“In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria.” - Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Lethal weapons? Fine - but no beer!

I found the news that a 9-year old child had accidentally shot her gun instructor shocking in a couple of ways: the death itself obviously, but more the fact that it is perfectly legal for a child of that age to handle and fire a high-powered Uzi submachine gun, as long as a parent or legal guardian was present. That little girl will have to live with the memory of that terrible sight as well as her guilt for the rest of her life, all because her parents decided that their Second Amendment rights were more important than their child's safety and well-being.

This deeply disturbing, but also frankly bizarre, situation brought some other strange American age limits to mind:

In the USA, young people can get behind the wheel of a potentially lethal piece of equipment much younger than over here. A learner driver's licence can be obtained between the ages of 14 and 16, and a restricted full licence between 14.5 and 16.5, depending on which state you live in.

You can lose your life fighting in the USA's armed forces at the age of 18.

On the other hand, the age at which you can legally purchase and possess alcohol is 21. The system is skewed to maintain that age nationally, because any state that lowers its alcohol purchase or possession age would lose 10% of its federal highway funding, a significant reduction in its income. In some states you can drink alcohol below 21 with the agreement of your parents or spouse, as long he or she is over 21, but nowhere can you buy or own it.

I can't help feeling that our American cousins have some priorities badly wrong.

I also can't help wondering how many domestic rows result from people aged 21 or more telling their spouses they can't have a drink.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Was alcohol-free beer really a gaffe?

I've just read the results of a survey by ComRes (commissioned by AB InBev UK) stating that drinking alcohol-free beer is now seen as more socially acceptable than it was 5 years ago in the opinion of 49% of those surveyed, with 59% saying they'd now be comfortable ordering it in front of friends in public.

I find this all rather strange because I hadn't realised that ordering alcohol-free beer had ever been viewed as a social blunder. It never bothered me in the past when driving to far flung music events where a pint consisting of a half of bitter topped up with an alcohol-free beer would mean that I could have three weak pints quite safely over an evening.

The only explanation I can come up with is there must be a macho attitude that real men don't drink anything but the real thing. I had a J2O in a pub before a four-hour drive last Saturday, and didn't in any way regard it as embarrassing (I know that's not alcohol-free beer, but I think the principle is similar).

But thinking about it, perhaps it could just be a fake image problem created for marketing purposes so that brewers can now get the message across that "surveys show it's now okay to drink this pariah drink!"

My problem with non-alcohol beers and low alcohol beers (or NABLABs as we used to call them) was that I found they invariably tasted bland, tinny and not quite genuine. They're mostly lagers, although I remember a 1% bottled bitter from Whitbread called White Label. Nowadays, if I'm in a pub and driving, I'd prefer to drink real ale safely within the limit or have a soft drink or coffee.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Back home from Whitby

I got home from Whitby Folk Week yesterday afternoon. I've written about the pubs in Whitby several times before (particularly in 20092010 and 2013) and not a lot has changed since last year.

JDW's Angel Hotel (from JDW's website)
The Angel Hotel (not to be confused with the Little Angel on Flowergate) by the harbourside was taken over by Wetherspoons early last year, raising hopes that it would impact on the prices of beer locally which, apart from the reliably cheap Sam Smiths pub the Jolly Sailors, seem high to me with my North West perspective. In fact, we found that Wetherspoons' prices weren't much less than the average for the area, starting at £2.95 a pint. It has also been refurbished in a more modern style than the usual Spoons decor. In one way it is a typical JDW house: if you're stuck behind people ordering meals or various coffees, you can wait a while to be served, which is frustrating when all you want it a pint, although to be fair, this wasn't the fault of the staff who were working hard.

Whitby Abbey Blonde
(from the brewery's website)
It was good to see the products of the new Whitby Brewery, which was set up last year. I tried two of their beers, Abbey Blonde and Platform 3, which is specially brewed for the Station Inn. I found them a bit too malty for my taste - even the Blonde - but other people were clearly enjoying them.

As for the music, I stuck to the fringe this year and spent a lot of time time in informal pub music and song sessions, particularly in the Station, the Elsinore and the Golden Lion. Our Lunchtime Legends rock & roll gig had the Elsinore packed out again on Wednesday lunchtime; it was great to have several young children aged between 4 and 9 bopping along, waving their hands in the air to anthems like Daydream Believer, and generally taking the opportunity to be silly like all the adults around them. Young Jessica was given the mike to sing a word-perfect chorus of Poison Ivy.

