned in a post here in 2009), this particular ban seems confined to one pub. The bikers' magazine, MCN, is distinctly unimpressed, stating that Sam Smiths' pubs "all feature a Victorian theme and don’t have televisions or play music ... It would seem that Mr Smith’s attitude towards bikers is as Victorian as the theme that runs throughout his pubs."

Having drunk in pubs favoured by bikers, I have found that there is no more trouble than in any other pubs, and in fact rather less than some. Is this discrimination? Certainly, because a whole group of people has been banned, regardless of how the individuals in that group have behaved - imagine the reaction if the members of any ethnic or religious group had been described as "undesirables". However, as bikers are not a "protected group" under the Equality Act, there is no recourse in law.

The brewery has ignored requests for comments from several journals and newspapers. I wonder what Humphrey will find to ban next?