My week ended in the Station at a lively song and music session, although the non-folkie elements present loudly demanded old pop and rock & roll songs from me: it sounded like the whole pub was singing along to Those Were The Days. So much for my intentions to be more 'folkie' in my material on the last night.

Some good beers along the way: Saltaire Blonde, Wold Top's Golden Summer and Headland Red, and Ossett Silver King were highlights for me during the week. An honourable mention goes to a golden beer called Carnival Ale from the Truefitt Brewery of Middlesbrough, which I had in the Golden Lion.

It always seem a bit flat the day after you get back from holiday, but I've already booked my accommodation for next year, which will be the 50th Folk Week.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Friday, 15 August 2014

New mini-pub - Tap and Bottles

I discovered Tap and Bottles while strolling through Cambridge Walks in Southport town centre last week; it had been opened the previous week in a former lingerie shop by Julian Burgess whose family has a long association with the licensed trade. It is a small bar, attractively furnished, with four handpumps selling Southport Golden Sands and Liverpool Craft American Red when I visited, with more on at weekends. Beer is available in thirds of a pint if that's what you want. The Liverpool Craft was on good form when I tried it.

The fonts on the wall sell beers from Dortmunder, Pilsner Urquell and Duvel, a craft beer White Fox from Liverpool Craft Brewery, and a raspberry cider from Orchard. There are also more than 100 different bottled beers on sale from Britain, America and Europe which you can drink in or take away. They also sell bottles from the new Parker Brewery in Formby.

Wines, spirits, and soft drinks complete the drinks on sale, and there are plans to sell coffee and light snacks soon. They hope to get permission for seating outside, which would be all-weather seeing that the bar is in a covered arcade; there is some additional seating upstairs. The bar is open to 11.00pm, later if the demand exists. Julian is considering the possibility of some unamplified music in the future.

Particularly handy for a drink after a strenuous shopping trip, if you like that sort of thing (shopping, I mean).

Thursday, 14 August 2014

MPs take the soft option

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Misuse has come out with a document calling on all political parties to commit themselves to 10 measures to minimise alcohol-related harm in the UK. Such documents have no formal standing and merely represent the views of the members of the group, which itself has no formal status, but is simply a collection of politicians who have an interest in the topic. Alcohol Concern, the fake, publicly-funded charity, also has its name prominently displayed on the cover. This publication is intended to influence the content of party manifestos for next year's general election.

I've reproduced the exact wording of the recommendations below but there is nothing new here, particularly the calls for minimum pricing, strengthening regulation of alcohol marketing, health warnings on labels, and lowering the drink-driving limit (the links are to older posts on the subject concerned).

As I've previously written on some of the individual recommendations, I won't cover old ground again, but it is worth noting that it has just been announced that drink-drive deaths are at their lowest since records began, under-age drinking is also at its lowest since records began and alcohol consumption in general is at its lowest level for decades. So how do those facts, based on government statements, sit with the report's assertion that "alcohol abuse has become a national pandemic and needs to be treated as such"? It's sounding more like a bunch of busybodies with an agenda rather than a sober assessment of the situation. Further evidence of this is in the introduction which cheerily says: "We want to be clear that this manifesto is not designed to end or curtail people’s enjoyment of alcohol". When they have to make that point clear, I tend to assume that that is precisely what they have in mind.

With MPs paid £66,000 per year, and ministers more than £100,000, I do wonder why our legislators are wasting time doing no more than rehashing familiar recommendations that have previously been published many times over the years. Although, to be fair, it often seems that repeating themselves is the stock-in-trade of our MPs.

In contrast, just 11 MPs (1.7% of the total) bothered to turn up on 17 July for a debate about the provision of education for children with autism. Such a debate would require concentration, knowledge and thought, whereas cobbling together a report consisting of ideas that have frequently been regurgitated in the past is probably a fairly effortless way of passing time while apparently doing something worthy. I wonder whether the legislative busybodies adjourned to one of the many subsidised Palace of Westminster bars when their onerous task was complete?

The recommendations are:
  1. Make reducing alcohol harms the responsibility of a single government minister with clear accountability. 
  2. Introduce a minimum unit price for alcoholic drinks. 
  3. Introduce public health as a fifth licensing objective, enabling local authorities to make licensing decisions based on local population health need and the density of existing outlets. 
  4. Strengthen regulation of alcohol marketing to protect children and young people. 
  5. Increase funding for treatment and raise access levels from 6% to 15% of problem drinkers. 
  6. Commissioners should prioritise the delivery of identification and brief advice identification and brief advice should be delivered in a wide range of different settings including health care, involving GPs routinely asking questions, and in-workplace programmes. 
  7. Include a health warning on all alcohol labels and deliver a government-funded national public awareness campaign on alcohol-related health issues. 
  8. For all social workers, midwives and healthcare professionals, introduce mandatory training on parental substance misuse, foetal alcohol syndrome disorder and alcohol-related domestic violence. 
  9. Reduce the blood alcohol limit for driving in England and Wales to 50mg/100ml, starting with drivers under the age of 21. 
  10. Introduce the widespread use of sobriety orders to break the cycle of alcohol and crime, antisocial behaviour and domestic violence.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Champion Beers of Britain 2014

These were announced yesterday at the Great British Beer Festival in London. How many have you had? I think my total is seven. Some people will probably whinge that a regional brewer such as Timothy Taylor won, but that is just prejudice. We shouldn't discriminate against a brewer just because the beers are brewed in a proper brewery rather than a shed in the garden. 

Supreme Champions
Gold - Timothy Taylor, Boltmaker
Silver - Oakham, Citra
Bronze - Salopian, Darwin's Origin

Champion Bottled Beer
Gold - Marble, Chocolate Marble
Silver - St Austell,Proper Job
Bronze - Spire, Prince Igor Imperial Russian Stout

Mild
Gold - Bank Top, Dark Mild
Silver - Branscombe Vale, Mild
Bronze - Castle Rock, Black Gold

Best Bitter
Gold - Salopian, Darwin’s Origin
Silver - Redwillow, Directionless
Joint Bronze - Langton, Inclined Plane Bitter, and Purity, Mad Goose

Speciality
Gold - Saltaire, Triple Chocoholic
Silver - Offbeat, Way Out Wheat
Bronze - Peak Ales, Chatsworth Gold

Bitter
Gold - Timothy Taylor, Boltmaker
Silver - Mighty Oak, Captain Bob
Joint Bronze - Flowerpots, Flowerpots Bitter, and Sambrooks, Wandle Ale

Golden
Gold - Oakham, Citra
Silver - Hawkshead, Cumbrian Five Hop
Bronze - Salopian, Hop Twister

Strong Bitter
Gold - Church End, Fallen Angel
Silver - Blue Monkey, Ape Ale
Bronze - Loch Ness, HoppyNESS

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Lazy thoughts

It's not the enemy; it's a very naughty lager.
"It is generally acknowledged that lager and keg beers are the enemies of “proper” beer aka ale" is the opening sentence of an article in the Morning Advertiser (the newspaper of the pub trade). It's a typical journalistic technique to create a false disagreement and present it as fact; in this case suggesting that there are ranks of ideologically opposed, implacably hostile drinkers. The writer, Robyn Black, was referring to the fact that two big regional brewers noted for their ale had launched keg lagers - Marston’s Revisionist and Fuller’s Frontier.

As a real ale drinker, am I shocked? Not particularly. My actual reaction was, "So what?" But that's not how Ms Black sees it. She wrote: "The beard and sandal brigade will no doubt be up in arms. CAMRA has fought a long, hard battle to rid the world of bland keg beers and to champion real ale." There's that false disagreement again: where are these people who will be up in arms? I don't view the pleasure of having a drink in such confrontational terms, and I do not choose my friends by their taste in drinks; while many do drink real ale, others prefer the likes of smoothflow, Guinness, lager, wine, or even diet Coke.

Ms Black does refer to the fact that real ale has in recent years had a modest growth while sales of all other types of beer have fallen, but nonetheless, the biggest selling style of beer remains lager. It might look as though real ale has "won" some kind of war as it is now available in more than 50% of pubs, but that doesn't mean it constitutes 50% of sales: in reality, sales of real ale are nowhere near such levels. With the resurgence in recent years of craft keg beers, it's hardly a surprise that brewers might turn their attention to producing a better quality lager than what's on offer in most pubs. I'm assuming that's what Fuller's and Marston's are trying to do - Fuller's describe Frontier as a "new wave craft lager" - because it isn't worth the time, trouble and money to produce yet another lager along the lines of Carling and Fosters: you might as well just buy in a well-known brand.

So why is Ms Black wrong? Because CAMRA, as I have written before, is about choice, and it always has been. In the early days, it was about campaigning for real ale drinkers to have the choice of drinking real ale, but the logical consequence of such a position is accepting that other drinkers have a choice too. Choice is something that Colin Valentine, the CAMRA national chair, strongly emphasised at the national AGM in Norwich last year.

Her reference to "the beard and sandal brigade" is simple stereotyping - neither I nor most CAMRA members I know wear beard and sandals - and is no more than another cheap trick from the Ladybird Book of Lazy Journalism.

P.S. I've just realised that Robyn Black's article was written a while ago, and therefore isn't latest news. However, I haven't seen either of these craft lagers anywhere, not even in Marston's houses (there are no Fuller's houses around here that I could comment on).

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Best laid plans ...

Probably in good nick, but never
got the chance to find out
... and all that.

I went to the Zetland Hotel on Friday night to see local band Fag Ash Lil. Walking down Zetland Street, we could hear the music more than 100 feet away. The car park was busy with boisterous drinkers, as was the pub. I was surprised because, while Fag Ash Lil are certainly popular, they're not this popular. I have never seen the Zetland so busy.

The reason for the packed ale house soon became clear by the "Happy 60th Birthday" streamers over the bar, but even so, whoever the birthday boy or girl was must have a lot of mates. I queued up, and was waiting for at least 15 minutes before I actually reached the bar: the bar staff were working hard, but were overwhelmed by the demand. The real ales on offer were Brakspear Oxford Gold, not a common beer around here, Wychwood Hobgoblin and Jennings Cumberland. Normally if I'm waiting for more than 5 or 6 minutes at a bar and I'm on my own, I'll go somewhere else, but on this occasion I wasn't alone and so waited.

In the middle of Fag Ash Lil playing Fleetwood Mac's The Chain (from the album Rumours, if you're interested), all the lights and the power to the band went out to raucous cheers, although the television in the bar and the electric beer fonts were still working. At this point, I'd had enough. We left and went for one in the Mount Pleasant just down the road and then onto the Guest House.

Informed drinkers will have worked out that the Zetland is a Marston's house.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Membership has its privileges

At last I've discovered a reason to live in Greater Manchester. Paul Heaton of the Housemartins and the Beautiful South is part owner of the Kings Arms in Salford, which has decided to designate Fridays as "Trade Union Friday", with discounted drinks on production of a union membership card.

Paul Heaton has had a close working relationship with the GMB union in recent years. His latest tour was sponsored by the GMB and he played on the main stage at this year’s Tolpuddle Martyrs’ Festival in Dorset. He originally offered discounts to strikers during the last industrial action, and then decided to make the discount permanent, saying: “I’ve done a bit of work with the GMB and liked them a lot. So I’ve bitten the bullet and said as long as they’re out fighting for change, I should show my appreciation to all of those men and women who are keeping the Tories on their toes.”

In 2011, the GMB pointed out the fact that the cost of beer has risen much faster than inflation, a point I have made several times myself, most recently in May this year.

The Kings Arms is at 11 Bloom Street, Salford, M3 6AN, close to Salford Central railway station.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Fag Ash Lil at the Zetland

Classic rock band Fag Ash Lil are playing a local gig in Southport this Friday.

Formed in 2001, Fag Ash Lil have produced two CDs, both recorded at Parr Street Studios, Liverpool, entitled "How It Really Is" and "Not Sorry". As well as performing original material, they also play songs by Free, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Skunk Anansie, and even The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.

Great musicians and singers, the Lil have always got the place rocking on the many occasions I've seen them. They're on at the Zetland Hotel, 53 Zetland Street, Southport, PR9 0RH, at 9.30pm. The Zetland serves three changing real ales (Southport, Ringwood and Jennings last time I was in there).

Click here for the Zet's beer festival starting on the 23rd.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Priory a local priority

Picture from campaign website
The Priory Hotel in Litherland is a pub I occasionally went into when I had a temporary job in social services in Bootle a long time ago; I think it was a Tetley house in those days. I recall on one occasion a disgruntled social worker who had lost his brief case earlier in the day arriving in the pub with it in pieces. Someone had reported finding a suspicious object and it had been blown up. Apparently the Beatles drank in there on the 20+ occasions they played at Litherland Town Hall, just 150 yards away.

The pub closed last year and was bought by Adactus Housing, but the council refused planning permission for its conversion into flats after a successful campaign by a community action group which plans to make the Priory the first community-run pub in Merseyside. They need £400,000 to buy the pub, having raised £170,000 so far and applied for grants to help bridge the gap.

CAMRA keeps on encouraging local branches and members to oppose pub closures by having them declared as assets of community value under Part 5 Chapter 3 of the Localism Act 2011. That's all very well, but such applications cannot really succeed unless there is evidence that the community actually values its pub, as in Litherland. Here in Southport, Mike Perkins of local CAMRA has done sterling work in applying for ACVs but in each case the council has refused; this is the same council that has said yes in Litherland, so our failure is not a result of municipal stonewalling.

Opposing a pub closure is an uphill battle. The owner can easily produce accounts to demonstrate how the use, and therefore profitability, of a pub has been in decline, which tends to pull the rug from under any argument that the community values it. There are many reasons why pubs decline, and I don't intend to list them here, except for one: deliberate neglect of a pub by its owner to discourage custom and thus provide an excuse to close it - in other words, a process of managed decline. Some closed pubs around here certainly hadn't had a penny spent upon them for years, other than for essential maintenance. Pub owners know that, with the price of pub drinks nowadays, customers won't want to spend their hard-earned cash in a dingy room that hasn't seen a lick of paint this side of the millennium.

My view is that CAMRA centrally is being oversimplistic with its exhortation simply to get a threatened pub declared an ACV. There is the risk that, if local people keep on trying this and get knocked back too often, they will lose heart. With the best will in the world, CAMRA can't do this alone: genuine community support is needed, and that is the really hard bit. If you can't show you've got that, your chances of stopping a pub being redeveloped are slim.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Zetland Beer Festival - August

The Zetland Hotel, Zetland Street, Southport is holding another beer festival beginning on Saturday 23 August. It's on for a week from midday each day. Food is served Saturday & Sunday from 12.00 until 6.00pm. On Saturday night there will be a quiz beginning at 9.30pm and on Sunday night bingo at 9.30pm.

The Zetland has a well-kept bowling green; in fact, it's the last pub in Southport to have one. The pub as at 53 Zetland Street, Southport, PR9 0RH, about 0.6 mile from Southport station.

( 01704 808404 for enquiries, including bowling green availability.

This is the beer list; click on it to expand it.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

"The Northern Lights are in my mind ..."

I met some friends for an early evening drink in the Sir Henry Segrave in Southport a couple of days ago. On the bar there was, among the remnants of the cider festival, a George Wright beer called Northern Lights (5.1%). I have to say I could have happily stayed and drunk it all night, but we had to move on. The brewer's website states that it is "A strong ale, amber in colour. A strong citrus ale balanced by the bitter hop." That is almost word for word how I described it to one of my friends later, although I'd have thought it was paler than 'amber' suggests. Definitely a strong citrus, bitter flavour, which reminded me of some of the American-style pale ales Wetherspoons sometimes commissions.

I haven't seen George Wright beers around for a while; I don't know whether there have been problems at the brewery or whether it is just chance. Probably the latter. I'm rarely disappointed with their beers, and this one in particular is well worth keeping an eye out for.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Beer garden smoking ban

The Barbacoa is an established restaurant in Crosby that usually serves one guest real ale. It has taken the step of banning smoking from its beer garden, an action that the local paper claims is a first in the country, although how they'd know is anyone's guess. A separate smoking area has been created elsewhere for smokers. The ban was the result of customer feedback, not political correctness gone mad, busybody interfering or nanny statism. Apparently, customers didn't like the fact that they couldn't go out in the sunshine without encountering smoke. The move has earned them a Clean Air Award from the lung cancer charity, the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation.

I suspect this ban may only be the first of many. It has been clear to me since before the smoking ban first came in that some people felt they now had the smokers on the run. I wrote about this kind of attitude in my post, the Lost World of Smoking: while I was definitely not writing about the smoking ban, I reported that when my employer had brought in smoking rooms, thus making the office smoke-free, some non-smokers wanted me as the union rep to take things further. I wasn't prepared to because the arrangements were in accordance with both the employer's and the union's policies, and my personal view that having clean air was well worth the small price of losing smokers for short smoking breaks didn't go down well. I feel that it was probably a similar attitude that drove the customers of the Barbacoa to press for a smoke-free beer garden.

I jokingly refer to the beer garden at my local as 'the smoking room', but I'm quite happy to sit out there and don't find myself "quickly enveloped by a Magnitogorsk-like fug of carcinogens", to use the words of a BBC writer (link below). I doubt there will more legislation in the near future to extend the smoking ban; I think it more likely we will have piecemeal erosion of people's entitlement to smoke, as has happened in the Barbacoa.

I've just typed 'smoke beer garden' in a search engine and came up with this item from the Daily Mail in 2012, and this from the BBC a year ago. Both support, perhaps unintentionally, the points I've made.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Just do your homework!

I was rather taken aback when my copy of What's Brewing, the CAMRA newspaper, arrived yesterday. Wow! A personal attack! I'd had a letter published in a previous edition which was a shortened version of this post from 1 June this year about music at beer festivals. I didn't think it was an especially controversial opinion: if you prefer no music, just choose those sessions when none is on. That sounds reasonable enough to me.

Obviously it didn't to the correspondent, called Peter, who said I'd had a vested interest when I wrote my letter as my band had played at the Southport Beer Festival, and he went on to state that he and his group had disliked the music so much that he was never coming back - and it was all my fault.

It had never occurred to me that, just because I have played at quite a few beer festivals (not just in Southport), I was not entitled to an opinion, or that it rendered my view worthless. But when I thought about it, I realised that Peter's critical letter only served to illustrate the point I was actually making, which was: don't complain if you don't want music; instead choose those sessions that don’t have any on. In the case of Southport, all the publicity stated that more information could be found on a webpage which could be reached using a deliberately short and easy URL. The webpage made it clear that a band playing 50s and 60s songs would be playing on Saturday afternoon. I know all this because I designed the festival poster, the URL and the webpage. Two minutes on a computer would have saved Peter an afternoon of “ear torture”, to use his phrase.

As for my having a vested interest – that's a joke. As a member of the organising CAMRA branch, I played for nothing, as did the drummer, who is a founder member of Liverpool Branch. The other two band members had further to travel and were paid an amount that covered their petrol costs and no more. It is a strange vested interest that doesn’t earn you a penny.

I am not so vain that I assume everyone will like my music, although the feedback we in the band received was quite different from the negative attitudes of Peter’s group, but I fully accept they are entitled to their opinions. However, the band had been advertised, so they had only themselves to blame if they did not get the quiet session they wanted.

Changing the subject slightly, the webpage for this year’s Southport Beer Festival (9-11 October) can be found at: tiny.cc/beerex. I think you'd agree that's a short and easy URL too.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Folk in the Park 2014

The Corduroy Folk Club is putting on another of it annual Folk in the Park events on Sunday 27 July. It's in Hesketh Park, a short walk along Albert Road, which is the northern continuation of Lord Street. If you get thirsty, the Imperial Hotel is on Albert Road close to the park; it is a large Joseph Holts pub which serves real ale as well as food.

The Folk in the Park is like a mini-music festival featuring all local talent. This is the programme; it runs between 1pm and 6pm and is free to all. Let's hope the good weather lasts.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Freshfield Beer Festival

The Freshfield in Formby is twice Pub of the Year
and their summer beer festival is now on. 
The pub is a short walk from Freshfield station.

It's a rum do

The banned advert: accurate, or
evil propaganda? You decide.
The youth wing of Alcohol Concern are at it again. Last December they managed to get banned a Let There Be Beer advert, which I regarded as quite accurate, and they've done it again with a picture posted on Captain Morgan's Facebook page. The Youth Alcohol Advertising Council (YAAC) complained to the Advertising Standards Authority, arguing that it encouraged people to alleviate boredom by irresponsibly drinking with their friends. Diageo, on the other hand, argued that it was more a suggestion that people take a break from the daily grind and relax with friends.

According to Marketing Week, "The Advertising Standards Authority ruled that consumers were likely to think the Captain had sought out alcohol to entertain himself when they viewed it, which breached rules against implying alcohol is capable of changing moods."

The most ludicrous thing about all of this that alcohol does change moods; it wouldn't be nearly so popular otherwise. According to one article I looked up, the effects of a moderate consumption of alcohol can include: overall improvement in mood and possible euphoria, increased self-confidence, increased sociability and decreased anxiety. So, although the advert is correct to imply that alcohol can change moods and a lot of people drink it precisely for that reason, the ASA won't let any advertiser say so. So that, it seems, is that.

In conclusion, I have to say I do feel sorry for those trainee busybodies of the YAAC whose horizons have been so curtailed that they can't think of anything better to do while they are still young.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Trying to mend fences ...

I went to the Hightown pub a couple of days ago to meet some friends I used to work with in Liverpool, and also to feature the pub in the CAMRA column in our local paper for which I sometimes write. The Hightown is an attractive pub just yards from Hightown Station, which is between Formby and Blundellsands on the Northern Line. It has good value food and six handpumps. Unfortunately only two were operating when I entered: Robinson's Trooper and John Smith's Cask. The other pump clips were turned around, but were for beers such as Marston's Pedigree and Speckled Hen. Trooper it was then. I took a sip and said, "This beer's off." The man sitting on the stool next to the bar said, "Yes, it is", but was still struggling to drink it. To be fair, my pint was changed without hesitation for a John Smith's Cask, but as that is one of the most boring beers in the country, along with Tetley Bitter and Greene King IPA, I wasn't too pleased. My neighbour then asked for a replacement pint too.

I chatted to the bar staff and it turned out that the licensee was away on holiday. She confirmed that normally they have up to six beers on. It's not a good sign if a pub goes to pieces when the boss is away. In my local, when the licensee is away, the full beer range is maintained without a hitch throughout her absence.

A few years ago, this licensee got a load of publicity in the local papers claiming CAMRA members had disrupted his quiz night, shouted out the answers and made suggestive comments to barmaids. I made a few enquiries and found it had been a night out organised by the then licensee of the Falstaff pub in Southport, with some of his staff and customers. The only CAMRA member was a quiet individual whom I cannot ever imagine shouting and making comments to barmaids. On another occasion, he got a mention in the papers by ostentatiously refusing an entry in the Good Beer Guide.

Despite the poor history between him and my local branch of CAMRA, I thought I'd give the Hightown a chance and I fully intended to write a positive report if merited in the local paper, but on the basis of my visit, it's unlikely the pub will appear in the CAMRA column in the near future. It might be okay when he's there, but it should be acceptable when he's not there too.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Picturesque pubs in Churchtown

The Bold Arms
Churchtown is an attractive old village in the northern part of Southport; there is a quaint shopping street and a number of thatched cottages. Stocks dating from 1741 can be found next to the wall of St Cuthbert’s Church which overlooks the village green. On opposite sides of the green are two pubs: the Bold Arms and the Hesketh Arms, which are both on Botanic RoadHHH. The famous Botanic Gardens are close by, as is Meols Hall, Southport's historical manor house, home of the Hesketh family, and a wedding venue in its tithe barn.

The Hesketh is an eighteenth century pub with a very attractive exterior. Inside it has a central bar surrounded by several separate drinking areas. It was refurbished a few years ago and now has light wooden walls and its layout is suitable for food as well as drinking. On my visit, the real ales were Thwaites Wainwright, Thwaites Bomber and Black Sheep bitter, but the beer rage does vary. The pub is known for its food, which it serves until 10pm (7pm Sunday).

It has an outside cobbled drinking area where the Southport Swords dance every Boxing Day. William Sutton, founder of Southport was the landlord here when it was called the Black Bull; he was known as a good-natured, jovial man who entertained his regulars by playing the fiddle. The pub is family friendly, has a car park and is on the 49 bus route. Contact number: (01704) 509548.

The Bold goes back to at least the seventeenth century. It too is an attractive old pub with several separate rooms with adjacent nooks and crannies, all panelled with dark wood. Pool and darts can be found in the vaults. When I went, there were six real ales on, plus Old Rosie cider. The beers included four from the Cheshire brewery, Blakemere, Thwaites Wainwright, Tetley Bitter and a range of bottled craft beers. The Bold serves reasonably-priced food until 8.45pm.

It is dog-friendly in the vaults, and child-friendly everywhere but the vaults, which may create a dilemma for dog-lovers with children. It has an outside drinking area, a car park, and is also served by the 49 bus route. Contact number: (01704) 228192. Churchtown is always well worth a visit, especially with two such picture postcard pubs.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

1000th post

My thousandth post! When I began this blog on 16 March 2009, I intended it mainly to tell people about local music or real ale events, especially those that included both. It still does that with my events and beer festival links to the right, but I have expanded the remit to suit myself, but generally staying broadly in the ale and music theme.

The forerunner of ReARM was a flyer that I used to produce monthly and distribute around any suitable places - there is an example below - but in reality, this was not an efficient method of transmitting information and, after I left my last job, dependent on how much of my own printing ink I was prepared to use. The idea of doing a blog came to me after I'd become a follower of Tandleman's beer blog, and at the Winter Ales Festival in Manchester in 2009, I asked him how much it cost to run a blog. "Nothing, it's free," he replied, sounding slightly surprised at the question. It's then that I decided to begin a blog.
The forerunner of ReARM

Looking back, I see that my most read post is The Lost World Of Smoking on 22 June 2012, which has had 2207 page views so far. I wanted to write a personal view of smoking from the perspective of a non-smoker upon whom smoking has nonetheless had quite an impact in life. It was definitely not about the smoking ban, which I wrote about on 28 November 2009 (75 page views), provoking this surprising response from beer blogger Curmudgeon: "This has been debated elsewhere ad nauseam ..."! It's curious that my most-read post covers neither beer nor music, but it didn't occur to me until much later that I'd gone off topic. Despite that, it's a personal post that I'm still happy with. In contrast, one post has had no page views at all; I won't mention which since it was about a local event, and the people concerned are still around.

I sometimes click on the "Next Blog" link at the top of the home page to see what comes up. It surprises me how many blogs are inactive with fewer than half a dozen posts, after which the blogger seems to have lost interest, often despite lofty intentions expressed at the beginning. Perhaps they had dreams of fame through blogging and became disheartened when it seemed that only two men and a dog were reading their masterpiece. Or perhaps they'd simply run out of ideas.

When I was off-line for three and a half months earlier this year, I received a fair number of enquiries about people asking why my blog had become out of date; it was nice to have clear evidence that some people had missed it. For better or worse, it's going to be here for a while yet. Now the big question is: what shall I write for my 1001st post?

Friday, 18 July 2014

Ken Nicol & Becky Mills at the Bothy

Ken Nicol & Becky Mills are the Bothy Folk Club's guests this coming Sunday

Ken Nicol is a highly acclaimed musician, singer, songwriter, producer, playwright and composer who has been a member of folk/rock bands Steeleye Span and The Albion Band and also worked with artists ranging from Al Stewart to Phil Cool. He plays acoustic and electric guitar, resonator guitar, 5-string banjo, mandolin and ukulele. His music includes folk, ragtime, blues, rock, ballads, jazz, amazingly intricate instrumentals and singalong comedy numbers.

In the early 2000s, Becky Mills became one of the four female stars of the genre-busting acoustic music group Waking The Witch. After three albums, successful tours and appearances at scores of folk, indie and blues festivals around the UK, Waking The Witch broke up. Since then, Becky has performed solo and in a duo with her fellow "Witch", Patsy Metheson. She also contributed vocals to Historic Events And Other Subjects, the latest solo album by Ken Nicol. Although Ken heralds from Lancashire and Becky from Yorkshire, cross-Pennine harmony prevails.

This Sunday 20 July at the Park Golf Club, Park Road West, Southport, PR9 0JS at 8.00pm. Tickets on-line, or take your chance on the door.

Ken and Becky are the Bothy's final guests until September, but don't despair: the music continues throughout the summer with free singarounds every Sunday evening from around 8pm. "The show that never ends".

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Tommy Legs at Spoons

I met my friend Clive, who also happens to be the Bothy organiser, in the Sir Henry Segrave on Lord Street in Southport yesterday evening. There's a cider festival on at present, which I'd forgotten, but I wasn't in the mood for cider anyway; I do think it's good that Spoons do things like that, though, making the point that there is a lot more to cider than just Strongbow. I began with a beer, the name of which I forget, which is appropriate because, while it wasn't actually objectionable, it wasn't especially memorable either.

I then went on to the curiously named Tommy Legs (4.5%) by Derwent Brewery. The Derwent website describes it thus: "A complex, hoppy copper ale. Hopped three times, giving a full flavoured beer with a hit of cascade hops." I'd say it is a good example of a nicely flavoured, fairly bitter beer, light brown in colour and slightly old-fashioned in this modern world of golden ales, but none the worse for that. The strength too was in my favourite range of (4.2 to 5%); I rarely drink anything under 4%, as too often I find them thin and insipid, although - before anyone protests - I have drunk three point something beers that are exceptions to that experience. I was chatting to the friendly barmaid and she told me she'd worked in a Spoons near Preston, but had transferred here and was enjoying it; I suggested it might be because you get a better class of scally in Southport.

I was curious about the name: I first assumed 'Tommy' was a First World War reference, but in fact Tommy Legs is the nickname of a lighthouse in the Solway Firth near Silloth (where the brewery is situated) in Cumbria: click here and scroll down to near the bottom for a fuller explanation.

Clive and I later ended up in the Guest House drinking Golden Sands (4.0%), one of Southport Brewery's best in my view, and at £2.50 a pint as well.